He grew up first in El Paso, Texas, and later the Boyle Heights and the Echo Park areas of Los Angeles, California. He attended Belmont High School, but left before graduating. (Tucson High School in Arizona, many years later, awarded him an honorary high school diploma.) As a young man he 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.
After a short time performing on the stage, he 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, and played a more sympathetic Crazy Horse in They Died With Their Boots On (with Errol Flynn). 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, 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-films. His big break came from playing opposite Marlon Brando in Elia Kazan's Viva Zapata! (1952). Quinn wanted to play the lead role of Zapata but Brando coming off his recent success in the film A Streetcar Named Desire was Kazan's first choice. However, his supporting role as Zapata's brother won Quinn an Oscar while Brando lost the Oscar for Best Actor to Gary Cooper in High Noon. He was the first Mexican-American to win an 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).
He won his second Oscar for Best Supporting Actor by portraying the painter Paul Gauguin in Vincente Minelli's van Gogh biopic, Lust for Life (1956). The award was remarkable as he was on screen for only eight minutes. The following year, he received an Oscar nomination for his part in George Cukor's Wild Is the Wind. His success in the title role of Zorba the Greek in 1964 was the high water mark of his career and resulted in another Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Other film credits during this time include The River's Edge, The Savage Innocents, The Guns of Navarone, Requiem for a Heavyweight, Lawrence of Arabia, Barabbas, The 25th Hour (1967), La Bataille de San Sebastian (Guns for San Sebastian), and The Shoes of the Fisherman, 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 agreed 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 Mayor Thomas Jefferson Alcalá, he starred in the single-season ABC television series entitled "The Man and the City." His subsequent television appearances were sporadic, among them the 1977 miniseries "Jesus of Nazareth."
Later films include Mohammed, Messenger of God (also known as The Message), Lion of the Desert, Revenge, Jungle Fever, Last Action Hero, A Walk in the Clouds and Seven Servants. 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, which he performed both on Broadway in New York City and at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.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. Apart from art classes taken in Chicago during the 1950s, he 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. 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 married three times and fathered 10 children among them. He also fathered two more children with another woman he did not marry. 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.
There is a statue of Anthony Quinn doing his famous "Zorba the Greek" dance in his birthplace of Chihuahua, Mexico. On January 5, 1982, the Belvedere County Public Library in East los Angeles, California was renamed in honor of Anthony Quinn. The present library sits on the site of his family's former home. There is an Anthony Quinn Bay and Beach in Rhodes, Dodecanese, Greece, just 2.7 miles (4.3 km) south of the village of Faliraki (aka Falirakion or Falirákion). The land was bought by Quinn during the filming of The Guns of Navarone in Rhodes; however, it was reclaimed by the Greek government in 1984 due to a change in property law. The National Council of La Raza gives the Anthony Quinn Award for excellence in motion pictures as an ALMA Award.
With Kirk Douglas in Lust For Life
The famous Zorba the Greek dance scene