Rock Brynner in the Russian Far East

Yul Brynner Park was opened on September 28th, 2012, when his statue was inaugurated in front of the house where he was born at 15 Aleutskaya St. in Vladivostok, Russia, in the garden where he played as a child.


This project took six years of planning and preparation before the granite for the ten-foot statue was transported to Vladivostok from a quarry in China a thousand miles away; appropriate, since Yul spent much of his childhood in China after his family fled Soviet Russia. Sculptor Alexei Bokiy, with whom I had begun discussing the monument in 2006, understood well the enormous challenge confronting him in carving such a very famous face and figure out of a single block of stone.
The City of Vladivostok that now owns the land in front of "Dom Bryner" contributed the grounds for the park, and financed the landscaping and architectural design. At night, along with the glow of the 1920s street lights, the statue is illuminated by spotlights as Yul Brynner himself was throughout his long career.







XIIth VLADIVOSTOK INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL "Pacific Meridian" 2014

Inauguration of Jules Bryner Statue in Dalnegorsk, Russia September 27th, 2014.


The whole city turned out in tribute to Jules Bryner, warmly remembered as the single-handed founder of Dalnegorsk.

The cast bronze sculpture is by Alexei Bokiy, who also carved the granite statue of Yul in Vladivostok, 400 miles to the southwest.

Jules Bryner, my great-grandfather, established the Bryner Mines in the wilderness in 1897, and with them the town of Tetukhe, known today as Dalnegorsk.

I had hoped to attend, but my brief visit to Vladivostok did not make that possible . . .

. . . but I have accepted the invitation of Dalpolymetall, the company that now owns my family's mines, to visit next spring, and I look forward to it with great anticipation.


(My thanks to Alexander Borisenko and Sergey Kiryanov for use of all the photos.)

This year the Festival was held at the new Vladivostok Opera House, which opened just three months ago.


Arriving on the "blue carpet" . . .

. . . with my friend Michael Madsen, best known for his roles in Tarantino films.

Michael attended the Festival last year as a guest and enjoyed it so much he returned this year as a competition juror.

This year Adrien Brody also came to Vladivostok, where he is best known for his Oscar-winning role in The Pianist, and this year in Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel.

He chose to present his earlier Anderson film, The Darjeeling Express.


Adrien and Michael have known each other for years.

Stephen Baldwin was also a guest at the Festival, best remembered in Vladivostok for The Usual Suspects.

The St. Petersburg stage actress Anna Astrakhantseva attended, representing her new film Two Women, adapted from Turgeniev's A Month in the Country. Anna co-stars in the film with Ralph Fiennes, whose performance in effortless, impeccable Russian is one of the film's many pleasures.

On the final night of the Festival I presented - as I do every year - the Yul Brynner Award for the Most Promising Young Actor or Actress, in the city where he was born.

Of course, this being 2014, the occasion called for the first onstage selfie at the Opera.


For this year's Yul Brynner Award, I chose Anna Levonova, who co-stars with Anna Astrakhantseva and Ralph Fiennes in Two Women, opening worldwide later this year.

Hockey legend Slava Fetisov is a beloved and admired national figure whom I've known for three years.
A true gentleman, Slava played for his Moscow team for more than a decade, as well as on the national Soviet Union team. Then he became the first former Soviet player to join the NHL, and played for the New Jersey Devils before winning back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings. Today Slava serves in the Duma (Parliament) representing Vladivostok and the region of Primorye.

Lecture at the Far East Federal University, Sept. 16th, 2014


The Far Eastern Federal University is on Russky Island, where a few years ago only goats roamed.
President Putin ordered the construction of the university to serve as the site for the Asian-Pacific Economic Conference, hosted by Russia for the first time in 2012. Today the university can serve 50,000 students from across Russia and Asia, since it absorbed the three main universities in the city.


The lecture was "The Role of Jules Bryner in the Birth of Vladivostok and the History of Imperial Russia."

Again, in 2014, it seemed a selfie was mandatory.

At night, the university is impossibly beautiful.

2013 - The XIth Vladivostok International Film Festival


The designated talisman of the event.

