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Hollywood Memoirs : QUINN TEAMS WITH HEPBURN FOR A MOVIE THAT CONNECTS A HEYDAY WITH TODAY

March 13, 1994|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A pensive look flashes across Anthony Quinn's craggy face. His hearty "Zorba the Greek" voice suddenly softens. His expressive brown eyes drift away.

"I guess actors romanticize certain actresses," Quinn says softly. "I have always looked for a Katie Hepburn in my life. I guess I have always romanticized Katie. I envied her relationship with Spencer (Tracy). I envie d it."

Quinn, a robust 78, is eating a chicken sandwich at the "members only" restaurant at the posh St. James Club on Sunset Boulevard where pictures of such legendary stars as Tyrone Power, Loretta Young, Marlene Dietrich and Clark Gable adorn the walls.

It seems quite appropriate that Quinn, whose own legendary film career has spanned nearly 60 years and more than 275 films, would be sitting at the corner table, right in front of a glamour shot of a young Katharine Hepburn.

"I see her every day," Quinn says, smiling.

After all these years, Quinn finally does have Katie Hepburn in his life. Well, at least on the small screen. The two star together in the new movie "This Can't Be Love," which airs Sunday on CBS.

In the romantic comedy written by Duane Poole, Quinn plays Michael Reyman, a handsome movie actor whose career has slipped to low-budget films and commercials. Hepburn's Marion Bennett is a legendary actress who was briefly married to Reyman in the 1940s. When Reyman decides to write a book about his life and his relationship with Bennett, the two are reunited when he must get her permission to publish his memoirs.

"Apparently," Quinn says with a chuckle, "he was so passionate that when he married Katharine Hepburn, he had to make love to her five or six times a day. After one week, she said, 'If this is marriage, I don't want it.' I expressed my love violently to her. I sincerely loved her. That to me was love: 'You are mine. I want you.' "

Quinn was director Anthony Harvey's first choice to play Reyman.

"He's a great guy," enthuses Harvey, who guided Hepburn to her third Oscar in 1968's "The Lion in Winter." "The thing that is always marvelous is that when Kate has a great big macho actor to work with, like Tracy, Peter O'Toole and John Wayne, it seems to spark off extraordinary stuff in her."

Though Harvey previously didn't know Quinn, "I admired his work enormously and luckily he was available. He was just great with her and made a great fuss of her and was charming and funny and made her laugh, which was great."

Quinn, who rarely does TV, was thrilled to be offered the part. "There's a lot of truth in it," he says. "I find very few pictures offered that make a statement. The background story--it's the story of Katie Hepburn and myself. She started acting (in movies) in 1933 and I started in 1936. We ran the gamut together. We saw the movies come and we changed our styles of acting and changed according to the times. She kept her presence and her style."

And her sense of humor. Hepburn, Quinn reports, "has a great desire to have fun. There's one scene where I call for her at her house. The maid says she should be ready in a minute, and suddenly we see her come to the top of the stairs to make an entrance. Tony Harvey said, 'Just stand there.' She is eightysomething years old and may have a problem sometimes, but she did this delightful little dance. He thought it didn't fit in but, she wanted to have fun. It was wonderful to see."

Quinn, who was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, to a half-Irish father and Mexican-Indian mother, has known Hepburn for nearly 60 years.

"I have been a great admirer of hers," Quinn says. And vice versa.

"Every time Katie happened to see me in a picture and we ran into each other, or she came backstage at the plays I've done, she has said, 'Let's work together.' I would say, 'Find a story. I want to work with you.' Then finally I did a play called 'Tchin-Tchin' with Margaret Leighton, who was one of the greatest actresses I have ever worked with. Katie said, 'Let's make that as a movie.' I was thrilled, but then she got something and I went to Europe. Finally, when this script arrived, it reminded me of all of those periods I have been through in acting--stage-wise and picture-wise."

Quinn, who received best supporting actor Oscars for 1952's "Viva Zapata!" and 1956's "Lust for Life," shakes his head. "I was one of those snobs who said, 'I will never do television.' I was silly. Television at least is trying to say something."

With "This Can't Be Love," Quinn is paying homage to an old friend, actor John Barrymore, who died in 1942 after a long battle with alcoholism. "When I did my research as to whom I am going to play (in the movie), I decided to play Barrymore because Jack and I were great, great friends."

In fact, Quinn says, he kept Barrymore alive the last two months of his life by "giving him my blood. I used to go to see him in the hospital every day."

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