Day 63, No. 63. Yul Brynner

Day 63, No. 63. Yul BrynnerHAIRCUT 100: Day 63, No. 63. Yul Brynner (Yuly Borisovich Briner): Russian-born actor, known for his portrayals of Rameses II in The Ten Commandments, King Mongkut of Siam in The King and I (for which he won two Tony Awards and an Oscar), Chris Adams in The Magnificent Seven, and his hyper-real reprisal of the role as a relentless killer cyborg in Westworld, anticipating the original Terminator. Brynner was born in Vladivostok in 1920, but grew up in China after his father abandoned the family for another woman. Fearing war between China and Japan, his mother moved the family to Paris in 1932. Brynner played guitar in Russian nightclubs before becoming a trapeze artist for a French circus troupe, until a back injury ended his career and he turned to acting. Once more outrunning war, the family moved to the United States in 1940, Brynner becoming a French language radio announcer for the US Office of War Information. During this period, he studied acting under Michael Chekhov, Stanislavski’s ‘most brilliant student’ and the nephew of the playwright Anton Chekov.

Brynner began acting on Broadway in 1941, with a minor role in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. He also directed for television and did some modelling, appearing in his first movie, Port of New York, in 1949. Brynner shaved his head to portray the King of Siam in the original Broadway production of The King and I by Rodgers and Hammerstein in 1951, retaining the look thereafter and cultivating an exotic aura that quickly translated to Hollywood stardom after his performance in The Ten Commandments in 1956. Among numerous, often iconic roles, Brynner played the mercenary ‘Carson’ in a personal favourite of mine, The Ultimate Warrior (1976), directed by Robert Clouse (who also made Enter the Dragon): a bleak, post-apocalyptic fable from the Hollywood mainstream in the tradition of Planet of the Apes, Solent Green and The Omega Man that re-invents the western three years before Mad Max. Brynner was a heavy smoker, and he died of lung cancer in 1985, aged sixty-five. He was still working on Broadway in the final year of his life, and he also left behind a powerful anti-smoking commercial that began: ‘I’m Yul Brynner, and I’m dead…’ They’re tough, these Russians. ‘I am just a nice, clean-cut Mongolian boy.’

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