Quinn, Anthony Rudolph Oaxaca

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QUINN, Anthony Rudolph Oaxaca

(b. 21 April 1915 in Chihuahua, Mexico; d. 3 June 2001 in Boston, Massachusetts), Academy Award–winning actor who was prominent during the 1960s for his work in such landmark films as David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia and Michael Cacoyannis's Zorba the Greek.

Quinn was the eldest of two children born to Francisco (Frank) Quinn and Manuela (Nellie) Oaxaca. The elder Quinn, son of an Irish father and Mexican mother, had fought for Pancho Villa. After becoming a migrant worker, he relocated the family several times before settling in 1920 in East Los Angeles. After Quinn's father died in a car accident in 1926, his mother eventually married Frank Bowles, but Quinn and his sister preferred to reside with their paternal grandmother.

Quinn took on a variety of jobs and activities, including boxing, and continued schooling off and on at Belvedere Junior High School and Polytechnic High School, where his interest in art and architecture resulted in first prize for a supermarket design. This resulted in a meeting with famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who suggested that Quinn undergo corrective surgery to improve his diction. According to Quinn, he himself was unaware of any speech defect until Wright commented that Quinn was stammering somewhat and on closer observation concluded that Quinn's frenum (the fold of skin under the tongue) was too thick and needed minor, corrective surgery. (A successful architect also must make impressive verbal presentations, Wright had advised.) After the surgery, Quinn began speech therapy with Katherine Hamil at her drama school. After the therapy, Quinn decided to become an actor, and joined the Gateway Players, in which he met Hollywood director George Cukor.

After a role in Clean Beds (1934) attracted good notices, Quinn made a brief but impressive appearance in Parole! (1936). A part in Cecil B. DeMille's The Plainsman (1937) led to a player's contract with Paramount Studios, and ultimately to Quinn's first marriage: near the set, he met DeMille's adopted daughter Katherine, whom he married on 21 October 1937. In 1941 Quinn's two-year-old son Christopher darted from the family property and drowned in W. C. Fields's nearby pool (Zorba experienced a similar tragedy in Kazantzakis's tale).

The brown-eyed, six-foot, three-inch Quinn presented a rugged, vigorous, and dignified demeanor readily adaptable to a variety of ethnic roles. In 1940 Quinn, refusing to renew his contract, tripled his salary with Warner Brothers Studios, where his first film was City for Conquest (1940), with James Cagney and Elia Kazan. He became a U.S. citizen in 1947, the year of his Broadway debut in The Gentleman from Athens. Major theatrical success developed when Kazan asked him to play Stanley Kowalski on the 1948 national tour of Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire.

Quinn had several major film successes in the 1950s, as evidenced by his two best supporting actor Academy Awards for his portrayals of Eufemio Zapata in Viva Zapata! (1952), and of Paul Gauguin in Lust for Life (1956). He won international fame, and a Venice Film Festival award, as the carnival strongman Zampano in Federico Fellini's La Strada (1954), and received an Academy Award nomination for best actor in Wild Is the Wind (1957).

During the 1960s Quinn appeared in more than a dozen films. He costarred as Andrea Stavros in the World War II action story The Guns of Navarone (1961), filmed primarily in Greece. (Quinn, who purchased property on the island of Rhodes, became an honorary Greek citizen). He played the Bedouin Auda Abu Tayi in the award-winning epic Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and appeared as a boxer named Mountain Rivera in Rod Serling's Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962). Releases in 1964 included The Visit, with Ingrid Bergman; Behold a Pale Horse, with Gregory Peck; and Zorba the Greek, with Alan Bates, Irene Papas, and Lila Kedrova.

The latter, through which Quinn became forever identified with the role of Alexis Zorba, was based on a Nikos Kazantzakis novel that had first been transformed unsuccessfully into a 1968 Broadway work. Quinn's volatile and earthy personality and robust intensity, as well as his acute acting sensibilities and his "ethnic" bearing, credibly transformed him into Zorba. His on-screen Zorba represented the universal archetype of a carefree character surviving life's alternating currents of extreme joys and hardships by recharging himself with a simple dance on the sands of life. Although Zorba the Greek won the Academy Award for best picture, and Quinn was nominated for best actor, the latter award went to Rex Harrison for My Fair Lady.

Another major role for Quinn in the 1960s was that of Barabbas (1962), in a different type of biblical epic, a genre still popular during that decade. During the shooting, Quinn met a young Italian costume designer, Iolanda Addolori, and later publicly acknowledged their first son, born in 1963. After the birth of their second son in 1964, Quinn divorced DeMille in Juarez, Mexico (January 1965), and married Iolanda on 2 January 1966 at his agent's Beverly Hills home. Later that year, their third son was born. By that point, Quinn's primary residence was a villa outside Rome. Some columnists at the time suggested that Quinn's disruptive personal life cost him Academy votes for the Zorba role.

Other films of the 1960s included Quinn as a priest in Guns for San Sebastian (1968), as a fictional Russian-born Pope Kiril I opposite Laurence Olivier in Shoes of the Fisherman (1968), and as the mayor in The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969). In November 1968 the Museum of Modern Art in New York exhibited a collection of stills from his career. Important Broadway work during the 1960s included Quinn's portrayal of King Henry II opposite Olivier in Peter Glenville's production of Jean Anouilh's Becket (1960 to 1961), as well as the frothy Tchin-Tchin (1962), with Margaret Leighton. In June 1969 Quinn placed his handprints in the cement walkway outside of Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

Quinn continued to work on films—some very popular at the box-office—through the 1990s, and left a legacy of more than one hundred film appearances. He returned to the United States in 1993, and during most of his final years, made Bristol, Rhode Island, his home base. He lived with his young former secretary, Kathy Benvin, eventual mother of two children by him, and divorced Addolori in 1997. Quinn died of respiratory failure in a Boston hospital and was buried on the Quinn estate in Bristol, Rhode Island. At the time of his death, he was survived by four of his five children with De Mille (who died in 1995); three children with Addolori; two with Benvin; one by an unnamed French woman; and two by a German woman.

The mature Anthony Quinn was a film actor whose name assured moviegoers and television viewers of a memorable performance—usually by a forceful, masculine presence whose frequently gruff attitudes sheltered a sensitive core of emotions. At other times, he portrayed a weak, sentimental man who somehow found inner moral fortitude at the moment of crisis. His proficiency as an actor was especially acute during the 1960s, with his flexibility to dominate the screen, with a seemingly effortless manner, in a variety of powerful, virile portrayals. Zorba the Greek left its mark upon the film legacy of the 1960s, and Quinn's Zorba towers as a classical figure cast in a contemporary mode.

Autobiographies of Quinn are Original Sin: A Self-Portrait (1972), and One Man Tango (1995), with Daniel Paisner. Biographical works include Alvin H. Marill, The Films of Anthony Quinn (1975), and Melissa Amdur, Anthony Quinn, Hispanics of Achievement Series (1993). Among many articles and reviews, see Judy Klemesrud, "From Zapata to Zorba to the Pope to …?," New York Times (20 Sept. 1970). Obituaries are in the New York Times and Washington Post (both 4 June 2001).

Madeline Sapienza

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