Sunday, January 8, 2012

For Sunday Scribblings and Three-Word Wednesday

(Also submitted to Magpie 99 and ABC Wednesday)

"Z" is for "Zenith"
A few decades ago, in Times Square, you could have seen a huge sign publicizing a musical starring one Yuliy Borisovich Bryner, known to film-goers around the world as Yul Brynner.
Then, glancing to the left, you could have viewed a true Broadway legend: an eight-foot bronze statue of George M. Cohan, the only statue, by the way, of an actor on Broadway.
They both reached the zenith, as far as their profession was concerned. But even though they belonged to the same show business tribe, they were a couple of very different guys. For years they and their diverse styles of production sort of summed up what the Great White Way was all about.

George M wasn’t just an actor-producer-director, he was also a singer, lyricist, dancer and playwright; he turned out some 500 songs in his career and he wrote, produced and starred in many musicals.
Way back there, before World War I, he was known as “the man who owned Broadway.”
George M’s songs, like George M himself, often tended toward a kind of super-heated patriotism: “You’re a grand old flag, you’re a high-flying flag…”

He’d been on the stage since he could first walk: for years he was one-fourth of the vaudeville act known as “The Four Cohans.” (The other three were his parents and his sister.) Cohan, by the way, was pronounced Co-han.
Then, glancing over to the right in Times Square you would have come upon the huge sign for Yul Brynner’s “The King and I.” Yuliy’s life story wasn’t much like George M’s. It was a life of almost incredible adventures, forced travel and the occasionally brutal necessity of doing whatever he could to make a living.
Born in Russia, in Vladivostok, the boy was taken to China and then, years later, to Paris. He got work as a trapeze artist with the local circus.

He was a Romani – a Gypsy -- on his mother’s side; when he became a star he was named President of the International Romani Union and he proudly kept that office till his death.

For a few years he had small parts in the Broadway theatre. It was Mary Martin who recommended him for the part he would forever be known for: the King in Rogers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I". It was a hit; he performed it almost 5,000 times on stage -- he must have gotten a bit sick of it. However, Brynner became an immediate sensation in the role, repeating it for film and winning the Oscar for Best Actor.

Yuliy was noted for his distinctive voice and for his shaven head, which he maintained as a personal trademark long after adopting it for his initial role in “The King and I”. Right, Brynner with a cigarette (which is what would kill him).

For several decades Yuliy maintained a starring film career despite his exotic nature. As an actor, he could be trusted to perform with solid professionalism in a wide range of roles from sullen Egyptian pharaohs to Western gunfighters, almost all with the same shaved head and that indefinable accent.

By the way, here’s his naturalization form when he applied for U S citizenship. Note: he had hair. :-)

43 comments:

Catfish Tales said...

Very interesting read! Thank you. And I see now why he shaved off all his hair - LOL

Roger Owen Green said...

Yes, better looking as bald. I realized I had never seen The King and I in its entirety!

zongrik said...

my father's cousin was best friends with his sister.

4 senryu about pages

Helen said...

Folks referred to him as 'scalped.' Whatever, he was gorgeous!!!

Rene Foran said...

I don't think I've ever seen Yul with hair!
But he's smoldering without it and those eyes, that chest etc. etc. etc....

Wander said...

Note: he had hair
Best line of my day Thank you for this informative piece. I liked his role as a robot gunfighter gone hay wire.

Rinkly Rimes said...

I love your blog! You always find the most fascinating information and you tell it in such a direct and readable style Thank you.

Madeleine Begun Kane said...

Fascinating post. Times Square sure looks different these days. :)

And thanks for your fun contribution to last week's Limerick-Off!

Doctor FTSE said...

"Head shall not be higher than King!"
"Blogposts shall not be better then Berowne's"

Berowne said...

What a great comment from Doc FTSE. Tak sa mycket...

Berowne said...

It's always good to start out a week with encouraging comments from the likes of Madeleine B K, Rinkly R, Wander, Rene F, Helen, zongrik, Roger O G and Catfish T - thanks so much.

Everyday Goddess said...

I think I've developed a crush on him...

Kathe W. said...

once again an education- great read- didn't know who that statue was....thanks Berowne

Brian Miller said...

ha how intriguing to see his picture from his papers...very cool touch there berowne...and nice contrasts in their two lives...

