March 29th – Brynner and the King

1951

Today marked the opening of the new Broadway musical adapted from the 1944 novel by Margaret Landon, “The King and I”.

Yul Brynner & Gertrude Lawrence in the original 1951 production of The King & I

Yul Brynner & Gertrude Lawrence in the original 1951 production of The King & I

Starring theatrical icon Gertrude Lawrence, whose health was already deteriorating (she would die less than 18 months later of cancer), and a less well known theatre actor named Yul Brynner.

Composer Richard Rodgers described Brynner’s audition:

“He came out…and sat cross-legged on the stage. He had a guitar and he hit his guitar one whack and gave out with this unearthly yell and sang some heathenish sort of thing, and Oscar and I looked at each other and said, “Well, that’s it.”

Brynner was horrified at being instructed to shave his already thinning hair but this quickly became his trademark look for the rest of his life.

He went on to play the role of King Mongkut no less than 4625 times with many different Anna’s until 1985 and on film with Deborah Kerr.