Do you remember Anthony Quinn? He was an Academy Award-winning actor known for playing strong ethnic roles. His most famous performance was as Zorba the Greek, in the movie of the same name (1964), for which he was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar, though he didn’t win. Because of the Zorba role, and several other performances in which Quinn played Greek or Eastern European personas, many people assume that Quinn was actually Greek. In fact, Anthony Quinn was Mexican!
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Anthony was born Antonio Rodolfo Quinn Oaxaca, on April 21, 1915, in Chihuahua, Mexico. His father, Francisco (Frank) Quinn, was a Mexican of Irish descent, who may have ridden with Pancho Villa during the Mexican Revolution. His mother, Manuela “Nellie” Oaxaca was of Mexican-Aztec ancestry.
Early in Quinn’s life, the family relocated to El Paso, Texas and soon after that to the Los Angeles area, where Frank Quinn took a job as a movie studio cameraman. Young Anthony had a number of experiences that influenced his later career as an actor. At different times, he was a professional boxer, studied architecture under Frank Lloyd Wright and was an assistant preacher to the famous evangelist, Aimee Simple McPherson.
It was Frank Lloyd Wright who encouraged Quinn to pursue an acting career. After a short time doing stage performances and serving as a film extra, Quinn’s first starring role was in the 1936 film, Parole. Initially, because he had a strong Mexican accent, he was cast in a series of roles as an ethnic villain. This stereotype followed Quinn throughout his movie career and he turned it to brilliant use in his performance as Zorba.
Quinn’s first big break came years later, in the movie Viva Zapata, in 1952, where he played the lead character’s brother, opposite Marlon Brando. This role won Quinn an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1953. He was the first Mexican-American to win an Academy Award.
In 1957, he won his second Best Supporting Actor Award for playing Paul Gauguin in Lust For Life. Throughout the remainder of the 1950’s, Quinn appeared in a series of popular roles but none won him any Academy Awards.
In the early 1960s, Quinn allowed his age to show and he became a distinguished character actor, known for supporting roles. The success of Zorba the Greek in 1964 was the highpoint of Quinn’s career. He was nominated for Best Actor but lost to Rex Harrison for My Fair Lady.
In the 1970s, Anthony turned to television. He scored critical success as the mayor of a southwestern town in the TV movie, The City. This led to an ABC 1972 TV series, entitled The Man and the City, which was canceled after one season. His big screen appearances in this decade were only sporadic.
He continued to act sporadically throughout the 1980s, and received critical acclaim for a long-running musical version of Zorba, which ran for 362 performances in Washington, DC. In the 1990s, Quinn’s career slowed but continued. He played Zeus in the 1994 pilot episode of Hercules, the Legendary Journeys, but did not play the role in the long-running syndicated series.
In addition to acting, Quinn was also a successful writer and painter. His artwork was displayed widely in the 1980s and is now considered to be the centerpiece of several important collections. He wrote two memoirs of his life; The Original Sin (1972), and One Man Tango (1997).
Quinn’s personal life was almost as turbulent as some of his movie roles. He was first married to Katherine DeMille, adopted daughter of Cecil B. Demille, from 1937 to 1965. The couple had five children, however one child, Christopher, died in a drowning accident when he was only 2 years old.
In 1966, Quinn married Italian costume designer Jolanda Addolori. His affair with Addolori had led to the end of his first marriage. The two had 3 children. In 1997, Quinn had an affair with his private secretary, Katherine Benvin. This affair ended his second marriage. Quinn and Benvin had two children and the couple remained married until Quinn’s death. Quinn also had two children through an affair with a woman named Friedel Dunbar. You counted right, that’s 12 children!
Quinn spent the last years of his life, primarily in Bristol, Rhode Island, where he operated a restaurant. He died of complications related to throat cancer, in Boston, on June 3, 2001, shortly after completing his last movie, Avenging Angelo (2002).