Opening the Film Festival

The transcendent Isabelle Huppert attended . . .
Her brilliant new film, Tip Top, directed by Serge Bozon (La France), had its Asian and Russian premiere at our Festival. Isabelle left early the next morning for the Paris premiere. I was introduced to her by my "Russian brother," Sasha Doluda, who first invited me to Vladivostok in 2003.

It would be impossible to spend enough time with this great artist.

. . . as did Michael Madsen . . .
His career on the screen goes back thirty years. Most recently he has appeared in a number of films by Quentin Tarantino.

But it was especially wonderful to have with us the inestimable Pierre Richard. . .

At the final Gala . . .
. . . who told me that he only imagined becoming an actor after seeing a Danny Kaye film: an interesting comedic inspiration. He also explained that he saw Yul's posthumous anti-smoking declaration in 1986 and stopped smoking the next day -- for which he credits his good health and long life.

With my friend Governor Miklushevsky of the Primorye region, of which Vladivostok is the capital.

Presenting the XIth Yul Brynner Award
Each year it falls to me to choose the winner and present the "Special Prize in the name of Yul Brynner" to the Most Promising Young Actor or Actress.

Yul's boots from The Magnificent Seven
My sister Victoria gave me these after she bought them at auction in Hollywood, and I wore them to the Gala. After Yul left Vladivostok for China at the age of seven, he had never again walked the streets of the city where he was born. . .

. . . but now, as I noted onstage, at least his boots had!

This year the Yul Brynner Award went to. . .

. . . Anfisa Chernich, for her role in the Russian film, The Geographer Who Drank The Whole Globe
A young actress from Moscow, Anfisa gives a heartfelt performance that was passionately embraced by Festival audiences.

The Festival's unpaid volunteers
Year after year, it is only thanks to scores of these devoted, sleep-deprived university students that the Festival is able to exist at all.

Across Aleutsakaya St. from Yul's statue

My Master Class on Michael Chekhov and Constantin Stanislavsky at Gorky Library
A peripheral event of the Festival, my lecture covered the important distinction betweeen Stanislavsky's "System" or "Method" based upon the recall of personal memories, and Chekhov's injunction that the actor must find the character and the emotions through the practiced use of imagination. I further emphasized that, until recently, Stanislavsky's greater renown owed primarily to his willingness to capitulate to any demands Stalin made upon him. By contrast, Michael Chekhov would not collaborate with Stalin's inhumanity, and had to flee his homeland in the 1930s. In 1940, at the age of twenty, Yul first came to the United States to live and study with him.

Michael Madsen chatting with Consul General Holm-Olsen and myself.

YUL BRYNNER DAY IN VLADIVOSTOK, JULY 2013


The Brynner commemorative silver coin

On July 11th, 2013, Yul Brynner's signature role in The King and I came to life in Yul Brynner Park, beside his granite statue . . .

. . . in front of the Art Nouveau home where he was born ninety-three years ago.

Each year on his birthday one of his films will be presented in Yul Brynner Park. This new tradition is sponsored by the city of Vladivostok and the Arsenyev State Museum.

The King and I is not well known in Russia, where Yul is most revered for The Magnificent Seven, the most popular foreign film of all time.

Rockenteur in the Arbat

Moscow, April 2013


The House of Actors

in the Arbat
Moscow's friendliest street, the Arbat, is a five-hundred-year-old passage, closed to traffic, where Pushkin and generations of independent artists have thrived. It is also where Russian theatre and film actors have gathered at the Actor's House for the past eighty years.

is where I was invited to perform



Rockenteur:

A Comedy of Cultural History

filmed before a live audience . . .

. . . including Anastasia Smetanina and Liza Arzamasova, past winners of the Yul Brynner Award at the Vladivostok International Film Festival.

May Day parade at the Kremlin, 2013

Vladivostok Spring Lecture Series, 2013
Far East Federal University


My thanks to Governor Miklushevsky, Professor Kusnetzov, Rector Ivanets, and interpreter Ivan Pisarev, who made this lecture tour possible.
A bouillabaisse of topics:

"Mikhail Chekhov, Konstantin Stanislavsky, and the Worldwide Revolution in the Art of Acting, 1900-1960."

"Global Problems Demand Global Solutions: Terrorism, Climate Change, World Hunger, and Sustainability."

"The Social and Political Impact of Rock 'n' Roll in the U.S. and Soviet Russia, 1960-1990."

