Skip to comments.[Yul Brynner's son] Rock Brynner on Yul and Russia
Posted on 06/25/2004 9:16:41 PM PDT by Destro
Rock Brynner on Yul and Russia
Created: 25.06.2004 16:46 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 16:57 MSK, 15 hours 5 minutes ago
Professor Rock Brynner, historian, novelist and the son of the famed Hollywood star Yul Brynner, arrived in Moscow to present the Russian edition of his book, Yul, The Man Who Would Be King. Originally published in 1989, the memoir offers a candid look at one of the most charismatic and engaging performers of the Twentieth Century and the sometimes dramatic impact that his fame and character made on those close to him.
The son of a prominent Swiss-Mongolian engineer and industrialist who had married the daughter of a Russian doctor, Yul Brynner was born in the Russian Far-East city of Vladivostok in 1915. After the Bolsheviks seized power, his family was forced to immigrate, plunging young Yul into a life of variety: from playing guitar to the Gypsy songs of Alesha Dimitrievich in Paris restaurants, to working as a trapeze artist, to studying under the famous acting teacher Mikhail Chekhov, before making his debut in movies in 1949. Having appeared in over forty films, Yul Brynner is best remembered for such roles as the King of Siam in The King and I (1956), Pharaoh Rameses in The Ten Commandments (1956), King Solomon in Solomon and Sheba (1959) and the gunfighter Chris Adams in The Magnificent Seven (1960), where he starred alongside Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson. One of his last roles was that of a literally steely-eyed lethal robot gunslinger in the sci-fi yarn Westworld (1973) a true Terminator long before Arnold Schwarzenegger made the word a household name. Yul passed away in 1985 of lung cancer, recording a powerful anti-smoking speech to be broadcast after his death.
A successful movie star in his own right, Yul Brynner achieved a real cult following in the Soviet Union when The Magnificent Seven was shown there after Nikita Khrushchev briefly eased censorship in the early 60-s. One of the few westerns and the first (and only) Brynner film to be demonstrated behind the Iron Curtain, it instantly propelled the enigmatic actor to a status of a macho guru and an unlikely role model for the Soviet young. Shaven heads became the high fashion of the day, jeans were desperately sought after, and the lines from the movie provided an endless source for cryptic passwords between the initiated.
Although choosing in favour of following his own path rather than competing with his father on the silver screen, Rock Brynner has led no less a colourful life than great Yul in his younger days being a road manager for Bob Dylan & The Band (as well as travelling and hanging out with the Rolling Stones and the Beatles), creating and starring in a play based on the notebooks of his godfather Jean Cocteau, heading a charter-pilot service, programming computers, writing novels, helping to create the original Hard Rock Cafe, and among his more exotic experiences serving as a bodyguard for Muhammad Ali. As for the latter, while never a prize-fighter himself, Rock Brynner owes something else to the world of professional boxing: his name. Officially named Yul Brynner, like his father, he was nicknamed Rock at the age of six, in honour of Rocky Graziano who won the middleweight title in 1952.
A philosophy major from Trinity College in Dublin, Rock Brynner returned to the world of academia at 40 to receive his doctorate in history from Columbia University. Now, at 58, professor Brynner is a renowned expert on the American Constitution and twentieth-century U.S. history, as well as the author of two novels and a number of plays and non-fiction works. In Yul, The Man Who Would Be King, published in Russian this June, Rock unveils the years when he was growing up with his legendary father. Apart from presenting his memoirs, Rock Brynner is giving a series of lectures both in Moscow an in Saint Petersburg. The presentation itself was preceded by a theatre screening of The King and I, for the first time in fifty years in Russia.
We met with Professor Brynner at his Moscow hotel the day before the official Russian presentation of his book.
In the Soviet Union your fathers film The Magnificent Seven, while being a remake of Akira Kurasawas classic The Seven Samurai, has managed to reach the heights of popularity the original could never hope for, making Yul Brynner a cult figure if there ever was one. You probably get a lot of that on your trips here
Yes, and thats wonderful! I know that every Russian Ive met has seen the movie twenty times. And I met a wonderful Russian stage actor who embraced me when we met and said: Only a Russian could have made a Western like The Magnificent Seven!
But what was your fathers actual perception of himself culturally? Russian, Swiss, American, Citizen of the World?...
There was never any question that he was deeply Russian culturally but the family was forced to leave by the Communist regime in 1928 when he was eight years old. And because of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain it was always ancient history, there was never any possibility of him coming back, he was not welcome in the Soviet Union.
In light of the tremendous nostalgic value the figure of Yul Brynner holds for older generation of Russians, do you think that your book exclusively targets hardcore Yul fans or should younger groups of readers be looking forward to discovering new points of interest for themselves?
I think that it holds a great interest for anyone, because I tried to write a universal story of fathers and sons. Much like Turgenev. But it is a story of his life and my life and how different the problems are of a world-famous movie star and the star of a world-famous movie star very different lives and very different problems.
