(April 21, 1915 - June 3, 2001)
Dynamic, prolific character actor and occasional leading man who, during the course of his nearly 60 years in motion pictures, has played nearly every exotic ethnic type imaginable at least once. For much of his screen career an effective, quietly persuasive per former, Quinn in recent years has taken to overacting and has sometimes exercised poor judgment in accepting roles. Born to an Irish father and Mexican mother, Quinn enjoyed a brief career as a prizefighter before entering movies in 1936.
He had small roles in Parole, Sworn Enemy and Night Waitress (all 1936) before signing with Paramount, for which he appeared exclusively until 1940, mostly playing gangsters and Indians. Quinn's Paramount films include The Plainsman (1936, directed by Cecil B. DeMille, who became Quinn's father-in-law the following year), Waikiki Wedding, The Last Train From Madrid, Daughter of Shanghai (all 1937), The Buccaneer (also for DeMille), Dangerous to Know, Tip-Off Girls, Bulldog Drummond in Africa, King of Alcatraz (all 1938), King of Chinatown, Television Spy DeMille's Union Pacific (all 1939), Parole Fixer, The Ghost Breakers and Road to Singapore (all 1940).
During the war years Quinn worked mostly at Warner Bros. and 20th CenturyFox, although he did return to Paramount for a hilarious deadpan turn as an Arab sheik in the Crosby-Hope vehicle Road to Morocco (1942). Still a character player, he was assigned increasingly important and showy roles in bigger, more expensive pictures, including City for Conquest (1940), Blood and Sand, Manpower(both 1941),They Died With Their Boots On (also 1941, as Chief Crazy Horse), The Black Swan, Larceny, Inc (both 1942), The Ox-Bow Incident, Guadalcanal Diary (both 1943), Buffalo Bill, Roger Touhy, Gangster, Irish Eyes are Smiling (all 1944), Where Do We Go From Here? and Back to Bataan (both 1945, superb in the latter as a Filipino guerilla, costarring with John Wayne).
Quinn and his wife Katherine, DeMille's adopted daughter and a talented actress in her own right, starred together in Black Gold (1947), a low-budget sleeper released by Allied Artists. Playing a proud but kindly Indian who discovers oil on his property and allows a Chinese refugee to race his prize thoroughbred, Quinn delivered a warm, heartfelt performance that ranks among his best. He subsequently appeared in Sinbad the Sailor, Tycoon (both 1947), The Brave Bulls (1951, marvelous in this bullfighting story), Against All Flags and The Brigand before winning his first Academy Award as the brother of a Mexican revolutionary (played by Marlon Brando) in Viva Zapata! (all 1952). (He also replaced Brando in the original Broadway production of "A Streetcar Named Desire.")
Quinn's career picked up following his Oscar win; he got better roles and worked almost nonstop throughout the remainder of the decade. High spots include La Strada (1954, the classic Fellini film and Best Foreign Film Oscar-winner, in which he played a brutish, simple-minded strongman who tours with acrobat Richard Basehart), Ulysses (1955, as Antinous), Lust for Life (1956, playing artist Paul Gauguin, a performance for which he won his second Best Supporting Actor Oscar), and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1957, playing the hunchbacked Quasimodo to Gina Lollobrigida's Esmeralda). His other 1950s films include Mask of the Avenger (1951), The World in His Arms (1952), Seminole, City Beneath the Sea, Ride, Vaquero!, Blowing Wild (all 1953), The Long Wait (1954), The Magnificent Matador, Seven Cities of Gold (all 1955), The Wild Party (1956), The River's Edge, Wild Is the Wind (both 1957, Oscar-nominated for his work in the latter), Hot Spell (1958), Warlock and Last Train From Gun Hill (both 1959). His father-in-law gave Quinn a shot at directing with the 1958 remake of The Buccaneer a critical and commercial disappointment.
In 1959 he chalked up a memorable portrayal as a stoic Eskimo in The Savage Innocents. By now his once slender, swarthy face had become craggy, and he'd put on quite a bit of weight. That stood him in good stead for his role as the former prizefighter humiliated by his work as a "professional" wrestler in Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962). That same year he contributed a vibrant performance as an amoral Bedouin chieftain (who is "a river to my people") in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia In 1964 he secured another Academy Award nomination, this time for his starring role in Zorba the Greek the story of an earthy Greek peasant he helped produce (and a role to which he returned a quarter-century later on (Broadway). He again played a robust Greek character in A Dream of Kings (1969), a low-key drama set in Chicago's Greek community.
In 1965 he divorced Katherine DeMille, by whom he'd had three children.
The 1970s saw the beginning of a decline for Quinn, who increasingly took roles in poor American-made pictures and poorer foreign ones. Moreover, his burgeoning tendency to overact was not curbed by most of his directors. He has remained a compelling on-screen figure, however, even in his latter-day films.