"The Development of the American Language from Britain's English and the Birth of the American Character."

"Strengths and Weaknesses of the U.S. Constitution."

"Jules Bryner's Yalu River Timber Contract and The Russo-Japanese War."

"Global Problems Demand Global Solutions"

Political Science Students -- International Relations


"The Birth of The American Language"

Yul Brynner Statue and Park in Vladivostok, Russia


Yul Brynner Park and Statue

Yul, age 3, playing with his nanny (in wolf mask) and cousin Irena beside the Bryner house, 1923.

Yul Brynner was born on July 11th, 1920 in the terraced room above the statue.
People from across the city came for the Inaugural Ceremony in a festive atmosphere with a brass band, balloons, children playing in the park, dignitaries of Vladivostok and Primorye, and the very gracious United States Consul General Sylvia Curran.

The statue is a perfect likeness from every angle.

Dom Bryner (red arrow) on Tiger Hill presides over the heart of Vladivostok.

The inauguration of the statue was a day for flowers . . .

. . . families and children.

The sculptor Alexei Bokiy, who carved the granite statue

From across Aleutskaya Street
This view of the statue will greet every visitor arriving from Moscow on the Trans-Siberian -- the longest railroad in the world -- on their way to the city center. The house built by my great-grandfather is just a block from the railway station where Jules Bryner helped Tsar Nicholas II lay the corner-stone in 1891. The wall above the street is currently being re-faced in granite.

The announcement of the Inauguration featured a photo from The Magnificent Seven, which is still today the all-time most popular foreign film in Russia. But though The King and I has been seen by far fewer Russians, everyone who helped create this monument knew that Yul spent an unequalled fourteen years of his life in the theatre performing this role, for which he also won the Oscar.

The Mayor and I removed the Inaugural Ribbon . . .
Vladivostok Mayor Igor Pushkariov gave indispensable help to make the park and the statue possible.

. . . revealing the Russian inscription in gold: "Yul Brynner - King of Theatre and Film"


Thanking the hundreds of people who worked on this tribute.
The Yul Brynner Park grew out of the love and pride that this city of 600,000 feels toward its most renowned son. Even today, Yul Brynner remains the only Russian-born actor to win the Academy Award, for the title role in "The King and I," which he also played on stage for fourteen years of his life. His last performance on Broadway as the King came thirty-four years after his first. He continued playing eight shows a week until four months before his death from lung cancer in 1985.

THOSE WHO MADE THIS STATUE AND PARK POSSIBLE
Left to right: Sergei Stepanchenko, Moscow actor and head of the Vladivostok International Film Festival; Alexei Bokii, sculptor of the statue; Alexander Doluda, Rock's "Russian brother," who worked for years to bring Yul Brynner Park into existence; Igor Pushkarev, mayor of Vladivostok; Rock Brynner; Sergei Bogdan, Chairman of Primorye Bank; U.S. Consul General Sylvia Curran, who has done everything possible to support the Brynner legacy; and Anatolii Melnik, Chief Architect of the city of Vladivostok.



Liza Minnelli and Rock in Vladivostok, 2011


Liza May arrives in the Russian Far East. . .

. . . after we flew from New York to Seoul and (skirting North Korea) landed in Vladivostok, the last stop on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, six thousand miles from Moscow.

Liza Arzamasova, Rock Brynner, Liza Minnelli arrriving at. . .

. . .the Opening of the Ninth Vladivostok International Film Festival. Our young friend Liza Arzamasova is currently starring in Romeo and Juliette at the Stanislavsky State Theatre in Moscow.

Liza May waving to the crowd. . .

"Priviet, Vladivostok!"

. . .that greeted us.

Liza and Sergei Darkin, Governor of Primorye

A morning press conference. . .

. . .dissolves in laughter at Liza's stories about the boarding school that was our home from the age of nine to eleven. . .

. . . and other adventures we've shared over the decades.

Olya Vigovskaya, Liza May, Liza A, and Rock on a speed boad to visit Sidimi. . .

. . . where the Bryners had a country estate from 1880 until the 1920s, when they were forced to flee the Bolshevik revolution.

