Seeing World Through Eyes of Yul Brynner, Photographer
The world knows Oscar winner Yul Brynner as the bald larger-than-life star of “The King and I,” “The Ten Commandments,” “Anastasia” and “The Magnificent Seven,” but to his family and friends, Brynner was also an accomplished photographer. And it is this side of the actor that is revealed in “Yul Brynner: Photographer,” a lavishly illustrated coffee-table book written by Brynner’s daughter, Victoria Brynner.
The book, published by Harry N. Abrams, a Times Mirror company, features 210 of the late actor’s photographs, including family photos, candid behind-the-scenes Hollywood portraits, scenes from the horse races at Deauville and bullfights as well as archival photographs of Brynner by other photographers.
Thirty of Brynner’s Hollywood portraits went on display Friday and will continue through Jan. 26, at the Grand Lobby of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills. The exhibition features black-and-white and color images by Brynner of such Hollywood notables as Cecil B. DeMille, Anthony Quinn, Sophia Loren, Charlton Heston, Mia Farrow, Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman and Deborah Kerr.
Victoria Brynner, who was 22 when her father died of lung cancer in 1985, decided to do the book because she wanted to show “a different aspect of his life that people didn’t really know,” she said in an interview.
A photographer herself who operates an L.A.-based commercial production company, she began the project three years ago when she found her father’s pictures in the attic of his last home, in France.
“All of these pictures were great,” says Brynner, whose mother is Doris Kleiner Brynner, the second of Brynner’s four wives.
“They meant a lot to me because it was the thing we had in common. He gave me my first camera. My whole life is visuals and . . . photography. I thought, ‘I am so passionate about these pictures, they should be in a book. Let’s do it.’ And I did.”
She also wanted to keep her father’s memory alive. “I felt if you lose somebody who you really care for, you tend to fear forgetting them,” she explains.
“Part of this was enabling me and my family and my little sisters to remember,” Brynner says. “It was sort of this public album we were going to have. I realize because of the response that it’s had [that] people haven’t forgotten him, and that’s nice. I think that his talent deserved this recognition.”
Brynner explains that her father’s experience as a director, before he became an actor, may in part explain his interest in photography.
“I think that his passion for directing was very repressed when he went into acting,” she says. “The success of his acting really took him by surprise. Photography was sort of a continuation for him of directing; it was enabling him to continue to be an artist. I think he was someone who had real philosophical debates in life, and photography somehow must have fed his soul or another side of him that wasn’t filled by the actor.”
Part of the book’s proceeds will go to the Yul Brynner Head and Neck Cancer Foundation, which was founded after his death by a few of his doctors and his fourth wife, Kathy Lee Brynner.
“Doing a photography book is not a money-making enterprise,” Brynner says. “I do hope it will be successful to raise more awareness for the foundation.”
Academy curator Ellen Harrington says Yul Brynner’s works are different from the usual pictures taken by professional Hollywood photographers.
“He was on sets and taking pictures of his friends,” Harrington says. “It’s a very different kind of intimate portrait. Elizabeth Taylor has said he’s the only one she ever let photograph her without her makeup. There’s a lot of intimate-moment photographs of Deborah Kerr and Ingrid Bergman, longtime friends of his.
“You get a real sense of behind-the-scenes. You understand his personality and the trust he created among his co-stars and his directors he worked with.”
“He also photographed in a discreet manner,” says Brynner, who cites her father’s portraits of Audrey Hepburn riding on a gondola and a bemused Ingrid Bergman sitting outside a Parisian cafe as among her favorites.
“He wasn’t somebody who photographed right in the face,” Brynner says. “The few portraits, which are a little more posed, are few and far between. They are done in a very subtle way. I think people felt very comfortable and trusted him.”
* “Yul Brynner: Photographer,” Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 8949 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. Tuesdays-Fridays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and weekends from noon-6 p.m. Through Jan. 26. No admission charge. (310) 247-3600.