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Yul Brynner

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Exotic leading man of American films, famed as much for his completely bald head as for his performances. Brynner masked much of his life in mystery and in outright lies designed to tease the gullible, and it was not until the publication of a biography by his son in 1989 that many of the details of Brynner's early life became clear(er). He often claimed to be a half-Swiss, half- Japanese named Taidje Khan, born on the island of Sakhalin; in reality he was the son of Boris Bryner, a Swiss-Mongolian engineer and inventor, and Marousia Blagavidova, the daughter of a Russian doctor. He was born in their hometown of Vladivostok on 11 July 1920, and named Yul after his grandfather Jules Bryner. When Yul's father abandoned the family, his mother took Yul and his sister Vera to Harbin, China, where they attended a school run by the YMCA. In 1934, Yul's mother took her children to Paris. Her son was sent to the exclusive Lycée Moncelle, but his attendance was spotty. He dropped out and became a musician, playing guitar in the nightclubs among the Russian gypsies who gave him his first real sense of family. He met luminaries such as Jean Cocteau and became an apprentice at the Theatre des Mathurins. He worked as a trapeze artists with the famed Cirque d'Hiver company. He traveled to the U.S . in 1941 to study with acting teacher Michael Chekhov and toured the country with Chekhov's theatrical troupe. That same year he ed in New York as Fabian in Twelfth Night (billed as Youl Bryner). After working in a very early TV series, "Mr. Jones and His Neighbors", he played on in Lute Song, with 'Mary Martin', winning s and mild acclaim. He and his wife, actress Virginia Gilmore, starred in the first TV talk show, "Mr. and Mrs." Brynner then joined CBS as a television director. He made his film in Port of New York (1949). Two years later, Mary Martin recommended him for the part he would always be known for, the King in Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical The King and I. Brynner became an immediate sensation in the role, repeating it for film and winning the Oscar for Best Actor. For the next two decades, he maintained a starring film career despite exotic nature of his persona, performing in a wide range of roles from Egyptian pharoahs to Western gunfighters, almost all with the same shaven head and indefinable accent. In the 1970s, he returned to the role that had made him a star, and spent most of the rest of his life touring the world in The King and I. When he developed lung cancer in the mid-1980s, he left a powerful public service announcement denouncing smoking as the cause, for broadcast after his death. The cancer and its complications, after a long illness, ended his life. But he remains one of the most fascinating, unusual, and beloved stars of his time.
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