An Imperial View

Long before Russell Crowe helped reignite filmgoers' enthusiasm for Roman epics, Sir Peter Ustinov, now 81, was king of the genre. He fiddled as Nero while Rome burned in Quo Vadis? (1951) and won the first of his two Academy Awards in 1960 for a supporting role in Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus. "When I was in Rome for the 50th anniversary of Quo Vadis?, the mayor asked me to say a few words in Italian," Ustinov recalls. "I reminded him I was Nero, who only spoke Latin." The story captures the wit and erudition for which Ustinov — who was knighted in...

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