Anthony Quinn

Active - 1936 - 2002  |   Born - Apr 21, 1915 in Chihuahua, Mexico  |   Died - Jun 3, 2001   |   Genres - Drama, Crime, Adventure, Romance, Action

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Biography by Sandra Brennan

Earthy and at times exuberant, Anthony Quinn was one of Hollywood's more colorful personalities. Though he played many important roles over the course of his 60-year career, Quinn's signature character was Zorba, a zesty Greek peasant who teaches a stuffy British writer to find joy in the subtle intricacies of everyday life in Zorba the Greek (1964), which Quinn also produced. The role won him an Oscar nomination and he reprised variations of Zorba in several subsequent roles.

Although he made a convincing Greek, Quinn was actually of Irish-Mexican extraction. He was born Antonio Rudolfo Oaxaca Quinn in Chihuahua, Mexico, on April 21, 1915, but raised in the U.S. Before becoming an actor, Quinn had been a prizefighter and a painter. He launched his film career playing character roles in several 1936 films, including Parole (his debut) and The Milky Way, after a brief stint in the theater. In 1937, he married director Cecil B. DeMille's daughter Katherine De Mille, but this did nothing to further his career and Quinn remained relegated to playing "ethnic" villains in Paramount films through the 1940s. By 1947, he was a veteran of over 50 films and had played everything from Indians, Mafia dons, Hawaiian chiefs, Chinese guerrillas, and comical Arab sheiks, but he was still not a major star. So he returned to the theater, where for three years he found success on Broadway in such roles as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire.

Upon his return to the screen in the early '50s, Quinn was cast in a series of B-adventures like Mask of the Avenger (1951). He got one of his big breaks playing opposite Marlon Brando in Elia Kazan's Viva Zapata! (1952). His supporting role as Zapata's brother won Quinn his first Oscar and after that, Quinn was given larger roles in a variety of features. He went to Italy in 1953 and appeared in several films, turning in one of his best performances as a dim-witted, thuggish, and volatile strongman in Federico Fellini's La Strada (1954). Quinn won his second Best Supporting Actor Oscar portraying the painter Gaugin in Vincente Minnelli's Lust for Life (1956). The following year, he received another Oscar nomination for George Cukor's Wild Is the Wind. During the '50s, Quinn specialized in tough, macho roles, but as the decade ended, he allowed his age to show. His formerly trim physique filled out, his hair grayed, and his once smooth, swarthy face weathered into an appealing series of crags and crinkles. His careworn demeanor made him an ideal ex-boxer in Requiem for a Heavyweight and a natural for the villainous Bedouin he played in Lawrence of Arabia (both 1962). The success of Zorba the Greek in 1964 was the highwater mark of Quinn's career during the '60s -- it offered him another Oscar nomination -- and as the decade progressed, the quality of his film work noticeably diminished. The 1970s offered little change and Quinn became known as a ham, albeit a well-respected one. In 1971, he starred in the short-lived television drama Man in the City. His subsequent television appearances were sporadic, though in 1994, he became a semi-regular guest (playing Zeus) on the syndicated Hercules series. Though his film career slowed considerably during the 1990s, Quinn continued to work steadily, appearing in films as diverse as Jungle Fever (1991), Last Action Hero (1993), and A Walk in the Clouds (1995).

In his personal life, Quinn proved as volatile and passionate as his screen persona. He divorced his wife Katherine, with whom he had three children, in 1956. The following year he embarked on a tempestuous 31-year marriage to costume designer Iolanda Quinn. The union crumbled in 1993 when Quinn had an affair with his secretary that resulted in a baby; the two shared a second child in 1996. In total, Quinn has fathered 13 children and has had three known mistresses. He and Iolanda engaged in a public and very bitter divorce in 1997 in which she and one of Quinn's sons, Danny Quinn, alleged that the actor had severely beaten and abused Iolanda for many years. Quinn denied the allegations, claiming that his ex-wife was lying in order to win a larger settlement and part of Quinn's priceless art collection.

When not acting or engaging in well-publicized court battles, Quinn continued to paint and became a well-known artist. He also wrote and co-wrote two memoirs, The Original Sin (1972) and One Man Tango (1997). In the latter, Quinn is candid and apologetic about some of his past's darker moments. Shortly after completing his final film role in Avenging Angelo (2001), Anthony Quinn died of respiratory failure in Boston, MA. He was 86.

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  • Parents both fought with Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa.
  • After his father died, began supporting his family at 11, working a number of different jobs, including butcher, preacher, boxer and taxi driver.
  • While in high school, won a contest to study architecture with Frank Lloyd Wright, who sent Quinn to acting school in order to improve his speech.
  • Launched his film career with small roles in several 1936 movies, including the crime dramas Parole! and Sworn Enemy.
  • Best known for his role as Alexis Zorba in the 1964 feature Zorba the Greek
  • Painted and sculpted since childhood, but did not begin selling his pieces until the 1980s.
  • Penned two autobiographies, The Original Sin and One Man Tango.