The Bolsheviks flattened everything but the walls of the beach cottage where my great-grandparents and my grandparents spent their honeymoons in 1882 and in 1915, and where my father Yul spent every summer until he was seven years old. . .

. . .which is being transformed into a museum commemorating the Bryner family, beginning with my great-grandparents, Natalya (Russian) and Jules (Swiss).

Explaining how, as children, Yul and his sister Vera hid under the cottage floorboards when Siberian tigers were prowling the Sidimi peninsula.

Since my first visit in 2003 I had hoped to show my friends the remains of this beach house where my father Yul had spent his childhood summers. Liza - and Liza - made that possible. [The photo of my father and me is from 1967.]

Liza A is Liza May's adopted kid sister and protegee. Together we watched her starring as Annie on the Moscow stage, age eight.

With Liza and her mother, Julia Arzamasova

Escorting Liza A to the final Awards Night of the Festival. . .

At every Festival since the first in 2003, I have presented the Yul Brynner Award for Most Promising Actor or Actress.

But this year I was also able to introduce my lifelong friend Liza Minnelli . . .

. . . who blew the roof off the joint with three songs, starting with "Cabaret". . .

"Elsie. . . as a matter of fact, she rented by the hour"

"Come to the Cabaret"

. . ."Maybe This Time" and "New York, New York," all written for her by Kander and Ebb.

She earned a full-throated, Russian ovation.

I gave her a kiss onstage. . .

. . .as my father Yul had kissed her mother Judy exactly sixty years earlier, when they both won Tony Awards on Broadway.

With that, Liza began a long evening of shirt-signing, first for Sergei Stepanchenko. . .

. . . as our host, Governor Darkin, watched in amusement.

For more on the Brynners in Russia, copies of Empire and Odyssey can be ordered at Amazon.com.






Publishers Weekly - Starred Review:
A four-generation family saga—featuring one of the world’s sexiest movie stars—would usually signal a fluffy beach read, but the story of the Brynner patriarchs is too historically complex and fascinating to fall into that genre. Great-grandson Rock Brynner opens by introducing Swiss-born Jules, who started in the import-export business out of Shanghai and then Yokohama, before establishing himself in Vladivostok in the 1870s. Jules took advantage of the city’s Wild West character and the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railroad to expand from shipping into mining and forestry, and created an extraordinary commercial empire. It was Jules’s son Boris who had to negotiate the socialization of the family businesses in the newly created Soviet Union. Boris’s émigré son Yul learned show business in France before turning his much-touted Genghis Khan genes—and his Russian method acting—into American box office gold. Yul’s American son Rock concludes the volume with his own adventures in the counterculture before becoming an academic. The odyssey comes full circle in 2003 when the city of Vladivostok invites Rock to come and celebrate as a native son. An enthralling family chronicle, the Brynner perspective on Far East Russian history should be important for Pacific Rim historians as well. 165 Photos.

Library Journal:
Brynner can truly be described as a Renaissance man accomplished in many fields, from street clown and actor to band manager, pilot, historian, professor, and writer. In this personal yet meticulous work, he chronicles the lives of four generations of his own family, beginning with his great-grandfather, Jules Bryner, a Swiss who eventually settled in Vladivostok, where he was greatly responsible for establishing its importance in the Russian Far East. Next, he covers Jules’s son Boris, a major industrialist, and then Boris’s son, the author’s father, actor Yul Brynner. He concludes, full circle, with his own odyssey to Vladivostok in 2003. Brynner expertly paints each era in the context of the family history, showing how each man made his own mark upon his generation, whether through direct involvement in the Russo-Japanese War or as an exemplar of Hollywood glamour. Brynner refers to many well-known celebrities, and he isn’t shy about revealing previously unknown stories involving Sammy Davis Jr., Marlene Dietrich, and Sam Giancana. Illustrated with over 150 photographs, this book can stand by itself as a fascinating tale of a fascinating family.

