"Just call me a nice, clean-cut Mongolian boy."


Russian-American actor (1915-1985). Brynner tried to keep people guessing nearly all his life about his origins, often claiming to be half-Swiss, half-Japanese, but he was really born in Vladivostok in the Soviet Union. He really was part Swiss--he also had Mongolian and Russian blood. When his father left the family, his mother took him and his sister to China, then to Paris, where Yul attended the Lycée Moncelle. After dropping out of the exclusive school, he played guitar in nightclubs for a while before becoming an apprentice at Jean Cocteau's Theatre des Mathurins and working as a trapeze artist with the Cirque d'Hiver.

Brynner moved to the United States in 1941. He debuted on the New York stage as Fabian in "Twelfth Night" and later worked on "Mr. Jones and His Neighbors", an early TV series, and "Mr. and Mrs.", the first television talk show, which he made with his wife, Virginia Gilmore. After working as a television director for CBS, he made his film debut--with hair!--in "Port of New York" in 1949.

In 1951, Brynner starred in Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical "The King and I". He was wildly popular in his role as King Mongkut of Siam and went on to star in the film version, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Actor. From then on, Brynner was a Capital-S Star, appearing in a wide variety of roles, from the Pharaoh Ramses in "The Ten Commandments" to King Solomon in "Solomon and Sheba", from Dmitri Karamazov in "The Brothers Karamazov" to Jason Compson in "The Sound and the Fury", from Pancho Villa in "Villa Rides" to Chief Black Eagle in "Kings of the Sun", and from noble gunslinger Chris Adams in "The Magnificent Seven" to the robot gunslinger in "Westworld". Yes, he was even in "The Magic Christian" as, if I remember correctly, a transvestite lounge singer.

In the 1970s, Brynner returned to "The King and I", touring the world playing his best-known role. In the mid-80s, he developed lung cancer. Blaming his lifelong habit of smoking, he recorded an anti-smoking PSA, which was played after he died in 1985.

Much research courtesy of the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com)

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