To hear the bald-headed star tell it, Brynner’s birth was as exotic as his looks and life. He told the press that he was born Taidje Khan on the island of Sakhalin, near northern Japan — the son of a Mongolian mining engineer. True, Brynner’s father was a mining engineer, but he was Swiss-German-Russian, not Mongolian, and Brynner was born in Vladivostok, Russia. He, his mother, and elder sister eventually moved to China, and then to Paris. In 1940, with his mother suffering from leukemia, Brynner and Mom emigrated to the United States, sailing on the President Cleveland.
Though he barely knew a word of English when he first arrived, Brynner quickly moved into stage work, earning lasting fame on Broadway in The King and I in 1951. Five years later, he was killing it in Hollywood, appearing in the film version of The King and I, Cecil B. de Mille’s The Ten Commandments and, finally, Anastasia, starring alongside Ingrid Bergman. He eventually won both an Oscar and a Tony for his work in The King and I. Though he became an American citizen in 1943, he renounced that citizenship in 1965 for tax reasons.