It seems that you managed to live out almost as many roles in real life as you father did in the movies. Philosopher, writer
pilot, restaurateur I starred on Broadway in a one man show, I was a computer programmer for Bank of America, I was a street clown, I was bodyguard to Muhammad Ali, I was road manager for Bob Dylan, and many other things Id rather not talk about.
Has this diverse and multifaceted lifestyle come from the desire to enjoy life to the fullest or were you in fact trying to live up to the legend that was your father?
I never wanted a career as an actor, so I never had a competition with my father. Ever. We lived in different universes. But I think I have inherited from him a tremendous hunger for curiosity and I always wanted to see the world from as many different perspectives, not just that of a movie stars son. I wanted to know how most people lived, how most people survived the drama of life, how they coped with the tragedies of life, and I wanted to see the world through the eyes of a pilot, and a novelist and a prize fighter, like Muhammad.
How exactly did you end up being Mohammad Alis bodyguard?
I am Swiss as well as American, thanks to my great-grandfather, Yuli Brynner, who went from Switzerland to Vladivostok, Russia. In 1971 I toured with the Rolling Stones as a roadie not a road manager a roadie, I just carried things. And In Zurich I met a man who wanted to bring Ali to fight there, so he sent me, because he didnt speak English, to negotiate. Muhammad and I became very good friends right away; needless to say I was already a great admirer of his. And once we were together a man started to attack him. You may know that a professional boxer can never fight outside of the ring or else he loses his license. So when I saw this man punching Ali, I grabbed his hand and broke two of his fingers, sending him to the ground. And then Muhammad turned to me and said: Who would ever have thought that the son of the Pharaoh of all Egypt would be protecting a little black boy from Louisville? So for the next three years whenever he had a fight, I got a plane ticket and a hotel room, and stayed by his side.
Samuel Beckett was among those of your many acquaintances who virtually shaped twentieth-century culture. Did you know him closely?
I did. I met him in Paris in 1964 and I was at the time in my first year at the university in the United States and I asked him if it would be wise for me to go to Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, where he had gone. And he said the professors were still excellent there. He really had a big influence on my education as well as my aesthetics.
Speaking of aesthetics, the lecture you are giving is titled The Social and Political Impact of Rock n Roll. Would you give our readers a brief synopsis?
Its about all the ways in which rockn roll affected society and politics but especially in terms of racial integration between blacks and whites: how, starting with Elvis, the culture became racially integrated before the laws became racially equal.
Dont you feel that rocknroll is out, that it simply outlived its role as the Great Social and Cultural Mediator?
No, I dont think itll ever be out. It has good years and bad years. But as long as adolescents rebel against their parents there will be rock n roll. Unfortunately, corporations now determine much more than the teenagers what music they will listen to, and that is regrettable. But nonetheless, rocknroll is still alive, and if you listen to new groups like Eminem, you still have teenage rebellion in music.
During your visits to Russia, did you have a chance to acquaint yourself with any local rock bands?
Im very familiar with my close friend Alexander Sklyar. In fact, he wrote a foreword for the Russian edition of my book. We met last September in Vladivostok, which was my first visit to Russia, and he came from Moscow to meet me because he had been listening for forty years to the recordings my father made of the Gypsy songs and he knew all these songs. The moment we met, we sat and sang songs together, it was wonderful. So Im a big fan of Va-Bank.
Do you have further plans regarding Russia? Have you given thought to publishing any of your novels here, for instance?
There is talk about that. EXMO Publishing has asked me if they could publish my first novel and the answer is yes. But right now I am working on the history of the Brynner family in Russia and it is in large part a history of how my great-grandfather was one of the men who created the city of Vladivostok. He is in all of schoolbooks and so when I arrived in Vladivostok last year, I was welcomed as the first descendant of founder of the city to return in the post-Soviet era. And legally, officially my name is Yul Brynner, the same as Yuly Brynner who founded Vladivostok.
Although I dont plan to visit Vladivostok on this trip, I hope to visit it every year hence, especially for the Vladivostok Film Festival. I cannot explain how very much at home I felt in Vladivostok, from the moment I arrived there. But I dont think its a mystery really, I think anyone would feel very comfortable and welcome in Vladivostok. At least in the summer.
Professor Rock Brynner / Photo: Oleg Liakhovich
One interesting point I learned while watching a biography of Yul Brynner was that he was a superb photographer. The directors always liked that Yul would naturally go to the correct spot in front of a camera without being told.
Hmmm. The article says he was born in 1915, which would have made him about 13 y.o. in 1928. It also says he fled when the Bolsheviks took power, which would have put him at 2 years of age when he left Russia. My head is spinning.
|I think he looks more like Frank Sinatra than Yul Brynner - creased cheeks, eyebrows, nose, and perhaps the ears.|
So....thanks for this thread, etc. etc. etc.
They fled to Siberia - the first fleeing.
Oops...Was in too much of a hurry to post the interview, so I just wrote what Rock himself told me, without thinking. Also I didn't mention that the family had fled the same year that Bolshies took power (in 1917). In fact, Vladivostok was a part of independent Far-East Republic for some time still. After Bolshevics got there is well, Brynner's family even had talks with Lenin about the possibility of managing their mines but ultimately had to leave.
Thanks for noticing the mistake!