Born in Russia in 1920, actor Yul Brynner began playing his most famous role, King Mongkut of Siam in The King and I, on Broadway in 1951. After more than three years and 1,246 performances, he starred in the film version in 1956, winning an Academy Award for best actor. Brynner then returned to the stage for 3,379 more theatrical performances. He also starred in such classic films as The Ten Commandments and The Magnificent Seven. He died in New York City in 1985.
Early Life and Career
Yul Brynner was born Yuliy Borisovich Bryner on July 11, 1920, in Vladivostok, Russia, to father Boris Bryner, a Swiss-Mongolian engineer, and mother Marousia Blagavidova. While Brynner is best known for his acting career, and, more specifically, for his baldpate, rich voice and compelling screen presence, he was also a musician in his early years. After his father abandoned the family, Brynner's mother took him and his sister to China, then to Paris, where he played guitar and sang gypsy songs in Parisian nightclubs.
After a brief career as a trapeze artist in France, Brynner moved to the United States in 1941 and began acting with a touring company. He made his Broadway debut in Lute Sang in 1946.
'The King and I'
In 1949, Yul Brynner made his film debut in Port of New York, co-starring with Scott Brady and Richard Rober. Not long after, he landed his most famous role, playing King Mongkut of Siam in Oscar and Hammerstein's production of The King and I in 1951. Actress Mary Martin had recommended Brynner for the role in the Broadway musical, and the actor garnered wide critical and commercial acclaim for his performance.
After more than three years and 1,246 performances, Brynner reprised the role of King Mongkut for the screen version of The King and I in 1956, winning an Academy Award for best actor for his performance in the film. The dazzling, Academy Award-winning success that might have become a trap for a lesser star became the ongoing glory of Brynner's career, from the peak of his stardom to his untimely death. But it was by no means his only role or his only achievement.
Following the release of 1956's The King and I, Brynner returned to the stage for an additional 3,379 stage performances, the last of which occurred in 1985. Along the way, the actor also starred in such classic films as The Ten Commandments (1956), Anastasia (1956), The Brothers Karamazov (1958) and The Magnificent Seven (1960).
In honor of his prominent acting career, Brynner received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (at 6162 Hollywood Boulevard).
Outside of his performing career, Brynner worked as a photographer and authored two books, Bring Forth the Children: A Journey to the Forgotten People of Europe and the Middle East and The Yul Brynner Cookbook: Food Fit for the King and You.
Personal Life and Legacy
Brynner's romantic life included four wives, actress Viriginia Gilmore, Chilean model Doris Kleiner, Jacqueline Thion de la Chaume and ballerina Kathy Lee, as well as numerous love affairs with such stars as Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, Joan Crawford and Ingrid Bergman. He had five children: son Yul "Rock" Brynner II with Virginia Gilmore, daughter Lark with actress Frankie Tilden, daughter Victoria with Doris Kleiner, and daughters Mia and Melody, two Vietnamese children he adopted with Jacqueline Thion de la Chaume.
Yul Brynner died of lung cancer on October 10, 1985, in New York City—the same day that film actor/director Orson Welles passed away. Brynner is buried at the St. Robert Churchyard in La Tourraine, France.
A true sophisticate of deliberately mysterious origins, beloved as much by men as by women, Yul Brynner was at home in a wide variety of languages and social environments. Today, the actor remembered for his looks, range of talents and energy on the set, as well as his capacity to draw others into the spell of his charm.
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