Dr. Rock Brynner to discuss family's odyssey over four generations
WestConn lecture on March 28 will feature son of legendary actor Yul Brynner
DANBURY, CONN. — Dr. Rock Brynner, a scholar in U.S. constitutional history and author whose wide-ranging professional experiences have spanned the gamut from restaurateur to road manager, will recount his family’s roots in the Russian Far East and extraordinary odyssey over four generations in a lecture on Wednesday, March 28, at Western Connecticut State University.
Brynner will discuss his latest book “Empire and Odyssey: The Brynners in Far East Russia and Beyond” in a talk at 6 p.m. on the first floor of Warner Hall on the university’s Midtown campus, 181 White St. in Danbury. His lecture, sponsored by the WCSU History Society, will be free and the public is invited.
The son of actors Yul Brynner and Virginia Gilmore, Rock Brynner’s personal odyssey has taken him from a childhood in the United States and Switzerland to a multi-faceted career that has unfolded from Broadway to Vladivostok. He wrote and staged a one-man play based on the writings of his godfather, the French poet, playwright and filmmaker Jean Cocteau.
Brynner received a master’s in philosophy at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, in the 1960s, and took up studies two decades later to earn a Ph.D. in American history at Columbia University in 1993. He has served since 2000 as a member of the history faculty at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and his specialization in U.S. constitutional history has made him a frequent guest lecturer at universities and other institutions in the United States, Russia, Europe and the Middle East.
Mirroring his eclectic professional career, Brynner has authored six books ranging from the novels “The Ballad of Habit and Accident” and “The Doomsday Report” to the biography of his father “Yul: The Man Who Would Be King.” His previous nonfiction works include “Dark Remedy: The Impact of Thalidomide and Its Revival as a Modern Medicine.”
“Empire and Odyssey,” published by Steerforth Press in 2006, traces the personal journey of the Brynner family back to the life of the author’s great-grandfather Jules, a Swiss émigré who launched a successful shipping agency in the Far East in the second half of the 19th century and eventually settled in the booming Russian Pacific port city of Vladivostok. The dawn of a new century brought diversification into mining and timber, but Jules’ son and heir Boris struggled to defend the family’s business interests before surrendering them to the state and emigrating to China and later France in the tumultuous aftermath of the Russian Revolution. Boris’ son Yul embarked on a new path as a performing artist in Parisian nightclubs and theatre during the 1930s, preparing him for the launch of his celebrated acting career after the Brynner family’s emigration to the United States.
As Yul gained international fame for his Broadway and Academy Award-winning film roles in “The King and I” and subsequent Hollywood successes in movies including “The Ten Commandments” and “The Magnificent Seven,” his only son Yul Brynner, Jr. — nicknamed at age 6 as “Rock” after boxing champion Rocky Graziano — set out to carve an independent career for himself. Aside from his adaptation of a Cocteau notebook for his one-man performance in 1970 on Broadway, Rock has eschewed acting for a diversity of life experiences. During the 1970s and 1980s, he became a manager for the original Hard Rock Cafes in London and New York, a bodyguard to boxing legend Muhammad Ali, a road manager for The Band and Bob Dylan, and pilot and owner of a charter air service based at Danbury Airport.
Brynner’s return to academia and emergence as a leading constitutional scholar led him to visit universities across Russia in 2003 and again in 2006 on lecture tours sponsored by the U.S. State Department to promote wider understanding in that country of the origins and significance of the U.S. Constitution. These tours in turn brought Brynner back to his family’s native city of Vladivostok, where he visited the birthplace of his father and grandfather and continued the exploration of his family’s Russian experience retold in “Empire and Odyssey.”
“‘Empire and Odyssey’ is the ‘Forsyte Saga’ of the Russian diaspora, an absorbing story of an extraordinary family adapting to changing times,” observed John Stephan, author of “The Russian Far East: A History.”
“With this book, the historian, novelist and raconteur have come together,” Brynner explained in a 2006 interview published in Library Journal. Looking back on his uncommonly varied life experiences, he told the interviewer that he has formed his worldview from the richness of these diverse perspectives.
“My restless curiosity has led me to become a writer, a musician, a computer programmer, a farmer, a pilot, a road manager, a bodyguard, and finally a professor of history,” he said. “I learned a while back, as we all do, that the rewards that matter can only come from within.”
For more information, call the Office of University Relations at (203) 837-8486 or contact Dr. Brynner at (845) 855-3768 or firstname.lastname@example.org.