I'm often asked "how in the world did you manage to get Peter Ustinov?". Well, the "getting" was in fact quite easy. I sent his agent a proposal, an offer, and a copy of the already published Orchestra book, the agent forwarded these things to Ustinov, and he agreed. The really hard part, as it turned out, was the logistics.

As part of the agreement, I had offered that I would record with Ustinov wherever and whenever would fit into his schedule. To which the response was - O.K., Peter will

In Toronto for the recording of the
French version narration

be at his home in Geneva with a bit of time to
spare the first week of April. So we agreed on a specific day and time, I found and booked an appropriate Geneva recording studio, and I booked a round-trip flight coming into Geneva several days before the scheduled studio date and departing several days after - a span of days that was required in order to get the essential budget fare, and which also allowed me a few days on site to check out the studio, overcome my jet lag, and generally psych myself up before the much anticipated recording session, to be followed by a hoped for several days of celebration and relaxation afterwards.

But no sooner were all the bookings made than the phone calls started. "The scheduled day won't work because Peter now has to be in London, can we make it two days later?" No problem changing the studio booking and this is still well within my airline ticket window, so sure. "Sorry, Peter's been asked to do something else on that day, can we change it to four days earlier?" Still within my ticket window and o.k. with the studio, so fine with me.

I can't remember exactly how many shifts like this happened in the couple of weeks preceeding the recording session, but it was at least three or four, and the issue wasn't resolved until a conference call with the agent in New York and Peter in Prague on the day before my flight, where we finally concluded that the only remaining possibility was the morning after my arrival in Geneva, and very early in the
morning at that because Ustinov had a noon plane to catch.

So I arrived in Geneva in the early evening quite the bundle of nerves, checked into my hotel, set my watch, my travel clock, the room radio alarm, and the hotel service for the required very early wake-up, and fell into a deep exhausted sleep. Until the phone rang five minutes later informing me that "there's someone in the lobby for you with a note from Mr. Ustinov". Totally devasted by what I was sure was going to be a "sorry can't do after all" message, I slumped down to the lobby where a uniformed chauffeur handed me the dreaded note. Which read: "I'll be dining this evening with an old

On the occasion of our first Geneva
recording session, I asked Mr. Ustinov to
autograph a copy of The Orchestra book.
Click on the above to enlarge his response.

friend from America. Would you care to join us? If so, Raoul my chauffeur will bring you to us - Peter". With what was surely one of the most dramatic and extreme mood shifts I've ever experienced, I beamed at Raoul "give me five minutes".

I was then driven to United Nations headquarters where Mr. Ustinov had just finished giving a speech, and was very warmly greeted by him with "Mr. Rubin! How very nice to meet you finally." He then introduced me to his friend (the dean of an ivy league university), and the three of us then went off to one of Geneva's finest restaurants where I was treated to an extraordinary meal and regaled with non-stop hilarious stories from Mr. Ustinov (most of which - in honour of his American friend - were delivered in Ustinov's dead-on and devastating imitation of then President Ronald Reagan). To my profuse thank you's afterwards Peter's simple reply was "it's the least I could do - you've come a long way. See you in the morning."

Peter's reading the next morning was of course brilliant, although it's actually a bit of a shame that I was only able to use the "straight" "actual text" bits, and not his many interjected jokes, plays on words, snide asides, and numerous impersonations and accents. I'm sure it was pure adrenalin that gave me the temerity to at times actually attempt to "direct" his reading, and it's certainly a testament to Peter's profound civility that he accepted these attempts with only mock outrage ("You want me to read it that way??" - followed by a ridiculously exaggerated version of what I was requesting, followed by an absolutely perfect reading exactly as I had requested).

I had two subsequent meetings in Toronto with Mr.Ustinov. The first was when illustrator Alan Daniel and I met him for tea in order to get his approval of the rough record cover drawing (to which his only comment was "I wish I actually had shoes like that"). The second was for the

After our French recording session in
Toronto, Mr. Ustinov surprised me with
this spontaneous souvenir.
Click to enlarge.
recording of the French narration (where I discovered that Peter could do almost as many impersonations and accents in French as he could in English!). And while both of these later meetings were totally delightful and congenial, neither could hold a candle in sheer memorableness to that first extraordinary roller-coaster ride in Geneva.
- MR
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