The globetrotting life of one of Hollywood’s true greats
Who’s the most famous Russian-born actor you can think of from the last century?
Not a lot of people know this, but Yul Brynner was actually born Yuly Borisovich Briner on 11 July 1920 in Vladivostok, Far Eastern Republic of Russia.
Best known for his portrayal of King Mongkut of Siam in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I, he subsequently starred in such iconic roles as Ramesses II in the Cecil B DeMille blockbuster The Ten Commandments and Chris Adams in The Magnificent Seven.
His father, Boris, was a mining engineer and inventor of Swiss-German and Russian descent. His mother, Marousia, came from the Russian intelligentsia and studied to be an actress and singer.
Boris Briner abandoned his family in the early 1920s, so Marousia took her daughter Vera and Yul to China, and later to Paris. Here, he trained as a trapeze acrobat and worked in a French circus troupe, but after sustaining a back injury, he turned to acting.
he and his mother emigrated to the United States. During World War II, he worked as a French-speaking radio announcer and commentator for the US Office of War Information and studied acting. His first Broadway performance was a small part in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night in December 1941, but with few other roles on offer, he began working as a director at the new CBS television studios. That might have been the end of his acting career … but in 1950, all that changed.
He was invited to audition for the lead in the stage musical The King and I. And the rest, as they say, is history. He appeared over 4500 in the musical’s lead role over the years. But he really shot to fame in 1956, when he starred in the film version, for which he won an Academy Award as Best Actor.
That quickly led to the launch of his mainstream film career, and his reputation grew with appearances in such blockbusters as The Ten Commandments – one of the top-grossing movies of all time. He starred in more than 40 other films over the next two decades, including the epic Solomon and Sheba, The Magnificent Seven, Taras Bulba and Kings of the Sun.
Russia’s Pacific coast may seem a world away from Hollywood Boulevard, where Brynner has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and the Saint-Michel-de-Bois-Aubry Orthodox monastery in western France, where he was buried following his death in 1985. Just five years ago, a 2.4-metre-tall statue was inaugurated at Yul Brynner Park, in front of the home where he was born at Aleutskaya Street in Vladivostok. The cottage that provided his childhood country home at Sidimi, near Vladivostok, is now a family museum.
Needless to say, if you’d like to see for yourself where this Hollywood legend’s life began, RNTO is here to make it happen for you!