Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ricardo Montalban Dies at 88

It's a sad day for film fans...earlier came word of the death of Patrick McGoohan.

Now comes news which makes me very sad indeed: Ricardo Montalban has passed away today at the age of 88.

By chance, this morning Turner Classic Movies ran Montalban's excellent film RIGHT CROSS (1950), which I recently reviewed.

Above to the left is a LIFE magazine portrait of Montalban from 1949.

I saw Montalban in person on two different occasions -- once at a distance and one time up close. As a 10-year-old, I saw Montalban as the King in a Los Angeles Civic Light Opera production of THE KING AND I opposite Sally Ann Howes. Then, in the early '80s, I was on a tour of the Burbank (Warner Bros.) studios and had the pleasure of visiting a soundstage and watching him film a scene from FANTASY ISLAND. The episode was "Daddy's Little Girl," guest starring Genie Francis; IMDb shows that it first aired January 30, 1982.

Montalban's bland -- though lucrative -- role as the enigmatic Mr. Roarke perhaps helped to obscure from modern audiences the fact that he was a skilled actor with multiple talents, although fans of the STAR TREK series familiar with his great villain Khan don't need to be reminded of that fact. His dances with Cyd Charisse in FIESTA (1947) and ON AN ISLAND WITH YOU (1948), as well as his simultaneous dance with Charisse and Ann Miller in THE KISSING BANDIT (1948), reveal a very graceful dancer, although he didn't have the same training as his partners.

And let's not forget that it was Montalban who helped to introduce the standard "Baby, It's Cold Outside" in NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER (1949).

I reviewed Montalban's film noir MYSTERY STREET (1950) here. Montalban's other movie titles include BATTLEGROUND (1949), BORDER INCIDENT (1949), TWO WEEKS WITH LOVE (1950), ACROSS THE WIDE MISSOURI (1951), and John Ford's CHEYENNE AUTUMN (1964).

When work slowed for a period of time after Montalban left MGM in the early '50s, he worked steadily for his sister-in-law, Loretta Young, on her TV show, as well as in countless other TV shows. Montalban won an Emmy for the TV miniseries HOW THE WEST WAS WON. For a certain generation, he also immortalized the words "Corinthian leather" as a spokesman for Chrysler.

Off camera, he also led a rich life. Montalban founded the Nosotros Foundation to enourage Latinos in the entertainment business. The theater at Hollywood and Vine, formerly known as the Huntington Hartford and then the Doolittle, is now the Ricardo Montalban Theatre, run by the Montalban Foundation; photos are here. He also received Mexico's highest civilian award for raising over $10 million following the Mexico City earthquake, and a decade ago he was honored by Pope John Paul II as a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory.

Fans may want to check out his 1980 autobiography, REFLECTIONS: A LIFE IN TWO WORLDS.

Montalban's wife, Georgiana Young -- the half-sister of Loretta Young -- passed away in November 2007. The Montalbans shared one of the most charming love stories in Hollywood history. The stories vary slightly -- some versions have him falling in love with her photo in a magazine, and Ricardo himself writes of first spotting her in THE STORY OF ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL (1939) and at a distance at the Church of the Good Shepherd. What is certain is that Ricardo happened to meet Georgiana's sister and brother-in-law, Sally Blane and Norman Foster, when Foster was directing movies in Mexico, and a meeting with Georgiana was arranged. The Montalbans married just days after that first meeting, a marriage which lasted until Georgiana's death over 63 years later. The Montalbans had four children.

Ricardo Montalban led a full life and leaves behind a significant body of work which will be enjoyed by generations to come.

Update: Kathryn Jean Lopez notes that Montalban was a longtime "friend and subscriber" of National Review. Interesting detail.

Here is the New York Times obituary.

And here's a tribute by Ed Morrissey at Hot Air.

Here's a tribute by John Nolte at Big Hollywood which includes a YouTube clip from FIESTA.

I love Mark Steyn's line about THE COLBYS, a fabulous guilty pleasure of a show if ever there was one. I was quite sorry when it went off the air.

Update: Turner Classic Movies has announced it will pre-empt its schedule on Friday, January 23rd, in order to pay tribute to Mr. Montalban.



Blogger The Playful Walrus said...

I have never heard a bad word about the guy. I remember seeing "Star Trek II" in the theater. I'll have to watch it again.

11:33 AM  

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