A Hard King is Good to Find

yul_sandals_nightcharmYul Brynner was the first man I ever saw physically aroused. Metaphorically speaking. But still. And how.

No, I was never lucky enough to be in the altogether with the Oscar- and Tony-winning star of The King and I and, so far as I know, the Yul log was only lit to warm the company of women--although photographer George Platt Lynes, always able to convince magnificent flesh to make itself known, captured the King in all his relaxed glory in a series of art studies from 1942.

Thirty years ago, on March 6, 1985, Brynner played the King of Siam for the 4,500th time in yet another revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical classic which is soon to open on Broadway again, both facts which lead me to remember the first time I witnessed Brynner's performance in the 1956 film version and experienced that sensation of knowing something is happening in front of you that means something more to you than you can quite explain yet.

Brynner, reprising his Broadway role, watches the divine Deborah Kerr carried away by a romantic reverie during which, wearing a 19th-century-style hoop gown that covers her feet, she fairly hovers above the ground, floating across the polished floor in a private dance, boldly feminine and free. He is beautiful, bare-chested, bald-headed, and bare-footed, pacing in puzzlement around her and staring with a heat that could burn through steel. He recognizes in her what she hasn't shown him until now. She catches herself, embarrassed by her momentarily unencumbered emotion.

He, however, does not want her to be ashamed of herself. He likes it. He really likes it. In fact, he wants to join her. She takes his hands and teaches him how to count out the steps of her dance. They bounce around like happy kids for a bit until, eyes ablaze again, he tells her that the people he'd seen dancing earlier in the evening were not holding hands.

"Was, uh, like this," he says, sticking an arm straight out in a move toward her waist, easing her toward him. "No?"

"Yes," she answers.

"Come!" he commands.

And they plunge into the world's most ecstatic polka, an act that, when he releases her, leaves her breathless. But he wants more. His arm rises again, stiffly insisting on another turn.

"Come," he says. "We'll do it again." And they do.

Sometimes an arm is more than an arm and a dance is more than a dance. When you're young and have had neither an affectionate arm nor an orgasmic dance, metaphorically or otherwise, such a scene gives you a glimpse of yourself--along with the promise of a music that will one day be yours.


PHOTO CREDIT: Rodgers and Hammerstein/20th Century Fox