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Yuliy Borisovich Briner (July 11, 1920 – October 10, 1985), known professionally as Yul Brynner, was a Russian, French, Swiss, American actor, singer, and director, best known for his portrayal of King Mongkut in the Rodgers and Hammerstein stage musical The King and I, for which he won two Tony Awards, and later an Academy Award for Best Actor for the film adaptation. He played the role 4,625 times on stage and became known for his shaved head, which he maintained as a personal trademark long after adopting it for The King and I. Considered one of the first Russian-American film stars, he was honored with a ceremony to put his handprints in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood in 1956, and also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. He received the National Board of Review Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Ramesses II in the Cecil B. DeMille epic The Ten Commandments (1956) and General Bounine in the film Anastasia (also 1956). He was also well known as the gunman Chris Adams in The Magnificent Seven (1960) and its first sequel Return of the Seven (1966), along with roles as the android "The Gunslinger" in Westworld (1973), and its sequel, Futureworld (1976). In addition to his film credits, he also worked as a model and photographer and was the author of several books.
Brynner's romantic life included throngs of women, as well as men. He had four wives – actress Viriginia Gilmor, Chilean model Doris Kleiner, Jacqueline Thion de la Chaume, ballerina Kathy Lee – in addition to numerous affairs with such stars as Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, Joan Crawford, and Ingrid Bergman.
Yul Brynner was born Yuliy Borisovich Briner on July 11, 1920, in the city of Vladivostok. He had Swiss-German, Russian, Buryat (Mongol) and purported Romani ancestry. He was born at home in a four-storey house at 15 Aleutskaya Street, Vladivostok. He had an elder sister, Vera, a classically trained soprano who sang with the New York City opera.
by George Platt Lynes
Brynner began his career playing guitar and singing gypsy songs among Russian immigrants in Parisian nightclubs. His fluency in Russian and French enabled him to build up a following with the Czarist expatriates in Paris. After a brief stint as a trapeze artist with the famed Cirque D'Hiver company in France, he started acting with a touring company in the early 1940s. He was soon on his way to becoming the first ever bald stage and movie idol.
In 1941 Yul Brynner traveled to the U.S., where he began an affair with American actor Hurd Hatfield, best known for playing the title role in the 1945 film The Picture of Dorian Gray. Both men were enrolled at the Michael Chekhov Theatre Studio in Ridgefield, Connecticut, and many of their classmates have since confirmed the affair. Michael Chekhov (1891-1955), mentored performers such as Marilyn Monroe, Jack Palance, Patricia Neal, Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Leslie Caron, Gary Cooper, Clint Eastwood, Anthony Quinn, Jennifer Jones, Robert Vaughn and many others.
A year later, twenty-two year old Brynner (before he shaved his head) posed in full-frontal nude positions for noted gay photographer George Platt Lynes.
Although Brynner had become a naturalized U.S. citizen, aged 22, in 1943, while living in New York as an actor and radio announcer, he renounced his US citizenship at the U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland, in June 1965 because he had lost his tax exemption as an American resident working abroad. He had stayed too long in the United States meaning he would be bankrupted by his tax and penalty debts imposed by the Internal Revenue Service.
Brynner married four times, his first three marriages ending in divorce. He fathered three children and adopted two. His first wife (1944–1960) was actress Virginia Gilmore with whom he had one child, Yul "Rock" Brynner (born December 23, 1946). He was nicknamed "Rock" when he was six years old in honor of boxer Rocky Graziano. He is a historian, novelist, and university history lecturer at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York and Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, Connecticut. In 2006, Rock wrote a book about his father and his family history titled Empire and Odyssey: The Brynners in Far East Russia and Beyond. He regularly returned to Vladivostok, the city of his father's birth, for the "Pacific Meridian" Film Festival.
Yul Brynner had a long affair with Marlene Dietrich, who was 19 years his senior, beginning during the first production of The King and I.
After more than three years and 1,246 performances, he starred in the screen version in 1956, winning an Oscar for Best Actor. He then returned to the stage for an additional 3,379 stage performances that stretched all the way to 1985. Brynner, 35 years old and married, was virtually unknown when he was cast in The King and I, and 52- year-old Gertrude Lawrence’s name appeared above his. Yul and Gertrude were having an affair at the time. Rodgers and Hammerstein often told the story that when Lawrence died during the run of the show, Brynner finally got top billing, and he burst into tears at the news (of his getting top billing – not the news of Lawrence’s death).
When Yul Brynner was in Paris making the film, Once More With Feeling, Manuel Puig was working as an assistant on the set in 1959. The two men had a brief sexual affair, and Puig bragged about Brynner’s generous endowment.
In 1959, Brynner fathered a daughter, Lark Brynner, with Frankie Tilden, who was 20 years old. Lark lived with her mother and Brynner supported her financially. His second wife, from 1960 to 1967, Doris Kleiner is a Chilean model whom he married on the set during shooting of The Magnificent Seven in 1960. They had one child, Victoria Brynner (born November 1962), whose godmother was Audrey Hepburn. Belgian novelist and artist Monique Watteau was also romantically linked with Brynner, from 1961 to 1967. In 1969, it was rumored that Roman Polanski made an adult video /"threesome" with Sharon Tate and Brynner. His third wife (1971–1981), Jacqueline Simone Thion de la Chaume (1932–2013), a French socialite, was the widow of Philippe de Croisset (son of French playwright Francis de Croisset and a publishing executive). Brynner and Jacqueline adopted two Vietnamese children: Mia (1974) and Melody (1975). The first house Brynner owned was the Manoir de Criquebœuf, a 16th-century manor house in northwestern France that Jacqueline and he purchased. His third marriage broke up, reportedly owing to his 1980 announcement that he would continue in the role of the King for another long tour and Broadway run, as well as his affairs with female fans and his neglect of his wife and children. On April 4, 1983, aged 62, Brynner married his fourth and final wife, Kathy Lee (born 1957), a 26-year-old ballerina from Ipoh, Malaysia, whom he had met in a production of The King and I. They remained married for the last two years of his life. His longtime close friends Meredith A. Disney and her sons Charles Elias Disney and Daniel H. Disney attended Brynner and Lee's final performances of The King and I.
Brynner died of lung cancer on October 10, 1985, at New York Hospital at the age of 65. Brynner was buried in the grounds of the Saint-Michel-de-Bois-Aubry Orthodox monastery, near Luzé, between Tours and Poitiers in France.
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