"The enthralling story, across four generations, of a singular dynasty of fathers and sons, all of them gifted, dynamic, complicated and driven, all of them firmly embedded in the history of their times. . . . They include the restless, brilliant, and ambitious Yul Brynner, whose odyssey from the Russian Far East to Paris, New York and Hollywood is chronicled with the flair of a born raconteur, the professional historian’s command of facts, and the memoirist’s firsthand knowledge of intimate family lore. His son, Rock Brynner, brings this dazzling saga full circle with his adoption by the people of Vladivostok."
— Elizabeth Frank, novelist and Pulitzer-prize winning biographer

"Empire and Odyssey is the Forsyte Saga of the Russian diaspora, an absorbing story of an extraordinary family adapting to changing times, of ambition, talent, egotism, loyalty, estrangement, and betrayal, set against a tumultuous background of imperial expansion, war, revolution, exile, and homecoming. It captures the characters Jules, Boris, and Yul with candor, humor, and poignancy. Rock Brynner’s curiosity and sensibilities, cultivated no doubt over the course of personal triumphs and travails, have attuned him to lyrical, tragic, ironic, and comic melodies, so that he can feel — and convey — the burden of Russia’s past, of Russia’s tragedies."
— Prof. John J. Stephan, author, The Russian Far East: A History

"Yul Brynner was among the most powerful actors of all time. Rock Brynner is one of the most exhilarating story-tellers I have ever read."
— James Earl Jones

"Dr. Rock Brynner is a gentleman and a scholar, and during my championship years he was always a true friend and reliable bodyguard."
— Muhammad Ali

The Okean Cinema

. . . overlooking the beach, is the heart of the Festival.

As the Festival's talisman, my image appears on the movie tickets.

. . . and from the air The city of 700,000, which my great-grandfather, Jules Bryner, helped to establish in the 1870s, and where my father, Yul Brynner, was born in 1920. This is the view from Amur Bay, with the "Golden Horn" inlet behind it.

The schooner Nadezhda

A three-masted schooner like the Pallada first brought Jules to Vladivostok in the 1870s. . .

YUL BRYNNER SINGS RUSSIAN GYPSY SONG

This was my father's signature song in the Paris clubs where he performed in the 1930s with Aliosha Dimitrievitch, and in New York in the 1940s. "Okonchen Poot," is Russian, though the dialect is distinctly Tsigani (Gypsy). Yul auditioned for "The King and I" with this song im 1950. It is very popular in Vladivostok - and all across Russia - today. To listen, RIGHT-CLICK on the link below this paragraph and then select "OPEN."

Yul with Aliosha Dimitrievitch in 1965

Aliosha's Signature Song, "Matoushka"

It's like no other song I've ever heard.

Vladivostok Station Last stop on the Trans-Siberian Railway
In 1891, Jules joined the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, in laying the cornerstone for this station.

The broad streets of the old city
Built on a narrow peninsula, Vladivostok is surrounded by two bays.

Vladivostok became home to 750,000 residents.

The Bryner Residence
The curved, Art Nouveau peak of the Bryner Residence was very daring when Jules had the house designed in 1910, and still looks modern today. Jules built it, Boris lived in it, and in 1920 Yul was born there. Eighty years after my family was forced to flee Stalin,I was welcomed there warmly. Now it is a city landmark.

The Bryner Residence (red arrow) overlooks the main square and port of Vladivostok.

Some years after leaving Vladivostok, Yul joined the circus in Paris as a trapeze acrobat.

Broadway, 1951
How Yul made it by the age of thirty from his childhood in Vladivostok to stardom in The King and I is only one part of the family epic, Empire and Odyssey . . .

1957
Yul is the only Russian-born actor to have won the Academy Award.

With Queen Elizabeth II in 1979
Yul's last performance as King came 34 years after his first. Even authentic royalty was happy to welcome him in their ranks.

1984
This was at the opening of the New York Hard Rock Cafe in 1984, the year before my father died.

Cape Bryner, four hundred miles from Vladivostok, where Jules built his first lighthouse above the port of the Bryner Mines . . .

. . . and the Twin Rocks beneath Cape Bryner. . .

. . . appeared on Russia's national currency - the thousand-ruble note - as soon as the Soviet era ended.

Yul on a tiger hunt in North Korea in 1937
In the 1930s, my father Yul, then 17, often hunted in North Korea with his father, Boris, and with Valery's father, Yuri Yankovsky, known since the late 1800s as "the greatest tiger hunter in the world."

To see the Bryner Mines and country estate, Sidemy, click on the links at the top of this page, all about Russia: Bryner Mines, Sidemy, Bryners, Friends, Moscow.