There have been a select few Latino actors who broke the barrier of language and stereotypes to make their way in the USA paving the way for new generations of actors like Javier Bardem or Antonio Banderas. Among them, we want to highlight the magnificent Anthony Quinn who became a Hispanic legend, managing to get from a humble beginning in Mexico to the most glittering reputation in Hollywood.
He was born in the midst of poverty as Antonio Rodolfo Quinn Oaxaca on April 21, 1915 in Chihuahua (Mexico). He is the son of Francisco Quinn, of half Irish and half Mexican origin, and Manuela Oaxaca, Mexican descendant of Nahua. At an early age, his family moved to Texas and Quinn had to start working. When he was 21 years old, he began a film career and appeared as an ‘extra’ in several movies.
His physical Irish-Latino features set him up to play very characteristic and stereotyped roles that allowed him to attain the experience that every actor needs. His first few appearances slowly opened the door to films of more popularity where he was able to demonstrate that he could play a variety of roles.
“Earthy and at times exuberant, Anthony Quinn was one of Hollywood’s more colorful personalities.” – New York Times
When Quinn worked for Paramount, he married Katherine, the adopted daughter of director Cecil B. De Mille.However, his father-in-law didn’t help him in his career, and his acceptance as a son-in-law was highly conditional due to his precarious economic situation. Still, Quinn continued working in the theater, where he achieved success with the piece “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams.
He obtained U.S. citizenship in 1947; however, because of his “multiethnic” appearance and the scars from boxing across his face, he continued playing secondary roles as a native of the United States.
He acted in 15 films in this time period; encased in roles of gangsters, villains and characters with dubious reputations. This translated to real life for him, and Hollywood socialites of the time did not support Quinn in their circles, discriminating against him greatly.
”One of the reasons I did all the Greeks and Arab parts I did was because I was trying to identify myself as a man of the world, I lived in Greece, in France, Iran and all over the world, Spain, trying to find a niche where I would finally be accepted.” – Anthony Quinn for The New York Times
Despite this, he was offered more interesting roles like Eufemio Zapata in “Viva Zapata!” (1952) by Elia Kazan, for which he received his first Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. This was the first occasion in which a Hispanic actor received the prestigious award. His portrayal of Gauguin in the film “The Crazy Red Hair” (1956) by Vincente Minnelli, gave him his second Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
He moved artistically between United States and Europe and that, without a doubt, hurt him when it came to choosing his roles. However, the actor reached great notoriety especially with his role in “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962) and “Zorba the Greek” (1964), with which he won a new nomination for an Oscar. In these years he married Iolanda Addolori, whom he had met on the set of “Barabbas.”
“Anyone who had any reverence or respect for a true artist will miss him. He was a modern day Renaissance man with an intelligence and insight that brought heightened clarity to each moment spent with him.” – Providence Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci.
It is said that no American actress was fiery enough to match Quinn’s Latino presence, so he worked with Italian sex-bombs like Anna Magnani (Wild Is the Wind, 1957), Gina Lollobrigida (The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, 1956) and Sophia Loren (Black Orchid, 1958, and Heller In Pink Tights, 1960). In reference to his women in real life, a quick run-down of his personal history reveals five wives and 12 children: Christopher, Christina, Catalina, Duncan, Valentina, Francesco, Danny, Lorenzo, Sean, Alexander Anthony, Antonia and Ryan. Quinn died accompanied by his last wife and children in a hospital in Boston in 2001, at age 86. His remains are buried on his farm in California.
His masculine, strong presence, as well as his great versatility and ability to interpret characters of diverse nationalities and backgrounds, are the basic characteristics that allowed Quinn to be noted as one of the best film actors ever. It is a matter of pride for the Latin community to have this representative who opened so many doors for the Latin actors who came later and who, today, continue fighting to create roles “for Latinos” in Hollywood.