POEM FOR PETER USTINOV
On the occasion of his 70th birthday,
Written for and
performed by Jean Stapleton,
April 11, 1991
April 16, quite some time ago
A certain Madame Ustinov cried "Oh!"
At this most blest, if tardy arrivée
Of darling, 12 pound Peter, cher bébé.
Who was this sweet and spherical intrudah,
With neck of wrestler, countenance of Buddha,
Whose early speech contained no phrase or word.
He made his point repeating what he heard!
A boat, a train, an orchestra complete?
A squeaky door? A goat from Crete in heat?
You have a yen for Carmen? In that case,
he'll sing it all -- soprano down to bass
With such a rare and artful epiglottis,
One might have queried, "Ustinov? Quo Vadis?"
Indeed, to school is where he went at last,
His talent recognized. He soon was cast
In his first play -- the part was very big.
He made his debut masked -- and played a pig.
But never mind, in sports he showed his rank.
It wasn't his fault if the rowboat sank!
And academics! There he joined the Giants:
the midgets when it came to math and science.
But on to higher education halls,
A choice between Westminster and St. Paul's.
Westminster won, and why? So he might wear
A top out and resemble Fred Astaire.
But dance like Fred? The chance was very slim.
Even the queen' s afraid to dance with him!
But mother knew where Peter's talents lay.
So to St. Denis acting school one day
He went with his audition memorized.
Monsieur St. Denis was a bit surprised
As Ustinov displayed his acting arts
With Shaw's St. Joan, portraying all the parts!
What he got in and life was sweet and sunny,
Although he could have used a bit more money.
He learned his craft and bore his prof' s critiques:
" Mind wanders... too monotonous when he speaks...
Nijinsky he will never be, alas..."
But he shone like a star in improv class!
Two years gave him the training he required.
So long to life's adventures! He was hired.
He got a job (Papa was nearly ill)
In -- God for bid -- not drama, vaudeville!
And Houma did he invented that brought acclaim?
Why, Lisolette Beethoven Fink's the name.
In drag he played his malapropish queen.
The Tattler wrote, "A comic Edmund Keane!"
Well, hello fame! Goodbye those ups and downs,
Adieu to all those mad Shakespearean clowns,
Two understudying or sporting spear
In some Olivier Macbeth or Lear.
It seemed that Thespus would indeed be kind,
But Hitler had other plan in mind.
The Army called, "Well, Ustinov? Which branch?"
His answer made courageous colonels blanch.
The RAF? The infantry? No thanks.
The only branch that called to him was tanks.
I'd rather, "he explained, "attack the town
By going into battle sitting down!"
But no such luck. Upon his feet he stood
Barefoot, One pebbles, seaweed, splintered wood,
Until he learned some diplomatic tricks
And got assigned to making Army flicks.
The New Lot was the first, raves were given,
Especially with a star like David Niven.
Thus, Army life was not so bad, in part.
How many soldiers get to act their art?
Onward to peace! The movies name him Nero
(Who's not exactly everybody's hero),
And Hollywood sets off a thrilling bomb:
"Oh, Ustinov, you've got an Oscar-nom!"
There's just no stopping him. Another play
To add to his increasing résumé --
A string of hits -- well, maybe not all hits,
As Monsieur Ustinov himself admits.
Beethoven's Tenth (a case in point to mention),
A work of stunning language and dimension.
But critics roared, "This play is not reduced enough!"
" My talent shows, not one word goes!" cries Ustinov.
A man who stands behind his work, he is,
Whose brilliance... well, let's face it, he's whiz
At almost anything he undertakes,
And he does everything, for goodness sakes!
(In fact, one ought to mention Spartacus,
Or else our honoree might make a fuss.)
Ambassador for UNICEF, UNESCO --
His life has been a multicolored fresco
Of art and action, anecdote and dream,
Which but defying the man so it would seem.
Still, one inquires, who is Ustinov?
An actor? Writer? Combination of?
A linguistic? And a director? Raconteur?
A novelist? Methinks he would prefer
To be thus dubbed as his life has unfurled
With different name: Ambassador of the World.
