Biography (or sort of)

Biography (or sort of)

Things to bear in mind before you read this biography:

  • It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma: Churchill about Russia.
  • Russian rhetorical device, telling small half-truths for amusement and not self-advantage: about vranyo.
  • There are times I almost think I am not sure of what I absolutely know: the King of Siam.
  • But is a puzzlement!: the King of Siam.
  • People don’t know my real self, and they’re not about to find out: Yul Brynner.
  • Razor blades and mystery: Yul Brynner.
  • The fundamental rule is never reveal yourself, between fiction and reality, I always choose fiction. It exercises one’s brain and else’s: Yul Brynner.
  • To print my biography? It would be my torture, my death. To be always the same person! No, I want to change my background whenever I want: Yul Brynner.
  • So let it be written, so let it be done… now you may read his biography (or sort of).


  • Yul Brynner is born as Yuliy Borisovitch Bryner, on July 11th, 1920, in Russia’s largest port city, Vladivostok, Siberia.
  • Son of Boris Bryner, an Swiss-Russian engineer who was the son of a Swiss Consul, and son of Maria Blagovidova, who wasn’t Gypsy nor Romanian, but of Buryat roots, who studied drama and bel canto at St. Petersburg’s Conservatoire, and younger brother of Vera Bryner, concert, opera and folk singer.
  • Boris Bryner abandons the family when Yul was 3 years old, and his mother takes her children to Harbin, Manchuria, where they finished their studies.


  • In 1934, they move to Paris, France, where they live for 6 years. During those years, he wandered, studied and worked in Paris.
  • He gets his first guitar, and learns Gypsy songs with Vera, in a nightclub near the Opéra de Paris where they meet Aliosha Dimitrievitch, and also sings in another one in the Latin neighbourhood.
  • Is hired by a circus and works 2 years in the trapece, but has a 12 m fall and breaks 47 bones.
  • Works as a bodyguard for a French businessman in Biarritz.
  • Travels to England, earns a scholarship.
  • Studies drama with Ludmila and Georges Pitoëff.


  • In 1940, the family was on the last American ship to leave the port of Marseilles, prior to the Nazi attack on France, arriving to New York.
  • Travels to Ridgefield, Connecticut, where he meets Michael Chekhov and joins his theatrical troupe.
  • Makes a brief debut in 1941 with Chekhov’s troupe playing as Fabian in “Twelfth Night” and as Cornwall in “King Lear”, but the company was dissolved due to the lack of money, and Jules Bryner or Youl Bryner grabs his guitar and comes back to music, singing again in nightclubs, in the same time as his wavy and thick hair began to move back.
  • At the beginning of 1943, Yul’s mother dies of cancer. Weeks before her death, he had to work in 3 jobs at the same time in order to pay the expenses of doctors and medicines, and thanks to his voice and his fluency in French, he worked as a radio announcer and commentator for the U.S. Office of War Information, broadcasting to the occupied France, worked as a singer for “The Cafe Society” in New York, and also as a master of ceremonies in a nightclub. He also applies for changing Swiss citizenship, to US citizenship.
  • During that year, Yul hired an agent, Margaret Lindley, who introduces him to Virginia Gilmore, also an actress, and works as Andre in “The Moon Vine” play.
  • In 1944 he marries Virginia, and both live a period of big financial problems. Works in a TV series, “Mr. Jones and His Neighbors”.
  • In 1946 Yul auditions for a role in the musical comedy “Lute Song”, he gets the starring role of Tsai-Yong, but the musical wasn’t too successful, the theater is closed, and again, they’re going under financial problems, but now expecting their first son Yul II (Rock Brynner).
  • In 1948 he gets a role in the play “Dark Eyes” and has to move to London alone, leaving Virginia and Rock in a house of a friend. When he comes back, the tax authorities take most of his profits, leaving the family in a difficult situation, until Yul accepts a job in television, working some time as an actor, host or director, like “Mr. and Mrs.” hosting with Virginia, or in CBS as a television director (among other shows) in 1950, being remembered as one of the most brilliant directors of his time.
  • In 1949 he makes his film debut with “Port of New York”, playing the role of evil Paul Vicola.


  • It was in 1951 when he takes that great opportunity that was “King and I”, and in the night of March 29th, 1951, when he shocked the audience as the King of Siam, hearing comments such as “What is a bone for the dogs, what is Marilyn Monroe for men; all that, is Brynner for women…”.
  • He plays the role of the King of Siam during 3 years, with a total of 1,246 performances at the St. James Theatre. Winning in 1952 a Tony Award® for Best Featured Actor in a Musical.
  • In 1956 he stars the film version of “The King and I”, and wins an Oscar® for Best Actor, winning over recently late James Dean for “Giant”, and becoming this way in one of the few actors who have won both a Tony and an Academy Award for the same role.
  • In 1958, Lark Brynner, his second daughter, is born (out of wedlock).
  • During this decade he films several movies, like:
  1. “The Ten Commandments”
  2. “Anastasia”,
  3. “The Brothers Karamazov”,
  4. “The Buccaneer”,
  5. “The Journey”,
  6. “The Sound and the Fury”, and
  7. “Solomon and Sheba”
  • Bringing his black Leica M3 camera everywhere he could during rehearsals or while waiting for a scene to begin, showing with his pictures, that he was also an accomplished photographer. In 1996 his daughter Victoria published this pictures in a book called “Yul Brynner: Photographer”.


