My friend Shadow Rincing was on tour with Anthony Quinn in Zorba –the Musical. I’m not using her real name, and you’ll see why. She wouldn’t like me to tell this tale out of school. This was a lo-o-ong haul, over a year, a bus-and-truck company, playing Civic auditoriums around the country: Atlanta, San Diego, Houston. The houses were always full, 4500 people. Quinn was a movie star, he had that elemental masculine quality that you get in some Continental actors like Raf Vallone and Serge Reggiani, heavy-bearded, gruff-voiced, in a sensual, animal way. Quinn was part Mexican. And he was good, but he was a petty tyrant: he frowned on intra-company romances, he was such an egotist that, in his mind, every girl in the cast “belonged” to him. Even if he didn’t choose to exercise his droit de seigneur, he was a dog in the manger. And he took huge liberties, he went way beyond the norm, actually massaging the anus of one of the dancers as she sat in his lap in Act Two.       I was shocked when Shadow told me this. “Can’t she object?” I wondered. “Go to the management?”  “One doesn’t object to Tony,” Shadow told me, “he’ll have you replaced on some pretext.” She shrugged. “He’s the star, they’re paying him fifty thousand a week.”

Shadow was stunningly attractive herself, and, hearing this, I kind of feared for her, but she was older, and Quinn’s tastes didn’t lean that way. When they hit Washington, Quinn had an exhibit of his paintings at the infamous Watergate complex. They were like third-rate Rouaults, great blocks, chunks of black and white, faces limned in broad charcoal strokes. He sold them for thousands. People paid his prices because he was who he was. A movie star.        

When the company hit Boston, I flew up from New York, and Shadow performed the act I’d written her –for her castmates, who went wild with enthusiasm. Quinn gave her grudging approval, “Very nice,” he said. He didn’t want anyone to be the star but him. The next night I watched Quinn onstage and something wasn’t right, he was off, somehow. Off in his timing, off-pitch on his vocals, and without the dynamic energy he always showed, even at seventy-three. “You know why,” Shadow said to me later. No, I didn’t. But it appeared that something had gone wrong with the nightly chess game: each night, ninety minutes before curtain, Quinn had one of the actors called to his dressing room to play him a game of chess. He claimed it relaxed him before a performance. Now the one guy in the company who knew chess was a sweet-natured character-man named Vonn. Now Vonn wasn’t particularly eager to be on call for a nightly bout with Quinn –but there seemed to be no way to refuse: it was a command performance. Of course, here was the tacit agreement –and Vonn understood immediately- he had to lose. It was the unspoken command.

Quinn never mentioned anything, but Vonn didn’t need his sixth sense to understand that Tony’s ego was simultaneously so raging and so fragile that –well, you get it. “I couldn’t help it,” Vonn told us, as the three of us sat with a beer after the show. “I couldn’t not take his queen –she was out there with her legs wide open. It would have been too obvious to let her escape.”

“Well,” Shadow responded, “you saw what happened to his performance. You better watch yourself –don’t do that again. If you want to stay in this company.”  And Vonn watched himself carefully…and made sure he never won another game.