Ustinov was renowned for his dialects. And seeing this video harkened me back to a favorite story.
One of Ustinov's acclaimed performances was on TV for the Hallmark Hall of Fame production, "A Storm in Summer," written by, of all people, Rod Serling. Though Serling was of course renowned for writing The Twilight Zone, it's less known that he wrote some deeply emotional dramatic pieces, including the acclaimed Requiem for a Heavyweight and Patterns -- and A Storm in Summer.
This latter told the story during the Vietnam War of an old, embittered Jewish, New York deli owner who is put in a position against his wishes to take care of a young African-American kid with a heavy chip on his shoulder when his nephew backs out of being a Big Brother for the summer. It's one of the few -- if only -- Hallmark Hall of Fame production that I know of that ever got repeated. (I watched both airings.) It won the Emmy in 1970 for Best Drama, and Ustinov won the Emmy for Best Actor, beating out such people as..oh, Laurence Olivier. Yes, it was that good. It remains one of the greatest things I've ever seen on television.
Jump forward a dozen years to 1982. I was in my early days starting out in publicity, working at Universal Pictures, and we were having a press junket in New York for the film, Evil Under the Sun, that starred Peter Ustinov as Agatha Christie's, Hercule Poirot. It was the only junket I was taken on -- but was it ever memorable, for a lot of reasons. And high among those reasons is that, as the lowest and youngest on the totem pole, I had to pick up Peter Ustinov at the airport.
He was a pleasant fellow on the ride back, willing to chat, and a good storyteller. And at one point, we drove in our limousine through an ethnic neighborhood much like the one that had been the core of A Storm in Summer. I mentioned how much the streets were driving through reminding me of it, and how much I utterly loved the production, watching it twice, And without any prompting, 12 years after having made the film, he immediately went into his old Jewish deli owner character, Abel Shaddick. And he started ad libbing in character his throughts about New York and the neighborhood.
I'm here to tell you it was one of the thrills of my life. It was just great.
All that came flooding back as I watched this. Not that I need much prompting for those memories to flood back, it happens often.