Famous for his work on stage and in film, the Russian-born actor Yul Brynner is now being toasted for his longtime passion for photography. The subject of a new, four-volume box set and stunning exhibition at New York’s Lehmann Maupin Gallery, Brynner was taking pictures of his family, celebrity friends, and his fellow actors even before he won both a Tony and Oscar for his role as the King of Siam in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I. Handsome with his distinctive shaved head and charismatic with his mix of European and Gypsy savoir-faire, Brynner was adored by fans and a prized pal to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, and Charlie Chaplin.
Married with children four times, as well as having a child out of wedlock with a woman that he continued to support, Brynner had a lot of family to document as they traveled between America and Europe. And with a camera always on hand, he documented directors, actors, and crew members on the sets of his celebrated movies, including The King and I, The Ten Commandments, Anastasia, The Brothers Karamazov, and The Testament of Orpheus.
Besides being behind the camera, Brynner was the subject of pictures by some of the best photographers of the 20th century. George Platts Lynes captured him nude in 1942; Cecil Beaton photographed him for Vogue in 1946; Ernst Haas shot him on the set of the film The Journey in 1959; Henri Cartier-Bresson made portraits in 1960; Inge Morath documented him at his home in Switzerland in 1962; Slim Aarons caught Yul and his wife Doris in the Bahamas in 1964; and Richard Avedon recorded the actor in his role of the King in a 1977 Broadway revival of the musical.
A true Renaissance man, Brynner, who died of lung cancer in 1985, had a talent for whatever perked his interest — whether it be acting, writing (he wrote two books, including a cookbook), making music (he was a member of a gypsy band in Paris in the ‘30s and released an album in the ‘60s), or golfing (Sinatra was his mate on the greens) — and it all gets crystallized in his love of the camera and how he could convey a life well-lived.
The exhibition Yul Brynner: A Photographic Journey is on view at Lehmann Maupin through September 25, while the eponymous book is available at Amazon.com.
Click through below for a gallery of Yul Brynner’s photos.