ilm and stage actor
July 11, 1920 - October 10, 1985
Yul Brynner (born Yuly Borisovich Briner) was a American film and stage actor, best known for his portrayal of the King of Siam in The King and I, for which he won two Tony Awards and an Academy Award, and for his charismatic roles in a long string of historical movies.
Yul Brynner – The Self-Styled King
Brynner was born in Vladivostok, in the far east of Soviet Russia, to the family of Jules Briner, son of a Swiss businessmen who had settled in Vladivostok in 1870 and married a Buryat woman, and of Katya Kornukova, an actress from the Moscow Art Theatre. Just three years after Yul's birth Jules abandoned his wife, 7-year old daughter and 3-year old son, who moved to Harbin, Manchuria (now China), where Yul studied at a YMCA school.
His Buryat ancestry and early life in Asia allowed Brynner to style himself as a descendant of a Mongolian khan, creating his signature image.
In 1932 the family moved to Paris, fearing the coming fighting with the Japanese. To make a living, Brynner would play guitar in local Russian restaurants, often accompanying his sister, who was a talented singer. During that time he made a strong personal connection with Gypsies, and later, in 1977, he would be named Honorary President of the International Romani Union.
Yul was a trained trapeze acrobat and even worked in a French circus troupe for three years, but was forced to abandon the career and turn to acting after an injury during one of the performances.
In October 1940, the family came to New York City, where Brynner studied acting at Michael Chekhov's theatrical classes, and at the same time – thanks to his language abilities and his very distinct voice - worked as a radio announcer at the U.S. Office of War Information, which was broadcasting news over the Nazi-occupied France. Later he would become a successful producer at the CBS studios.
During his first years in NYC, Brynner had to do a number of odd jobs, including modeling, and was even photographed nude by George Platt Lynes.
A friend convinced Yul to try auditioning for a new musical from Rodgers and Hammerstein – The King and I – in 1951, and he reluctantly agreed, shaving his head for the role of King Mongkut of Siam. His bald head was extremely unusual at that time, and did a lot to help him create the iconic image he was known for. The King and I would be played by Yul 4,625 times (!) during his career, winning two Tony Awards for the play, and the Academy Award as Best Actor for the film version of 1956.
That film catapulted Yul into the circle of Hollywood superstars, where, due to his appearance and voice, he was mostly cast in historical and action movies: The Ten Commandments (1956), The Brothers Karamazov (1958), Solomon and Sheba (1959), The Magnificent Seven (1960), Taras Bulba (1962), Kings of the Sun (1963), Morituri (1965), and The Ultimate Warrior (1975).
In addition to being a successful actor and producer, Brynner was a professional photographer and writer with two books to his pen: Bring Forth the Children: A Journey to the Forgotten People of Europe and the Middle East (1960), containing photographs by himself and Magnum photographer Inge Morath, and The Yul Brynner Cookbook: Food Fit for the King and You (1983).
In 1965 the actor renounced his American citizenship while staying in Switzerland due to tax issues – tax debts and penalties would have ruined him.
Brynner was married four times, with the first three marriages bringing him five children (two of them – adopted) and invariably ending in divorces. The third marriage, with a French socialite Jacqueline Thion de la Chaume (1971–1981), ended quite abruptly after Brynner's announcement that he would go back on Broadway stage to play another season of The King and I, angering his wife, who felt he was neglecting the family.
The last marriage with a 24-year-old ballerina from Malaysia (Brynner was 62) lasted for two years, until Brynner's death in 1985 of lung cancer. Yul attributed his illness to his smoking since the age of 12, and even starred in several anti-smoking public service announcements.
"Yul: The Man Who Would Be King" – Rock Brynner, Berkeley Books (1991)
"Yul Brynner biography" – Filmreference.com