Anthony Quinn (April 21, 1915 – June 3, 2001) was a two-time Academy Award-winning Mexican-American actor, as well as a painter and writer. He starred in numerous critically acclaimed and commercially successful films, including Zorba the Greek and Federico Fellini's La strada. Quinn also appeared in Lawrence of Arabia, Viva Zapata!, Lust for Life, Barabbas, Requiem for a Heavyweight, Mohammad, Messenger of God, The Shoes of the Fisherman, and The Guns of Navarone.
When he was six years old, Quinn attended a Catholic church (even thinking he wanted to become a priest). At age eleven, however, he joined the Pentecostals in the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel (the Pentecostal followers of Aimee Semple McPherson).
Quinn grew up first in El Paso, Texas, and later the Boyle Heights and the Echo Park areas of Los Angeles, California. He attended Hammel St. Elementary School, Belvedere Junior High School, Polytechnic High School and finally Belmont High School but left before graduating. Tucson High School in Arizona years many later awarded him an honorary high school diploma.
As a young man Quinn boxed professionally to earn money, then studied art and architecture under Frank Lloyd Wright, both at Wright's Arizona residence and his Wisconsin studio, Taliesin. The two very different men became friends. When Quinn mentioned he was drawn to acting, Wright encouraged him. Quinn said he had been offered $800 a week by a film studio and didn't know what to do. Wright replied, "Take it, you'll never make that much with me."
After a short time performing on the stage, Quinn launched his film career performing character roles in the 1936 films Parole (his debut) and The Milky Way. He played "ethnic" villains in Paramount films such as Dangerous to Know (1938) and Road to Morocco. By 1947, he had appeared in over 50 films and had played Indians, Mafia dons, Hawaiian chiefs, Filipino freedom-fighters, Chinese guerrillas, and Arab sheiks, but was still not a major star. He returned to the theater, even playing Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway.
In 1947, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. He came back to Hollywood in the early 1950s, specializing in tough roles. He was cast in a series of B-adventures such as Mask of the Avenger (1951). His big break cane from playing opposite Marlon Brando in Elia Kazan's Viva Zapata! (1952). His supporting role as Zapata's brother won Quinn an Oscar. He was the first Mexican-American to win any Academy Award. He appeared in several Italian films starting in 1953, turning in one of his best performances as a dim-witted, thuggish and volatile strongman in Federico Fellini's La strada (1954) opposite Giulietta Masina. Quinn won his second Oscar for Best Supporting Actor by portraying the painter Gauguin in Vincente Minnelli's Van Gogh biopic, Lust for Life (1956). The award was remarkable as he was onscreen for only 8 minutes. The following year, he received a Oscar nomination for his part in George Cukor's Wild Is the Wind. In The River's Edge (1957), he played the husband of the former girlfriend (played by Debra Paget) of a killer (Ray Milland), who turns up with a stolen fortune and forces Quinn and Paget at gunpoint to guide him safely to Mexico. Quinn starred in The Savage Innocents 1959 (film) as Inuk, an Eskimo who finds himself caught between two clashing cultures.
As the decade ended, Quinn allowed his age to show and began his transformation into a major character actor. His physique filled out, his hair grayed, and his once smooth, swarthy face weathered became more rugged. His demeanor made him a convincing Greek resistance fighter in The Guns of Navarone (1961), an ideal ex-boxer in Requiem for a Heavyweight, and a natural for the role of Auda ibu Tayi in Lawrence of Arabia (both 1962). That year he also played the title role in Barabbas, based on a novel by Pär Lagerkvist. The success of Zorba the Greek in 1964 was the high water mark of his career and resulted in another Oscar nomination. Other successes include La Vingt-cinquième heure (1967, The Twenty Fifth Hour), with Virna Lisi; The Magus (1968), with Michael Caine and Candice Bergen, and based on the novel by John Fowles; and The Shoes of the Fisherman, where he played a Russian pope. In 1969, he starred in The Secret of Santa Vittoria with Anna Magnani.
He appeared on Broadway to great acclaim in Becket, as King Henry II to Laurence Olivier's Thomas Becket in 1960. An erroneous story arose in later years that during the run, Quinn and Olivier switched roles and Quinn played Becket to Olivier's King. In fact, Quinn left the production for a film, never having played Becket, and director Peter Glenville suggested a road tour with Olivier as Henry. Olivier happily acceded and Arthur Kennedy took on the role of Becket for the tour and brief return to Broadway.
