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May 29, 2021

Yul Brynner: One of the First Russian-American Film Stars

Born 1920 as Yuliy Borisovich Briner in the city of Vladivostok, Russian-American actor, singer, and director Yul Brynner had his first Broadway performance with a small part in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in 1941. He found little acting work during the next few years, but among other acting stints, he co-starred in a 1946 production of Lute Song. He also did some modeling work and was photographed nude by George Platt Lynes.

Brynner was best known for his portrayal of King Mongkut in the Rodgers and Hammerstein stage musical The King and I, for which he won two Tony Awards, and later an Academy Award for Best Actor for the film adaptation. He played the role 4,625 times on stage and became known for his shaved head, which he maintained as a personal trademark long after adopting it for The King and I.

Brynner was also well-known as the gunman Chris Adams in The Magnificent Seven (1960) and its first sequel Return of the Seven, along with roles as the android “The Gunslinger” in Westworld (1973), and its sequel Futureworld (1976). In addition to his film credits, he also worked as a model and photographer and was the author of several books.

Considered one of the first Russian-American film stars, Brynner was honored with a ceremony to put his handprints in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood in 1956, and also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. He received the National Board of Review Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Ramesses II in the Cecil B. DeMille epic The Ten Commandments (1956) and General Bounine in the film Anastasia (also 1956).

Brynner died of lung cancer in 1985 at New York Hospital at the age of 65. Take a look at these vintage photos to see portrait of a young and handsome Yul Brynner.


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