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Yul Brynner (July 11, 1920 –
October 10, 1985) was a Russian-born actor of stage
and film, perhaps best known for his portrayal of the
Siamese king in the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical The
King and I on both stage and screen, as well as Rameses
II in the 1956 Cecil B. DeMille film The Ten
Commandments and as Chris Adams in The Magnificent
He was noted for his deep, rich voice and for his shaven
head, which he kept as a personal trademark since
adopting it in his role in The King and I.
He was born Yuliy Borisovich Brynner (Russian: Юлий
Бори́сович Бри́нер) in Vladivostok, Russia. His father, Boris Brynner
(Russian: Борис Бринер), was a mining engineer of Swiss and Mongolian
ancestry and his mother Marusya was a housewife.
Brynner exaggerated his background and early life for the press, claiming
that he was born Taidje Khan of part-Mongol parentage, on the Russian
island of Sakhalin. A biography published by his son Rock Brynner in 1989
clarified these issues.
Yul claimed to be a quarter Romany and in 1983 was elected to the position
of Honorary President of the Roma, an office that he kept until his death.
Yul also infrequently refered to himself as Julius Briner. In addition to
his work as a performer, Brynner was an active photographer, and wrote two
After Boris Brynner abandoned his family, his mother took Yul and his
sister, Vera Bryner (Russian: Вера Бринер), to Harbin, China, where they
attended a school run by the YMCA, and in 1934 she took them to Paris.
War II, Brynner worked as a French speaking radio announcer and
commentator for the U.S. Office of War Information, broadcasting
propaganda to occupied France.
He began acting and modeling in his twenties, and
early in his career he was photographed nude by George Platt Lynes.
Brynner's best-known role was that of King Mongkut of Siam in the Broadway
production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical The King and I which he
played 4,626 times onstage over the span of his career. He appeared in the
original production and subsequent touring productions, as well as a 1977
Broadway revival, and another Broadway revival in 1985. He also appeared
in the film version for which he won an Academy Award as Best Actor, and
in a short-lived TV version (Anna and the King) on CBS in 1972. Brynner is
one of only nine people who have won both a Tony Award and an Academy
Award for the same role.
He made an immediate impact upon launching his film
career in 1956, appearing not only in The King and I that year, but also
in major roles in The Ten Commandments opposite Charlton Heston and
Anastasia opposite Ingrid Bergman. Brynner, at 5'10", was reportedly
concerned about being overshadowed by Charlton Heston's physical presence
in the film The Ten Commandments, and prepared with an intensive
He later starred in such films as the Biblical epic Solomon and Sheba
(1959), The Magnificent Seven (1960), and Kings of the Sun (1963). He
co-starred with Marlon Brando in Morituri; Katharine Hepburn in The
Madwoman of Chaillot and William Shatner in a film version of The Brothers
Karamazov. He starred with Barbara Bouchet in Death Rage, 1976. Among his
final feature film appearances were Westworld (1973) and the sequel,
Futureworld, in 1976.
Towards the end of his life he contracted trichinosis and subsequently
sued Trader Vic's restaurant in the Plaza Hotel in New York City for
serving him undercooked pork, from which, allegedly, he caught the