Known for his trademark clean shaved head, Yul Brynner was undoubtedly the most famous Soviet actor of the 20th century. He was born in Vladivostok Russia to a Swiss Mongolian engineer and a Russian mother. After his parents’ divorce, Brynner relocated to Paris during his early teens with his mother and older sister Vera. While in France he fell in love with music and acting. He and his sister, who herself was a gifted vocalist, would perform traditional folk songs at Russian nightclubs in the city for money. After Vera left Paris for the United States during the mid-1930 in pursuit of an acting career, Yul’s focus switched to circus performing. He spent three years training as a trapeze acrobat with a local Paris circus troupe. Just before the invasion of France by Nazi Germany, Brynner and his mother fled to New York City, where his sister had already established herself as a promising Broadway performer. He studied acting in Connecticut under the tutelage of Michael Chekhov (nephew of Russian writer Anton Chekhov) who mentored famous actors such as Clint Eastwood and Marilyn Monroe. Initially rejected by Broadway directors because he looked too ethnically Asian, Brynner finally landed his first major theatrical role as King Mongkut of Siam in the critically acclaimed the King and I (1956). The play’s success caught the attention of Hollywood. He won an Academy Award in 1956 for the film version of the play and thus went on to have a prolific acting career over the next three decades.
Brynner acceptance speech at the 1956 Academy Awards
Brynner co-starred with several Hollywood legends such as Charlton Heston, Katherine Hepburn, Marlon Brandon, and Charles Bronson. He played memorable roles in Hollywood classics such as the Ten Commandments (1956), and The Magnificent Seven (1960).
Brynner’s brilliant acting alongside Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments (1956)
Despite his success, Brynner never forgot his ethnic Russian heritage. He played leading roles in several Soviet/Cold War themed films such as Brothers Karamazov(1958), Anastasia (1956) and The Journey (1959). Even to his death he loved performing Russian folk songs. It was remarkable the status he gained in the United States and worldwide despite the tensions of the Cold War.
Brynner speaking Russian in The Journey (1959)
Brynner singing Russian folk songs:one of his favorite pastimes.
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“Yul Brynner sing Â«Two guitarsÂ».” YouTube. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2013.
“Yul Brynner speaking Russian in “The Journey” (1959).” YouTube. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2013.
“Let My People Go – The Ten Commandments (1/10) Movie CLIP (1956) HD.” YouTube. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2013.