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.
(where I have good friends)
is where I was invited to perform
A Comedy of Cultural History
filmed before a live audience.
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
My thanks to Governor Miklushevsky, Professor Kusnetzov, Rector Ivanetz, 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 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 center of Vladivostok
The inauguration of the statue was a day for flowers . . .
. . . families and children.
With Olya Vigovskaya, nine years after we first met.
The sculptor Alexei Bokiy, who carved the granite statue
From Aleutskaya Street
This view of the statue will greet every visitor arriving from Moscow or St. Petersburg on the Trans-Siberian -- the longest railroad in the world -- on their way to the city center -- because the housebuilt by my great-grandfather is just one block from the train station, where Jules Bryner helped the last Tsar, Nicholas II, lay the corner-stone for the railway station in 1891.
The wall down to the street is 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.
"Yul Brynner - King of Theatre and Film" reads the Russian inscription
Rock with statue of his father
A speech 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 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.
Yul Brynner Park
The Research Aquarium. . .
. . . on Russky Island, is part of the new Far East Federal University, opening this fall.
Here, a pod of Beluga whales lives in blissful captivity. They have been carefully transported from Kamchatka, a thousand miles to the north, and treated for parasites.
The close relationship they have formed with their trainers is an exquisite example of mutual love.
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. . .
. . .that greeted us.
Liza and Sergei Darkin, Governor of Primorye
She rings the mariner's bell that opens the Festival.
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, you can order Empire and Odyssey here.
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.
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.
I have become something of a talisman for the Festival, which explains why my image appears on the movie tickets.
Vladivostok from Amur Bay. . .
. . . 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. . .
Regatta in Amur Bay
YUL BRYNNER SINGS RUSSIAN GYPSY SONG
Art Troitsky came to the Festival from Moscow again this year. I have known him since the 1990s, when he became one of the leading intellectual and artistic forces in Russia. He often brings his modern Russian art collection to be shown in Vladivostok during the Festival.
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."
Aliosha's Signature Song, "Matoushka"
Yul with Aliosha Dimitrievitch in 1965
It's like no other song I've ever heard.
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.
Twenty years after Yul's death, a plaque was unveiled on the house where he was born.
My dad died before anyone could foresee the end of the Soviet era. We could never have dreamed that I would commemorate his birth in Vladivostok.
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.
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
. . .
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.
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.
With Valery Ysnkovsky, my uncle, in 2005
Strictly speaking, he is the nephew of my great-grandmother. I visited Valery at his home twice before his death in 2010 at the age of 98.
Valery in the 1930s. . .
Valery had been spent his youth as a renowned tiger hunter in Russia, China, Manchuria, Mongolia, as well as North Korea, where his father, Yuri, and Yul's father, Boris, created a Russian hunting lodge.
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."