For witnessing the content of this summit,
The worlds enriched with Ustinov upon it.
ANDREA ON HER BIRTHDAY
(Note: this is a 16 line Sonnet which
spells the name
of the recipient acrostically)
it has been said of her,
now a joke told with panache,
turns problems into ash.
you wonder, "What did just occur?"
you've met Andrea,
event for everyone.
her, you will, for
doing so is fun.
heal a wound
and off she'll
let us give
all the joy
-- long may
ODE TO THE CHEF
(On the occasion of Julia Child's 80th
ladies, gentlemen and honored guest,
We've gathered in our finest feathers dressed
To sing the praise of one whose joie de vivre
(While tossing off a salad aux endives)
Has crowned her, as her public e'er declares,
Incomparable reigning queen of cuisinières.
Who has not sometime in one's life desired
To rattle pot and pan, to be inspired
To roast, sauté, or at the very least
Whip up a rich and memorable feast?
But, lacking craft, too poor in expertise,
We've turned with outstretched hands on bended knees
And pled, "Instruct us well, oh, reigning queen
In mastering the art of French cuisine."
On tube, in book, you've probed the subtleties
Of remoulades, ragouts, patisseries.
'Tis thanks to you we stuff our artichokes
With mushrooms, celery, scallions, cream and jokes.
But nay, make no mistake, 'tis not the food
That puts us in this celebrating mood. '
Tis less the taste we love and more the teaching,
Your sense of fun that keeps us ever reaching
For yet another pot or spoon or whisk.
Your confidence that makes us dare to risk
A hollandaise, a cheese soufflé, a bisque.
'Twas naught but your own spontaneity
That made us dare to try crème chantilly.
You have, with humor, reverence and joie
Taught us to make gateau au chocolat.
Those are, you see, your best ingredients,
O’er sprinkled with your wit and common sense.
So oft we've heard your voice mellifluous
As you sang out "Bon appetit" to us,
(So sweet an icing to each luscious show)
That we have gathered here to let you know
From all the millions who have been beguiled
These 30 years made sweet by Julia Child,
'Tis time for tribute' s triumph, chere amie,
Let's raise our whisks and shout, "Bon appetit!"
Performed by Jean Stapleton
At the Rainbow Room, New York City, 1992
SONNET TO DEBORAH ON THE
OCCASION OF HER 45TH BIRTHDAY
(Note: this is a traditional Shakespearean
style sonnet with the
added twist of spelling the name
of the person acrostically)
let us now sing songs of praise to one
loyal friend, indeed,
goodly guidance when we need,
On us her
love shines steady as the sun.
then, in her spiritual art.
no middle name doth she possess.
must we make to choose one to express
glory, so well favored in her heart.
and Deborah now must separate!
help? Or Alma -- soul?
a songbird? These are all the case.
-- gift of God? Or purest Kate?
Oh no, God'
s love unto her given whole,
her ever constant Grace.
MY DAUGHTER ASHELEY
ON HER GRADUATION
(Note: this is a 16 line acrostic sonnet)
comes. An angel, born of me
So in perfection,
formed when first I saw
sweetest face -- I could
but gasp in awe,
by this vision instantly.
you, I did, and love the memory
Sunday to our private citadel
triumph, high upon the carousel.
children grow, though fathers
fuss and fret,
years, the time that comes between.
the reins, this bullish matador
you forgive the a father'
s longing for
Babe in arms, so lovely and
fare you well, I grasp, yet must
in your womanhood. But know
give up a thousand lifetimes
upon the carousel once more.
MY SON FREDDY'S GRADUATION
this is a standard Shakespearean style 14 line sonnet
added twist of spelling the persons named acrostically)
infant slumbering, curled around the cat,
motorbikes your passion
new adventure turned this
you? Never. You'll have
none of that.
deeds on skis, on surfboard
grab at life, yet glide
in measured balance.
cannot impair your talents,
black belt, gentle warrior,
of my heart, shall
now the man be
must you make your
to your next adventure,
from hearth, but not my
heart, this morn,
with love and gratitude
pride to be the one called