  • In 1960 he serves as a Special consultant to United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, and publishes along with his friend Inge Morath, the book “Bring Forth the Children: A Journey to the Forgotten People of Europe and the Middle East”.
  • He gets divorced from Virginia Gilmore, and marries Chilean model Doris Kleiner, during the filming of “The Magnificent Seven”.
  • In 1962, Victoria Brynner, his third daughter is born in Switzerland.
  • In 1967, Aliosha Dimitrievitch and Yul meet again and release a record album called “The Gypsy and I: Yul Brynner Sings Gypsy Songs”. In that year he also gets divorced from Doris Kleiner and in December, his sister Vera dies.
  • During this decade he films more movies, like:
  1. “Once More, with Feeling!”,
  2. “Surprise Package”,
  3. “The Magnificent Seven”,
  4. “Escape from Zahrain”,
  5. “Taras Bulba”,
  6. “Kings of the Sun”,
  7. “Flight from Ashiya”,
  8. “Invitation to a Gunfighter”,
  9. “Morituri”,
  10. “Cast a Giant Shadow”,
  11. “Poppies Are Also Flowers”,
  12. “Return of the Seven”,
  13. “Triple Cross”,
  14. “The Double Man”,
  15. “The Long Duel”,
  16. “Villa Rides”,
  17. “The File of the Golden Goose”,
  18. “Bitka na Neretvi”, and
  19. “The Madwoman of Chaillot”


  • In 1971, he marries Jacqueline Thion de la Chaume, a French activist and socialité, and they adopt two Vietnamese children: Mia in 1974, and Melody in 1975.
  • In 1972, re-creates his “King and I” role in an expensive weekly TV series, “Anna and the King”, but it only had 13 episodes and 1 pilot.
  • In 1974, he begins a national tour with the musical titled “Odyssey”, where he plays the role of Odysseus, but the tour is plagued with problems from the start. Both Yul and co-star Joan Diener were frequently ill and missed performances, and in April 1975, the two, together with Joans’s husband and Yul’s wife, filed a $7.5 million lawsuit against Trader Vic’s in Manhattan, alleging shortribs they ate there shortly before the start of the tour were poisonous and had left them “ill, weak, and infirm.” Having already 11 previews, in 1976, the play was revamped and retitled “Home, sweet Homer”, but it was a just one-night Broadway run.
  • In 1977, he re-conquers Broadway in a triumphant revival of “The King and I”. The play ran for 695 performances between 1977 and 1978. In 1977, he is named Honorary President of the International Romani Union, charge that he kept until his death.
  • In 1979, he plays again the role of the King of Siam, in another revival of “The King and I”, but now at the London Palladium.
  • During this decade he also films some movies, like:
  1. “Indio Black, sai che ti dico: Sei un gran figlio di…”,
  2. “The Light at the Edge of the World”,
  3. “Romance of a Horsethief”,
  4. “Catlow”,
  5. “Fuzz”,
  6. “Le Serpent”,
  7. “Westworld”,
  8. “The Ultimate Warrior”,
  9. “Con la rabbia agli occhi”, and
  10. “Futureworld”


  • In 1980, he puts his voice in a short film called “Lost to the Revolution”, his last film project.
  • In 1981 he gets divorced from Jacqueline.
  • In 1983 he publishes the book “The Yul Brynner Cookbook: Food Fit for the King and You” by Yul Brynner, and Susan Reed. In the same year he marries Kathy Lee (Lead Royal Dancer / Eliza in “The King and I” play), and also reprises the role of the King of Siam for a 6-week period beginning in August 1983, in Los Angeles.
  • After smoking since he was 12 years old, and smoking as much as 5 packs a day, he quits smoking in the late 1960’s, but during a run of “The King and I” in 1983, he developed hoarseness that unfortunately ended up in a cancer diagnosis. Yul Brynner and Dr. George Sisson, found The Yul Brynner Head and Neck Cancer Foundation, Inc., to launch a crusade to educate the young people of the world on the effects of tobacco and its relationship to mouth and throat cancer.
  • In January, 1985, he stars another revival of 191 performances for “The King and I” in Broadway and tells the television audience from “Good Morning America” on ABC News, that what he really wanted to do was to record a commercial that said, “Now that I’m gone, I tell you: Don’t smoke, whatever you do, just don’t smoke”. Defying his doctors’ orders, he continues to perform across the country after the cancer was diagnosed, despite extreme fatigue from radiation treatments and chemotherapy. In this revival, he receives a Tony Special Award® for the record of his 4,625 performances over 34 years of his life. On June 30, 1985, he finally retired from the stage, giving one final performance in “The King and I”.
  • To finish with this biography: He never wanted his audience to know the severity of his condition until after his death, and on October 10, 1985, at age 65, Yul Brynner dies of lung cancer in a New York hospital. After he died, in October of that year, Yul got his wish. Officials at the American Cancer Society had the idea of using the footage from “Good Morning America” to make a public service announcement, the announcement, completed in 1985 and first aired in early 1986, remains one of the most memorable antismoking statements ever made in the whole world. You can read here the full text of the message that Yul Brynner wrote for this announcement.
  • His ashes remain on the grounds of the Saint Michel de Bois Aubry, an old Orthodox Abbey, near Luzé, in France.

My huge thanks go to Tito from Mágicas Ruinas for letting me take valuable information from his great website in order to build this biography. Muchísimas gracias Tito, sos Gardel! :mrgreen:

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