(Ajay Kamalakaran’s article appeared in Russian Beyond the Headlines, 6/20.)
King Mongkut of Siam (Rama IV) is known as the “father of science and technology” in Thailand, since he chose to embrace Western scientific innovations and slowly opened up the country to the outside world in the 19th century. The experiences of Anglo-Indian educator Anna Leonowens as the governess to the children of King Rama IV were first penned down in a novel by Margaret Landon and then adapted into a musical and film by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. The man who played the lead role in the musical and film and become the face of Thailand in the West was Yul Brynner, a Russian-born actor.
Yuliy Borisovich Brynner, who played the role of King Rama IV a total of 4625 times on stage, was born in 1920 in the Russian Far Eastern city of Vladivostok. In ‘Yul: The Man who would be King: a Memoir of Father and Son,’ Rock Brynner wrote that his father exaggerated his background claiming he was born in Sakhalin as Taijde Khan. Some residents of Sakhalin still believe that the Hollywood actor was born on the island, but his actual birthplace is now a famous tourist attraction in Vladivostok.