Friday, 1 June 2012

ICONS@LXG: Yul Brynner

Every now and then a guy comes along that epitomizes all that it takes to be a gentleman's gentleman. Suave, stylish, impeccably mannered, and yet approachable, and not too sophisticated that he alienates himself from his peers or puts himself on a pedestal...

Call me old-fashioned, but I still look to the mid-20th Century, Golden Era of Hollywood as the origins of what still endures to this day as The Gentleman's Standard.

Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, David Niven - the first that come to mind - all exemplary gentlemen, both on-screen and off, as various biographies and articles have reported. They all seemed to have come from a similar mould, fashioned from values that today may indeed seem quite old-fashioned. In fact their names would probably mean nothing to today's young men, and that's a shame, because they could learn quite a few valuable lessons from them.

Among these gentlemen actors was one who shared many of their qualities but at the same time, broke the mould in more ways than one... And Yul Brynner was his name.

I first saw Yul Brynner on-screen in the film Westworld, a futuristic thriller based around a Wild West-themed  Pleasure World populated by androids assigned to play various roles. Human tourists would visit this resort and live out their cowboy fantasies without the risk of injury or ever losing a gunfight... that is, until nemesis android gunslinger (played by Brynner) gets his wires crossed and acts against his programming, gunning down the helpless tourists and going on a vengeful killing spree.

Brynner was the Terminator before the Terminator was even invented. It was probably the first time in my life that I found myself cheering for the bad guy...

I was just a kid at the time, but I always recall my mother unabashedly singing his praises. Although he was known for the rich timbre of his voice, Brynner didn't even have to open his mouth to make an impression. My mother described him thus; "He stares right through you like a hawk, and he walks soundlessly, like a panther stalking its prey." I think he had that effect on most of the female population at the time...

I could never quite fully understand what she had meant by that until I began to search out and watch Brynner's earlier blockbusters. Westworld was filmed towards the end of his career, but his Hollywood legacy was indeed rich with such classics as The King and I, The Magnificent Seven, and The Ten Commandments.

It was then that I recognized the character of the man. His poise, his demeanor, the sheer confidence with which he carried himself. Yul Brynner had IT, whatever the various definitions of IT may be. And he knew IT.

His life's story is out there in cyberspace to read, to further appreciate his achievements and the landmarks in his life; the great loves, the great tragedies, the highs and the lows... but the essence of the man can truly be seen and summed up at the end of his life.

After a lifetime spent smoking, Brynner was ultimately diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He knew how much time he had left to live, and spent that little time coming to terms with his condition and preparing himself with dignity. He lead a life with no regrets, save for one:

And even in his lighter moments, the man still had The Look:

The complete package that is and was Yul Brynner is a rarity. He will always remain a Gentleman's Gentleman; an icon to be looked up to and emulated.

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