The Genius of Anthony Quinn By Jayjay Epega
“I’m Anthony Quinn: son, brother, migrant farmer, student, lover, actor, husband, father, sculptor, painter, arrogant bastard. I am Mexican, Irish, Indian, American, Italian, Greek, Spanish, Chinese, Eskimo, Muslim. . . .Above all though, I am an artist. This was my beginning and it will be my end.” – From The Original Sin, the Anthony Quinn autobiography.
Jayjay Epega sits down with Katherine Quinn – wife of of the legendary actor, painter and sculptor – for an exclusive interview….
Anthony Quinn was an Oscar-winning, Mexican-American actor, born in Chihuahua, Mexico in 1915. Between 1936 and 1940, he’d already appeared in 40 movies; he later moved to Europe where he made his best foreign film, La Strada, in 1954, a Fellini masterpiece. Some of his most notable films include The Guns of Navarone, Lawrence of Arabia, Viva Zapata!, Lust For Life, Requiem For A Heavy Weight, Zorba The Greek, The Shoes of The Fisherman and Secrets of San Victoria. He worked alongside such fellow acting greats as Gregory Peck, Jackie Gleason, Peter O’Toole, Sir Laurence Olivier and many, many others.
In the 1970s, he began his second career in television and on Broadway, and became the star of the weekly show, The Man in The City. Besides making approximately 200 films, he performed over 300 times as Zorba in Zorba The Greek on Broadway. He also played opposite Laurence Olivier in Becket. In 1997, he married his third wife Katherine Benvin. We were delighted to have a personal interview with Mrs. Quinn, learning so much about this true motion picture legend.
When did Anthony’s journey in art begin?
At a very young age, maybe 5 or 6 years old, Tony would occasionally tag along with his father when he went to work as a cameraman at Zelig’s Studio in Los Angeles. Zelig’s was a small studio where they specialised in filming scenes with animals. Tony would sit quietly in a corner and observe the scenes being filmed and he would do sketches of the actors and animals. He once did a small drawing of Douglas Fairbanks and his father presented it to Mr. Fairbanks, who then gave Tony 25 dollars for it. Throughout his life, he carried a notebook and pen in his pocket and was constantly drawing. Later on, those sketches became the inspiration for many of the paintings and sculptures he would go on to create.
For you, what are the abiding memories?
The intensity and purpose with which he lived every day of his life. He worked all the time, whether he was writing, painting, sculpting, drawing or preparing for a role in a movie, he was always creating. He had a fantastic sense of adventure and loved to take long walks or bicycle rides with the children. Looking back, I believe those hours of “play” were critical to his creative mind. He never complained about the weather and woke up every day with the same enthusiasm, whether it was raining, snowing or the sun was shining outside. He also loved to laugh. He had a great sense of humour.
What were the major influences in the nature of his work?
The people he met and the places he travelled to. From a very young age, he was faced with many challenges. As a Mexican immigrant growing up in the US and having lost his father at the age of 11, he had to deal with discrimination and extreme poverty. The pain of those early years never left him. His work as an actor allowed him to travel the world and meet people from all walks of life, rich and poor. He was never satisfied just knowing people on the surface, but had to try and get to the essence of what drove them. He asked a lot of questions, read thousands of books and wherever he went, preferred to be where every day life was happening. That’s what inspired him to create.
Could you tell us more about this year’s special exhibition, “Transcending Boundaries: The Art of Anthony Quinn?”
The exhibition is on display at the National Hellenic Museum in Chicago through the end of the year and is an absolutely wonderful experience. The theme, Transcending Boundaries, came about for a couple of reasons. First of all, for the fact that Tony had a multifaceted career, as an actor, visual artist and writer. Second, because as an actor, he was able to play so many nationalities so convincingly. Wherever in the world we travelled, people considered him “one of them.” I think it goes back to his youth as a Mexican immigrant with an Irish name growing up in Los Angeles during the Great Depression. He never felt accepted as part of any one community.
What are the origins and activities of the Foundation bearing his name?
I established the Anthony Quinn Foundation after Tony passed away in 2001. I spent a lot of time volunteering at my children’s schools when they were young and was so surprised to find out how few arts programs exist as a part of the regular curriculum. I thought about what Tony’s life would have been like without the influence of the arts from a very young age, and decided to make the focus of the Foundation to promote the importance of the arts in education. We raised funding from private donors and started a scholarship program to help high school students attend intensive summer arts programs. I focused on high school aged students because that was the time when Tony’s life was turned around by a meeting with Frank Lloyd Wright and it is an age when kids have the least amount of help finding a direction in life.
What would you say is his enduring legacy?
The fact that his life story and the work he left on this earth – in his film roles and his artwork – inspires others. He often studied the work and lives of many great artists before him. Their stories gave him the courage to seek his own artistic path. If his life story inspires others to seek the truth and express it through their work, it would be the greatest gift he could have left on this earth.
Where are people able to view his works?
At the moment, the National Hellenic Museum in Chicago has the largest selection of his artwork on view, and there are also several galleries around the world selling his work.
Where can people keep up-to-date with the latest news?
I wish I could say I was better at keeping up with the social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. The best way to keep up to date would be both the Anthony Quinn Foundation website (www.aqfoundation.org) and the official website of Anthony Quinn (www.anthonyquinn.com).