On Easter Sunday, my mother would have my brother and I watched the epid Hollywoof Film ‘The Ten Commandements’. It is one Chartlon Heston’s (1923-2008) best roles and his agtonist in the film, Yul Brynner (1920-1985), delivers an equally compelling performance a Ramesses II. In fact, it remains the film by which I have always recognized Brynner. However, like most great stars of his era, often called the “Golden Era of Hollywood”, there was more to his life than the public was able to see. His son Rock Brynner decided to turn memories of his childhood into this memoir of the time he spent with his father, one of Hollywood’s leading men.
The book is an autobiography and biography at the same time. Rock tells the story of his father’s life while giving us insight into his own struggle as he grows up in the public spotlight. Yul Brynner has always remained something of a mystery. He never fully explained his upbringing in interviews but instead chose to spread misinformation and in some cases complete fabrications. The real story of the Brynner name is told here, putting to rest any outlandish rumors that have persisted throughout the years about Yul’s origins. If there was ever an instance of the apple does not fall far from the tree, it is definitely to be found here as the actions of Yul’s grandfather Jules and father Boris serve as a blueprint for the way Yul later lived his own life. Was it heriditary? I do not believe so but it is apparent that within the Brynner family, history continued to repeat itself in ways that will leave some readers speechless.
Yul Brynner remains the center of the story all the way throughout the book. His son lets us following along as his father leaves his native Switzterland and emigrates to New York and into a completely new world. From there, he would eventually make it west to Hollywood. The trials and tribulations endured by Brynner are reminiscent of the long paths taken by other stars to finally achieve stardom. He was a tenaciou individual, undaunted by adversity and determined to leave his mark on the film world. The fact that I am writing about him in 2020 shows that he was indeed successful. But what I found to be even more interesting was the fact that when he arrived in America, he spoke almost no English. Incredibly, the films later in his career reveal no trace of this fact.
Similar to other leading men and women in Hollywood, Yul’s life was filled with indescretions, controversy and financial troubles which hung over him like a dark cloud. The Unites States Government proved to be a formidable enemy, even pushing Yul to make a big move abroad that affected sitautions and events around him for the rest of his life. Rock does not hide anything and reveals the unorthodox world of the place they call Tinsel Town.
Rock supplements his dad’s story with his own that begins in a house with a roaming father with an eye for the opposite sex and a mother with an addiction that would later drive a wedge in between husband and wife. Virginia Gilmore’s (1919-1986) role as wife of Yul Brynner and mother of Rock Brynner proved to be no easy task and as we see in the book, it took an enormous toll on her well-being. Sadly, she never remarried after Yul Brynner. By contrast, Yul remarried several times and with each marriage came even more surreal events that would be added to his story. Rock is forced to confront his own demons and as I read the book, I could not help to feel as if he was spiraling out of control but in a way different from his father, whose own demons were catching up with him. And while I would hesitate to label the household as dysfunctional, there were certainly things that would not be accepted today even many homes around the world. But this is life as Rock remembers it: the good, the bad and the ugly.
One aspect of the story that will be of interest to readers is Yul Brynner’s health. His appearance in an anti-smoking commerical after his death had an eerie film to it as nearly everyone by then was aware that Brynner had long since been dead. I found the back story regarding his health to be eye-opening and it also provided insight into the many ways we live our lives even at the expense of longevity. I do believe that if Yul Brynner were live, he would warn many about the perilous behaviour that helped to cause his own demise.
Other celebrities make appearances throughout the book and the anecdotes by Rock Brynner are interesting and reveals small bits of information about some of the greatest stars to ever grace the silver screen. Not all of the storys have happy endings, some are dark such as small sections regarding the late Steve McQueen (1930-1980). Rock finds himself immeresed in this usual but highly seductive lifestlyle that would give rise to his own pitfalls that haunted him for many years. His struggle is equally as poignant as the story of his father’s life. Father and son had a great bond but differences of opinion that later became a source of tension between the two. Regardless, Rock never wavers in support of love of his father and is with him up until Yul’s final moments which are recalled towards the end of the book.
If you remember Yul Brynner and have always been captivated by his work, then this book is a must read. And even if you are not, there is enough interesting information in the book to hold your attention all the way through. Great read.
“Mr. Brynner is, quite simply, the King. Man and role have long since merged into a fixed image that is as much a part of our Collective Consciousness as the Statue of Liberty.” –Frank Rich, The New York Times