In 1971, after the success of a TV movie named The City, where Quinn played Albuquerque Mayor Thomas Jefferson Alcala, he starred in the short-lived (1-season) television drama spin-off The Man in the City. His subsequent television appearances were sporadic (among them Jesus of Nazareth).
In 1977, He starred in the movie Mohammad, Messenger of God (aka The Message), about the origin of Islam, as Hamzah, a highly revered warrior instrumental in the early stages of Islam. In 1982, he starred in the Lion of the Desert, together with Irene Papas, Oliver Reed, Rod Steiger, and John Gielgud. Quinn played the real-life Bedouin leader Omar Mukhtar who fought Mussolini's Italian troops in the deserts of Libya. The film, produced and directed by Moustapha Akkad, is now critically acclaimed, but performed poorly at the box office because of negative publicity in the West at the time of its release, stemming from its having been partially funded by Libya's Muammar al-Gaddafi. In 1983, he reprised his most famous role, playing Zorba the Greek for 362 performances in a successful revival of the Kander and Ebb musical Zorba.
His film career slowed during the 1990s, but Quinn nonetheless continued to work steadily, appearing in Revenge (1990), Jungle Fever (1991), Last Action Hero (1993), and A Walk in the Clouds (1995). In 1994, he played Zeus in the five TV movies that led to the syndicated series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. (However, he did not continue in the actual series, and the role was eventually filled by several other actors).
Art critic Donald Kuspit, explains, "examining Quinn's many expressions of creativity together—his art and acting—we can see that he was a creative genius, by which I mean that the works that he made and surrounded himself with are of an imaginative piece, not simply passing fancies...
Early in life Quinn had interest in painting and drawing. Throughout his teenage years he won various art competitions in California and focused his studies at Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles on drafting. Later, Quinn studied briefly under Frank Lloyd Wright through the Taliesin Fellowship—an opportunity created by winning first prize in an architectural design contest. Through Wright's recommendation, Quinn took acting lessons as a form of post-operative speech therapy, which led to an acting career that spanned over six decades.
Apart from art classes taken in Chicago during the 1950s, Quinn never attended art school; nonetheless, taking advantage of books, museums, and amassing a sizable collection, he managed to give himself an effective education in the language of modern art. Although Quinn remained mostly self-taught, intuitively seeking out and exploring new ideas, there is observable history in his work because he had assiduously studied the modernist masterpieces on view in the galleries of New York, Mexico City, Paris, and London. When filming on location around the world, Quinn was exposed to regional contemporary art styles exhibited at local galleries and studied art history in each area.
By the early 1980s, his work had caught the eyes of various gallery owners and was exhibited internationally, in New York, Los Angeles, Paris, and Mexico City. His work is now represented in both public and private collections throughout the world.
He wrote two memoirs, The Original Sin (1972) and One Man Tango (1997), a number of scripts, and a series of unpublished stories currently in the collection of his archive.
Quinn's personal life was as volatile and passionate as the characters he played in films. His first wife was the adopted daughter of Cecil B. DeMille, the actress Katherine DeMille, whom he married in 1937. The couple had five children: Christopher (born 1939), Christina (born December 1, 1941), Catalina (born November 21, 1942), Duncan (born August 4, 1945), and Valentina (born December 26, 1952). One of their sons, Christopher, age 2, drowned in the swimming pool of next-door neighbor W.C. Fields. Quinn and DeMille were divorced in 1965.
The next year, he married costume designer Iolanda Quinn (Jolanda Addolori). They had three children: Francesco (born March 22, 1962), Danny (born April 16, 1964), and Lorenzo (born May 7, 1966). The union ended in 1997, after Quinn fathered a child with his secretary, Kathy Benvin. He then married Benvin, with whom he had two children, Antonia (born July 23, 1993) and Ryan Nicholas (born July 5, 1996). Quinn and Benvin remained together until his death.
Quinn spent his last years in Bristol, Rhode Island. He died aged 86 in Boston, Massachusetts from pneumonia and respiratory failure while suffering from throat cancer shortly after completing his role in his last film, Avenging Angelo (2002).
His funeral was held in a Baptist church; late in life, he had joined the Foursquare evangelical Christian community. He is buried in a family plot near Bristol.