Birthday: July 11, 1920
Died At Age: 65
Sun Sign: Cancer
Born in: Vladivostok
Famous as: Film & Stage Actor
Spouse/Ex-: Doris Kleiner (m. 1960–1967), Jacqueline de Croisset (m. 1971–1981), Kathy Lee (m. 1983–1985), Virginia Gilmore (m. 1944–1960)
father: Boris Yuliyevich Bryner
mother: Marousia Dimitrievna
siblings: Vera Brynner
children: Lark Bryner, Melody Brynner, Mia Brynner, Victoria Brynner
Died on: October 10, 1985
place of death: New York City
Cause of Death: Cancer
Yul Brynner was an Academy Award winning Russian-born United States-based film and stage actor. He was not just an actor but a performer who impressed millions of viewers with his wide range of talent, impeccable looks, bustling energy and charming self. Born as a Russian, he carved his way into the world of acting in United States, standing out as a pure Eurasian actor of stage and films. Though he has done a variety of roles in films and theatre, he is best remembered for his clean shaved head look, authoritative voice and indefinable accent that he used for playing the role of King Siam in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical ‘The King and I’, for which he won two Tony Awards and an Academy Award for the film version. Not many know that such was the brilliance of his portrayal of the role of King Siam that he repeated playing the role 4,625 times on stage. While ‘The King and I’ was the magnum opus of his career, he did several other films including, ‘The Ten Commandements’, ‘Anastasia’, ‘The Ultimate Warrior’, ‘Westworld’, ‘Futureworld’ and many others. Additionally, he was a television director, a model, photographer and author of two books.
Childhood & Early Life
Yul Bynner was born on July 11, 1920 as Yuliy Borisovich Briner at Vladivostok, Far Eastern Republic (present-day Vladivostok, Russia) to Boris Yuliyevich Briner, a mining engineer and Marousia Dimitrievna. He had a younger sister.
His father’s extra-marital affair led him to be under the care and guidance of his mother who took the children to Harbin, Manchuria. Therein, he attained formal education in a school run by YMCA
With China likely to go into a war with Japan, she shifted her family to Paris in 1932. It was there that he became musically inclined and started playing guitar in Russian nightclubs.
He trained himself as a trapeze acrobat and worked in a French circus for about three years before sustaining a back injury which forced him to leave the job and take up a new career. It was then that he turned to acting.
In 1940, along with his mother, he migrated to US and started living in New York City.
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During World War II, he took to working as a French Speaking radio announcer and commentator at the Office of the War Information in the U S, broadcasting propaganda to occupied France.
Meanwhile, he also trained himself at acting by learning under Russian acting coach, Michael Chekhov. He then toured the country with Chekhov’s theatrical troupe. He made his debut on stage with a small role in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.
He then worked in the TV series, ‘Mr Jones and His Neighbour’ which was followed by the 1946 production of Lute Song with Mary Martin. In addition to acting, he took up several modelling assignments.
He turned to direction with the new CBS television studios, Studio One. He also starred in the first television talk show, ‘Mr & Mrs.’. In 1946, he made his debut in the big screen with the movie, ‘Port of New York’.
Having a successful career as a television director, he resisted acting proposals. However, succumbing to the pressure by Mary Martin, he auditioned for the role of ‘King’ in Rodgers and Hammerstein's new musical ‘The King & I’ in 1947.
The role of King Mongkut of Siam brought him immense critical and popular appreciation. In his career, ever since his original portrayal of the role in the 1951 production, he played the role 4625 times. Additionally, he revived his character in the 1977 Broadway revival, 1979 London Production and 1985 Broadway revival.
He reprised the role of King Mongkut for a film version in 1956 and in a short-lived TV version on CBS in 1972. The former went on to earn him his first Academy Award for Best Actor.
After the grand success of ‘The King & I’, he was cast in several films. He gained a superstar status with his roles in the films, ‘The Ten Commandents’ and ‘Anastasia’.
His brilliance at acting, exotic persona and indefinable accent won him roles in several other films such as the Biblical epic ‘Solomon and Sheba’ in 1959, in which he played the role of ‘Solomon’, ‘The Magnificent Seven’, ‘Taras Bulba’ and ‘Kings of the Sun’.
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Other films that followed were ‘Morituri’ in which he was paired with Marlon Brando, ‘The Madwoman of Chaillot’ wherein he was cast opposite Katherine Hepburn and in the film version of ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ in which he starred with Lee J. Cobb.
Towards the end of his acting career, he played a titular role in the film, ‘The Ultimate Warrior’ which was followed by ‘Death Rage’ in 1976. His last league of films includes Michael Crichton's ‘Westworld’ and its sequel ‘Futureworld’.
He did not limit his talent to simply acting and direction and instead ventured forward as a photographer, author and a guitarist. In his lifetime, he penned 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’. Both the books comprised of his photos that he had taken.
As a guitarist, he recorded some songs in the film, ‘The Brothers karazazov’ and in 1967, released a record album, ‘The Gypsy and I: Yul Brynner Sings Gypsy Songs’.
Awards & Achievements
In 1952, he was bestowed with a Tony Award in the category of Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of The King in ‘The King and I’. For his 4625 performances in ‘The King and I’, he received a special Tony Award.
In 1956, he won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of the King in the film version of ‘The King and I’. Furthermore in the next two years, he was ranked ‘Top 10 Stars of the Year’.
He was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6162 Hollywood Blvd
Personal Life & Legacy
He went into the nuptials four times in his life. The first was with actress Virginia Gilmore whom he settled with from 1944 to 1960. Together they had a son, Rock Yul Brynner.
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In 1959, he fathered a daughter with Frankie Tilden.
In 1960, he married Doris Kleiner. The unison lasted for seven years until 1967. They were blessed with a daughter, Victoria Brynner.
He then went into wedlock with Jacqueline Thion de la Chaume from 1971 to 1981. They adopted two children, Mia and Melody.
He finally married his fourth wife, Kathyyam Lee in 1983. They were married for two years until his death in 1985.
He was a heavy smoker and began smoking since he was 12. He, however, quit the bad habit in 1971. Twelve years later, he was diagnosed with an inoperable lung cancer. He underwent radiation therapy to treat the same.
He breathed his last on October 10, 1985 in New York City of lung cancer. He was interred in France on the grounds of the Saint-Michel-de-Bois-Aubry Russian Orthodox monastery near Luzé between Tours and Poitiers.
His cottage in his childhood country home, at Sidimi, near Vladivostok, has been turned into a family museum.
A 2.4 meter statue was erected at the Yul Brynner Park, in front of the home where he was born at on September 28, 2012.
This Russian-born actor shaved his head for his role in The King and I. Following its huge success, he continued to shave his head for the rest of his life, though he would sometimes wear a wig for certain roles.