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Considering the history of hostility between the United States and Russia, a Russian becoming an icon in one of America’s most uniquely American industries is an unexpected notion, but that was exactly the tale of Yul Brynner who was a Hollywood icon until his death in 1985. Having come to the United States on the back of the most unpleasant of circumstances, he rode his luck and with a little fortune on his side, he achieved success in the American entertainment space before he eventually passed on.
Yul Brynner’s Biography
Yul’s birth name was Yuliy Borisovich Briner. He was born on July 11, 1920, in Vladivostok which is now known as Primorsky Krai in Russia. He started exhibiting his ability for storytelling at a very early age, by telling exaggerated stories of his origin. He was born to Boris Yuliyevich Briner and Marousia Dimitrievna.
At the age of three, Yul was abandoned by his father who had fallen in love with an actress and left the family. This event started a chain of events that led Yul to America. His mother took the rest of his family, Yul and his elder sister to China. After nine years in China, the family relocated to Paris in France.
Yul initially wanted to be an acrobat and was part a French circus Troup for five years until a back injury made him retire from the profession. After the unexpected retirement, Yul started training to be an actor. In 1940, Yul relocated to the United States along with his mother. He settled in New York along with his elder sister who had been living in New York for a couple of years.
When Yul got to New York, he worked at the US Office of War Information, lending his French-speaking ability to be a radio announcer and commentator on a French-speaking radio. While he worked at the office, he continued training to be an actor and learned under the legendary acting teacher, Michael Chekhov.
After a year of learning and working at the US Office of War Information, Yul got his first acting role in a Broadway performance of Twelfth Night, a Shakespeare play. He played a small part in the play. After his first appearance on Broadway, Yul found it difficult to get steady acting jobs.
As part of attempts at diversifying his creativity and making money, he did some modeling work, including some nude modeling work for George Platt Lynes. After a few years of chasing acting gigs on stage and failed, Yul settled for a directorial role at CBS television studios, directing a show called Studio One, amidst other shows on the network.
His defining work would come in 1951. At the behest of his friend, Mary Martin, he auditioned for the role of the King in the musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein. He was cast to play King Mongkut in 1951.
He went on to play the role 4,625 times on stage and won Tony Awards for the first and last production of the musical. When the musical was adapted into a film in 1956, Yul played the same role and he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance. He won.
While the majority of his career was spent on stage as King Mongkut, Yul had a film career that solidified his greatness. Having won an Academy Award for his second appearance in a film, he went on to appear in other films like The Ten Commandments, Anastasia, The Brothers Karamazov, Solomon, and Sheba.
Yul Brynner’s film career helped him rank for box office success and he was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. Other recognitions to his life work include a 2012 unveiling of a statue of him at Yul Brynner Park in Vladivostok, Russia.
Spouse and Children
During his exotic life, Brynner got married four times. His first marriage was to an actress, Virginia Gilmore. Their marriage which lasted from 1944 to 1960. The marriage produced a singular child, Yul “Rock” Brynner who was born in 1946. The child is currently a historian and University lecturer in New York and Connecticut. Yul was romantically involved with other women, more notably Marlene Dietrich and Monique Watteau.
He married his second wife, Doris Kleiner in 1960 and the two shared another child, Victoria Brynner who was born in 1962. His third marriage was to Jacqueline Thion de la Chaume. The marriage ran from 1971 to 1981 and although they never had a biological child of their own, the couple adopted two children. His last marriage shortly before his death was to Kathy Lee, a Malaysian ballerina. The couple was married for two years before his death.
His third biological child was out of wedlock – a daughter he had from his relationship with Frankie Tilden.
Yul Brynner’s Death – When and How Did He Die?
Yul Brynner died on October 10, 1985. He died of lung cancer which was a result of a smoking habit he had developed since the age of 12. At his death, he created a public service announcement encouraging smokers to give up smoking and it was broadcasted on every major network worldwide.