A two-time academy award winner, the Mexican-American actor (also painter and writer) is better known for his performances in popular Hollywood movies Viva Zapata!
and Zorba the Greek
When he was four years old, his family moved to Los Angeles, there he had a number of jobs before turning to acting in the 1930's; having his first movie role, Parole
in 1936. Thanks to his Mexican-Indian and Mexican-Irish parentage, he was tall, swarthy, and powerfully built, and early in his career played dozens of Native American and outlaw roles. Thereafter, he was cast as a rugged ethnic or exotic of varying backgrounds. An actor who seemed to personify the life force, he played a dissolute Mexican in Elia Kazan
's Viva Zapata!
(1952, Academy Award), an Italian strongman in Federico Fellini
's La Strada
(1954), an intense Gauguin in Vicente Minnelli's Lust for Life
(1956, Academy Award), Gino on George Cukor
's Wild is the Wind
, a battered prizefighter in Ralph Nelson
's Requiem for a Heavyweight
(1962), the charismatic Alexis Zorba in Michael Cacoyannis
's Zorba the Greek
(1964; he toured with the musical stage version, 1982–83), and an Aristotle Onassis–like figure in The Greek Tycoon
(1978). He made more than 100 additional films and appeared in several plays and television dramas. He was also an accomplished visual artist.