Picks and Pans Review: One Man Tango
Quinn, the brutishly charming star of more than 100 films, ranging from A (Attila the Hun) to Z (Zorba the Greek), calls this florid yet earthy autobiography "a literary purging," a way "to cleanse myself of my ancient demons." Chief among them is his devil-may-care philandering. Now 80 and the father of 12 children by two wives and three mistresses, the mighty Quinn reveals himself as a lifelong, perhaps world-class, womanizer.
Among his conquests (many of whom also happened to be his leading ladies): Carole Lombard, Maureen O'Hara, Rita Hayworth (whose future husband, Orson Welles, later begged Quinn for her phone number) and Ingrid Bergman. At his amorous peak (as it were), in 1962, Quinn was juggling several affairs at once, including a backstage romance with Margaret Leighton, his costar in the Broadway play Tchin-Tchin, and a series of midnight trysts with an unnamed starlet in the backseat of a limousine.
Did Quinn ever meet an actress he didn't bed? Yes, Mae West, who tried to seduce him (but her "bawdy demeanor" put him off); Barbara Stanwyck ("a shrewd, calculating girl" whom "I never liked") and Marilyn Monroe ("an empty-headed blond with a fat rear").
As for the men in his life, well, director George Cukor, he says, once made an unwelcome pass at him. Yul Brynner, whom Quinn directed in 1958's The Buccaneer, was "one of the most pretentious people in show business." Most fascinating was Quinn's strained friendship with Laurence Olivier, who played Thomas Becket to Quinn's King Henry II on Broadway in 1956, but who, offstage, according to his costar, was "a lower-class dolt" and "one of the least refined people I had ever met."
Not that Quinn himself was ever a model of chivalry. He says he cheated on his first wife, Katherine (daughter of legendary director Cecil B. DeMille), throughout their 27-year marriage because of his disgust at discovering she wasn't a virgin on their wedding night. "Jesus, what an imbecile I was!" he berates himself now.
His breast-beating mea culpas, which recur throughout the book, have an operatic ring. As do his funeral plans. He has instructed his heirs to let his body "rot in the hot sun" of his native Chihuahua, Mexico. There, he writes, "the birds will peck at what is left of me...and defecate me out all over the countryside." Not a pretty sight. But quintessential Quinn. (HarperCollins, $25)