Yul Brynner was an iconic actor known for his distinctive shaved head, intense stare, and powerful on-screen presence. He had a long, prolific career spanning over 30 years and appeared in films like The King and I, The Ten Commandments, and Westworld.
Brynner won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in The King and I and earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
But what is it exactly that made him so beloved by audiences? Here are some of the key reasons why Yul Brynner continues to be admired and remembered fondly today:
His Unique and Striking Appearance
One of the most identifiable things about Yul Brynner was his signature shaved head. He first shaved his head for his role as King Mongkut of Siam in the stage production of The King and I in 1951 and then retained the bald look for the rest of his career.
His intense gaze, prominent bone structure, and imposing physique combined with the shaved head created an unforgettable and almost regal screen presence that made him stand out in any role.
Audiences had never seen someone quite like him before, and his striking appearance left a lasting impression.
His Diverse Range of Roles
While some actors get typecast into certain kinds of roles, Brynner showed off his versatility throughout his career. He played everything from kings to cowboys to robots. Some of his most famous roles included:
- King Mongkut of Siam in The King and I
- Ramesses II in The Ten Commandments
- Chris Adams in The Magnificent Seven
- The Gunslinger in Westworld
He successfully inhabited a wide variety of characters across different genres and avoided being confined to any one type of role. This displayed his acting talent and ability to transform himself.
His Unique Voice and Speech Pattern
In addition to his physical presence, Brynner’s distinctive voice also became part of his trademark. He had a deep, resonating voice with a unique accent that almost sounded vaguely foreign.
His odd pauses and distinctive speech patterns added flair and gravitas to his line delivery. When audiences heard his unmistakable voice, they immediately recognized it as belonging to Yul Brynner. His memorable way of speaking further set him apart from other actors of the time period.
His Intensity and Commitment to His Roles
Whenever Brynner took on a role, he fully immersed himself in it. He brought an incredible intensity and commitment to every part he played, making the audience believe he fully inhabited the character.
For example, he reportedly shaved his head on a daily basis during the stage and film productions of The King and I to maintain his bald look even on days when he wasn’t performing.
This dedication to remaining in character at all times impressed audiences and co-stars alike. On screen, he radiated focus and passion that allowed him to steal scenes and stand out from fellow cast members.
His Mystique and Worldliness
There was an air of mystery and exoticism surrounding Brynner, partly created by his unusual background. He was born in Russia, raised in China, and worked as a circus acrobat before becoming an actor. He was multilingual, intelligent, and cultivated an almost larger-than-life persona.
This worldliness and mystique made him seem more complex and intriguing than the average Hollywood star. Audiences were drawn to his exotic allure and the eclectic mix of influences that shaped him.
His Activism and Humanitarian Efforts
In addition to his acting work, Brynner was also known for his activism and philanthropy. He supported causes like the civil rights movement and anti-smoking campaigns.
After being diagnosed with lung cancer in 1983, he became a noted anti-smoking advocate and often incorporated the message into his public appearances and interviews while undergoing cancer treatment.
His passion for human rights and willingness to use his fame to promote worthy causes earned him respect and admiration.
He Represented Old Hollywood Glamour and Charm
With his classic good looks, graveled voice, and graceful screen presence, Brynner epitomized the elegance and masculine charm of vintage Hollywood.
He harkened back to the golden age of cinema and reminded audiences of screen legends like Cary Grant and Clark Gable.
But he also had a modern edge and didn’t seem outdated or archaic even as times changed. This combination of throwback appeal and contemporary relevance added to his timeless charm.
Memorable Performances in Classic Films
Brynner is remembered for delivering legendary performances in some of classic Hollywood’s most acclaimed films. His roles in hits like The King and I, The Ten Commandments, Anastasia, and The Magnificent Seven (just to name a few) are considered iconic.
Many credit Brynner with a big part of why those films continue to be regarded as cinema classics today. The way he lit up the screen and drew focus in key scenes is unforgettable. His work in these outstanding films solidified his status as a star.
He Had Mass Pop Culture Appeal
While Brynner was undoubtedly a talented actor’s actor, he also had irresistible mass appeal that made him a celebrity sensation. He proved a hit not just with critics and cinephiles but with everyday moviegoers who were simply charmed by his persona.
At his peak, his fame matched that of today’s biggest stars. He was a fixture in the public eye and could headline major films because audiences around the globe flocked to see his movies. Combining sex appeal, intrigue, and humor, Brynner was a pop culture phenomenon during his prime years.
Yul Brynner rose to fame through an inimitable combination of magnetism, mystery, talent, and a relentless drive to perfect his craft. His intense commitment to his art and ability to mesmerize audiences in every part he played made him a legend.
The striking, shaved-headed actor dazzled on screen for over 30 years, earning a place in the pantheon of great Hollywood stars. Brynner’s celebrated performances in classic films, activism for worthy causes, distinctive persona, and mass pop culture appeal all contributed to his lasting legacy as one of the most beloved stars of his era.
Decades after his death, his hypnotic screen presence and uncommon style continue to captivate new generations of cinema lovers. Yul Brynner remains an iconic figure who made a permanent mark on film history.
Frequently Asked Questions About Yul Brynner’s Appeal
Why did Yul Brynner shave his head?
Yul Brynner first shaved his head to play the role of King Mongkut of Siam in the 1951 musical The King and I on Broadway. He maintained the bald look for the rest of his career because audiences so associated him with the iconic look after that initial stage performance.
What was Yul Brynner’s background?
Yul Brynner was born in 1920 in Vladivostok, Russia. His father was Swiss and his mother was part Russian and part Mongolian. He lived in China as a child before becoming a circus acrobat and eventually pursuing acting.
How tall was Yul Brynner?
Yul Brynner was 5’8″ according to most sources. While not extremely tall, he had a commanding presence that made him seem bigger than his actual height.
Was Yul Brynner a singer?
Though best known for acting, Yul Brynner had a deep, expressive singing voice. He performed his own vocals in musicals like The King and I. The song “Shall We Dance” showcased his singing talent.
Is there a Yul Brynner museum?
Yes, the Yul Brynner Park in Brynner’s hometown of Vladivostok, Russia opened in 2012 and includes a museum about his life. It contains personal artifacts and displays about his career.
Did Yul Brynner play guitar?
An accomplished musician, Brynner played classical guitar and sometimes performed in nightclubs between acting jobs early in his career.
Was Yul Brynner friends with Chris Adams?
No, Chris Adams was a character Yul Brynner played in the 1960 Western film The Magnificent Seven. The two were not friends in real life.
What was Yul Brynner’s last movie?
Yul Brynner’s final film role was as the android gunslinger in 1973’s Westworld. His last on-screen appearance was in a short anti-smoking PSA filmed shortly before his death in 1985.
How many films did Yul Brynner appear in?
Over the course of his lengthy career, Yul Brynner acted in over 60 different films and television shows. Some of his most famous movies include The Ten Commandments, The Magnificent Seven, and Anna and the King of Siam.
Did Yul Brynner win any major awards?
Yes, Brynner won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in 1956’s The King and I. He also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.