Beloved Mexican Actor dies after Six Decade Career
With a career of over six decades and dozens of films and televisions shows to his credit, Ricardo Montalban was one of Hollywood’s most recognized Hispanic actors.
Among his most recognizable roles are Mr. Roarke from Fantasy Island and Khan Noonian Signh from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
Ricardo Montalban’s Childhood
Ricardo Montalban was born on November 25, 1920 in Mexico City to Ricarda Merino and Jenaro Montalban. He was the second of three children and had an older brother, Carlos and a younger sister, Carmen.
As teenagers, Ricardo and Carlos moved to Los Angeles where they both began to pursue acting careers. In 1940, Ricardo won a small role in the New York production of Her Cardboard Lover, however he returned to Mexico to be with his dying mother. He stayed there for three years, made a dozen Spanish language films, becoming one of Mexico’s best known movie stars in the process.
Ricardo returned to Hollywood in 1943, where he began making westerns, playing either the Indian or the so-called Latin lover. In 1944, Ricardo married fellow actress Georgiana Young, with whom he would have four children, Laura, Mark, Anita and Victor. She died on November 13, 2007 after 63 years of marriage.
Ricardo Montalban in Hollywood
In 1949, Ricardo was given his first starring role in the movie Border Incident, in which he played a government agent trying to keep Mexican farmers from entering the United States illegally. In 1950, Ricardo played against type when he was cast in the movie Mystery Street, a noir thriller about a Boston cop investigating a murder in Cape Cod.
During the 1950s Ricardo was one of the few Hispanic actors in Hollywood who was working regularly and receiving leading roles.
In 1957, he won an Oscar for his performance in the James Michner-inspired film, Sayonara. At the same time, Ricardo was also appearing on Broadway, in the musical Jamaica where he sang several calypso numbers.
He also starred in the Spanish-language radio show Seawolf, which ran until the 1970s in many Spanish-speaking countries.
In 1966, Ricardo also starred alongside Debbie Reynolds in the Broadway musical, The Singing Nun. A year later, he appeared on TV in what would become one of his signature roles, when he played the genetically enhanced mad man bent on galactic conquest, Khan, in the Star Trek episode Space Seed.
Ricardo Montalban’s body of work was extremely diverse. In addition to Space Seed, he also starred in numerous other films including Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Naked Gun, two Planet of the Apes sequels and more recently Spy Kids: The Island of Lost Dreams and Spy Kids 3D.
Ricardo Montalban’s Legacy
Ricardo was always troubled by the way Mexicans were portrayed on television and in films and he set out to correct what he saw as a harmful stereotype. In 1970, with the assistance of other Latino actors in Hollywood, Ricardo started the Nosotros Foundation, which was devoted to recognizing the talents of Latinos in Hollywood.
Ricardo was also a practising Catholic and saw his faith as something of great personal importance, as well as a way to give back to the community. In 1998, he was made a Knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great by Pope John Paul II. He made also numerous public service announcements celebrating his American citizenship, particularly in 1986 for the 100th birthday of the Statue of Liberty.
In 1999, Ricardo also created the Golden Eagle Awards, which in conjunction with the Ricardo Montalban Theatre and the Nosotros Foundation worked to recognize and reward Latino achievement in the arts.
Ricardo Montalban died on January 14, 2009 at the age of 88.
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- February 2, 2009 / 12:45 am
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