Back in the Golden Age of Hollywood, Yul Brynner was best known for starring as King Mongkut in The King and I, both on stage and in the classic movie. Aside from that classic, the Russian-born former circus acrobat’s career highlights included the likes of The Ten Commandments, Westworld and The Magnificent Seven. Hating to be upstaged by co-stars such as Steve McQueen in the latter, the slight actor went out of his way to make sure his star power shone through in whatever he was working on.
Back in 1956, Brynner was cast as Pharaoh Rameses II in Cecil B DeMille’s three and half hour biblical epic, The Ten Commandments – which hit US cinemas 66 years ago today.
During the early part of filming, he was still starring in the stage version of The King and I and would spend the day on Egyptian shots before flying back to New York for the evening’s performance.
The committed actor was to co-star opposite Charlton Heston as Moses, who the director had cast because of his resemblance to Michelangelo’s statue of the Hebrew prophet. In fact, the star would go on to play the artist in 1965’s The Agony of the Ecstasy.
Now Heston towered over Brynner at 6’3 to his co-star’s 5’7, but the latter was not going to be overshadowed.
After hearing he would be shirtless as Pharaoh for most of the movie, the star took on a serious weightlifting program to get into shape. This also explains his muscular physique in the film version of The King and I, which was released in 1956 too.
Aside from impressing audiences, the Moses actor later said that his co-star gave the best performance of the entire movie.
This shouldn’t be too surprising given that The Ten Commandments was a mammoth success.
Nominated for seven Academy Awards, it is one of the biggest movies ever made grossing $122.7 million at the box office on a $13 million budget.
Adjusted for inflation that’s around $2.493 billion, making the biblical epic the eighth highest-grossing film of all time.