Lyn said...

Anything that brings that Yankee Doodle Dandy, Jimmy Cagney, to mind, is OK in my book.
As for Yuliy, it's a pleasure to view that magnetic face, those fierce brows again! They had faces in those days...

signed...bkm said...

What a great actor he was...thanks for the history...he is one man that looks better without hair...I am glad Mary Martin good see his genius that would stand the test of time...bkm

Daydreamertoo said...

When I saw that statue I had wondered who the subject was. Thanks for such an interesting piece of information on both!

Glenn Buttkus said...

You were so right, sir; both of our posts chose many of the same aspects of his life to illuminate; me in poetics, you in prose. Interesting that in 1951, they wanted to use Rex Harrison for the part since he had done ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM in 1945. Great for Yully, Rex was otherwise occupied.

kaykuala said...

Berowne,
Very exhaustive sketch of the man himself. Reading your posting is always an education.Yul as a subject is not short on facts. That heightens the interest.

Hank

zongrik said...

i like how you explained it all. it's a lot like my take, but i turned it into a poem. you inspired me.

days of cohan

izzy said...

I had such a crush on him growing up!
thanks for all the reminders and info!

Laurie Kolp said...

Lovely and informative, Berowne.

P.S. I like him better bald.

mrsnesbitt said...

How wonderful to have the ability to grow hair at your pleasure/convenience - my husband ould love that gift!
Great post for ABC Wednesday - yet again informative and inspirational (for bald people everywhere!) lol! Are you on board for Round 10? Would you like to do an intro?
Denise
ABC Team

jill said...

I remember sitting and watching The King and I with my Grandma and her friend and them telling me Yul Brynner was their heart throb.Bless them.Jill xx

EG Wow said...

It definitely seems strange to see Brynner with hair!

rel said...

Both men impacted my life as an amateur songster and stage player throughout my life. They gave me impetus to play out my dreams.
rel

Berowne said...

mrsnesbitt: "Are you on board for Round 10?"
I'll be there. Wouldn't miss it. :-)

Kay L. Davies said...

He had hair! Whodathunkit? And there were all those men shaving their heads to look like him while he was shaving his head to look like his first big role. Life is strange.
And George M. Cohan. I guess his name was always mispronounced. He certainly did a lot for musical theatre.
Very interesting post today, Berowne, but of course your posts are seldom dull.
K

Wayne Pitchko said...

nicely done..thanks for sharing all your words

☆•.¸.Mildred.¸.•☆ said...

Wonderful post! Didn't know Cohan, but I loved Brynner! It's so strange to see him with hair!
Thanks for sharing;o)

***
Happy day****

Wanda said...

I was fortunate to see the King and I at the Pantaous Theatre in Hollywood years ago with Yul Breynner and Deborah Kerr... A memory I won't forget... I was in college at the time.

Lady In Read said...

visiting from 3WW, lots of interesting information in one amaZing post! am following you now..

Sheilagh Lee said...

you know such interesting rich history. thank you for sharing this with us.

Tumblewords: said...

Remembering the great Yul. Fascinating actor.

Leslie: said...

Oh gee, that was one fabulous movie - I loved how he played the King and the sexual tension between him and Deborah Kerr was amazing!

Leslie
abcw team

Altonian said...

A bit late coming to this, but better late than never. This was a most interesting read, and informative too. I never knew that Yul Brynner was a gipsy; or rather, Romani - the difference is very important. Thanks for this.

Berowne said...

Altonian: "This was a most interesting read, and informative too."
A much-appreciated comment; thanks.

Berowne said...

It's great to see friends visiting; my thanks to Leslie, Tumblewords, Sheilagh Lee, Lady in Read, Wanda, Mildred, Wayne P. and Kay L D.

oldegg said...

For all his charisma on stage and screen I remember most distinctly the message he gave as he lay dying from lung cancer pleading with people to give up smoking. A truly unforgettable character.

Jo Bryant said...

Yul is a God - what a great entry to finish with
http://jobryantnz.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/z-is-for-zinke/

Margaret said...

LOVED this! Thank you for the background info! And I like Yuls much better without hair. :)

Margaret said...

...and no shirt :)

Ms. Geek Goddess said...

Loves it! I can always count on you for a great history lesson! :) He looked nice with hair.

 
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