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once the most famous Hispanic face in Hollywood
Ricardo Gonzalo Pedro Montalban y Merino was born in Mexico City on November 25, 1920. He came to the United States just prior to entering high school, and attended Belmont High School in Los Angeles until learning enough English to transfer to the more prestigious Fairfax High School, also in Los Angeles, where he appeared in a number of school plays.
It was while performing in high school that he came to the attention of talent scouts at MGM, who offered him a contract. He spent the first few years of his career playing in Spanish-language films before finally getting a chance to dance with Cyd Charisse in Fiesta (1947). His first featured role was in Battleground (1949), and his first starring role was in Border Incident (1949). By the late 1940s he had become the most famous Hispanic face in Hollywood, even though he was still relegated to playing primarily small ethnic roles -- he played everything from a bandito to a native American, and even an Oriental character or two.
On October 26, 1944, Montalban married Georgiana Young, the sister of actress Loretta Young, who gave him exposure on her television show. The couple had four children. (Georgiana died on November 13, 2007.)
Montalban made frequent guest appearances on television from the 1950s through the 1990s, including repeated appearances on "The Virginian" and a recurring role as Damon West on "Dr. Kildare." He was also a song and dance man in several musicals, and was nominated for a Tony Award in 1958 as Best Actor (Musical) for his role in Jamaica.
In 1966, Montalban played a villainous super-human on an episode of "Star Trek," which at the time had few viewers and was in danger of being cancelled. Twelve years later, he agreed to reprise the role in the second "Star Trek" feature film, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, the only villain from the television series to appear in a Star Trek movie.
Montalban is, probably, best remembered for his role as Mr. Roarke on the television series "Fantasy Island," which ran from 1977 to 1984. He was also the commercial spokesman for the Chrysler Corporation for many years, delivering the trademark line "fine Corinthian leather." In 1978, he won an Emmy for "How the West Was Won." He also starred as Zach Powers in the series "The Colbys," which aired from 1985 to 1987.
Montalban suffered a severe injury to his spine while making Across the Wide Missouri in 1951, and suffered serious pain the rest of his life. He continued to work, however, primarily in voice-over roles, but occasionally live-action ones as well. He died at his home in Los Angeles on January 14, 2009.
Reflections: A Life in Two Worlds (1980)
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This page was last updated on 09/12/2018.