Musing over his memories while taking a day to bicycle through the hills of Rome inspired Anthony Quinn to write his autobiography as if life were one long ride, with surprises at every turn in the road.
Quinn’s world view apparently is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“Since my wife decided to divorce me a year ago, we have been traveling most of the time,” Quinn said as he relaxed in his Chicago hotel suite with a cup of cappuccino.
The 80-year-old actor, who travels with his 2-year-old daughter, Antonia, and her mother, has been signing autographs and giving interviews all day but shows no sign of weariness.
Quinn’s autobiography, spiced throughout with sexual revelations, mentions peccadilloes with movie sirens such as Carole Lombard, Rita Hayworth and Ingrid Bergman as well as Bergman’s daughter, Pia Lindstrom, among many.
It details two affairs Quinn had in the autumn of 1962 while trying to decide whether to leave his first wife, Katherine, for Iolanda, who was in Italy waiting for him and pregnant with their first child. Iolanda became Quinn’s second wife.
“I think that the book played a big role in Iolanda’s deciding to divorce me,” said Quinn. Fathering a child with another woman also played a role, but this wasn’t the first time Quinn had done that.
The sexual revelations in Quinn’s book were written to free himself from a lifetime’s accumulation of guilt, he says.
“I wanted to tell all this story so I could breathe easier, so that people will accept me for what I am,” he said. “At the book signing a lovely woman, a chubby woman, came to me and said, ‘You’ve been a very naughty boy, but I still love you.’ That’s nice. I’ve been naughty, but I’m still acceptable to people. Now, I can be myself.”
To Quinn’s regret, his family hasn’t been quite so accepting of his publicly proclaimed naughtiness.
“I also wrote this book for my kids, who did not appreciate it as much as I thought they would. Some felt that I told too much, but I said that how can I go on carrying all these secrets with me? I guess they’d rather that I suffered the lies than tell the truth.”
Quinn set his life’s story in the context of a bicycle ride because of an incident that occurred about 10 years ago, he said. It was triggered when his first wife sent a large box of his belongings to his home in Italy.
“I didn’t want to open that box, to confront my past,” Quinn said. “I wanted to throw the works in the fireplace and light it, but instead I set out on my bicycle. My life passed in front of me on that bike ride. I always wanted to write about the thoughts of a man riding his bicycle.
“I wanted to call it ‘Suddenly Sunset,’ but the publisher called it ‘One Man Tango’ after a name that Orson Welles hung on me.”
Anthony Quinn, born in Mexico to an Irish father and a Mexican mother, is certainly one of Hollywood’s most enduring figures. He won two Academy Awards - for supporting actor in “Viva Zapata!” in 1952 and “Lust for Life” in 1956 - even though he missed getting an Oscar for his best-known portrayal, as Zorba the Greek in 1963.
But there may be another Oscar in his future, as Quinn shows no sign of quitting or even slowing down.
His most recent film, “A Walk in the Clouds,” was released this summer, and he has plans for another to be shot next year. That movie, based on a script titled “The Local Authority,” is about an old Mafia man who has gone straight for 40 years but isn’t allowed to forget his past.
Quinn, who also paints and sculpts, says he has no intention of retiring, at least not in the foreseeable future.
“I started working when I started walking,” he said. “I helped my mother gather sticks for firewood and sell them. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t work.”
He might consider slowing his pace if he can complete two movies that he dearly wants to make. Quinn wants to play Russian author Leo Tolstoy and Spanish artist Pablo Picasso.
“Tolstoy died a tragic death,” Quinn said. “After years of planning to leave his wife, when he finally did at the age of 81, he died five days later.
“Picasso practiced monogamy from the age of 75 until he was 92. Both characters fascinate me. I’d like the experience of playing each, and I’ve got scripts that I’ve spent a lot of money on.”
When Quinn takes a role, he immerses himself deeply in the character. Twice when he was making movies, he suffered a skin condition that interfered with filming. It happened once when he was cast as a pope for “The Shoes of the Fisherman” and again as Quasimodo in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
The malady baffled several doctors, and Quinn found relief only when one knowing French physician laughed and gave him a book to read, “Saviors of God” by Nikos Kazantzakis.
“That book described young boys in the 15th and 16th centuries who were about to be made priests,” said Quinn. “On the night before they were to become priests, they would get a skin condition called Saint’s Disease. That’s what I had.”
Kazantzakis’ explanation of the connection between a person’s conscious and unconscious gave Quinn the insight he needed to get over the condition.
“I’ve been very lucky in my life,” he said as he played with his daughter in their hotel suite. “When I was young I was a likable kid and everyone adopted me. Now that I’m old, it’s all downhill, as they say, and for a bicyclist like me, that’s the best part of the ride.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Spokane7 email newsletter
Get the day’s top entertainment headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.