The word “icon” is bandied about in the entertainment world perhaps too readily. However, I believe there is no question that the achievement in film and stage history we are celebrating today does deserve the term “iconic performance.”
On March 6, 1985, Yul Brynner gave his 4,500th stage performance as King Mongkut in The King and I. His final performance, his 4,633rd (!) was on June 30 the same year. Less than four months later he died of lung cancer.
Of course, besides that record number of stage performances, Brynner also starred in the 1956 movie version of The King and I, which cemented his interpretation of the role in the minds and hearts of musical lovers everywhere. Although he did appear in numerous other films, it is this role for which he is remembered.
Brynner was born in Russia in 1920. He studied acting with another Russian, Michael Chekhov, in Connecticut. Yet his greatest fame was for a depiction of someone of a different nationality, Siamese. It is no doubt that his rather exotic appearance and characteristic shaved head added to the power of that depiction, as well as his definite command of the role.
It is much less well known that he was an accomplished photographer, as well. A four volume set of books highlighting his photography has been published, and there has also been a photographic exhibition of his works. I would urge you to read the article about his photography in the link above.
And now, it seems a fitting tribute to watch the movie The King and I again. Will you join me?