Montalbán, Ricardo (1920—)

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Montalbán, Ricardo (1920—)

With his half-century career as a film and television actor, Ricardo Montalbán is one of the most well-known and popular actors of Hispanic heritage. Although he had a distinguished career as an actor in feature films, he is best known for his starring role in theFantasy Island television series and for his years of commercials promoting Chrysler automobiles.

Montalbán was born on November 25, 1920, in Mexico City, to Spanish immigrant parents. It was after moving to Los Angeles to attend Fairfax High School that Montalbán discovered the theater and began acting in high school plays. In 1940, he moved to New York to pursue a career in acting and made his debut on Broadway in Her Cardboard Lover. Afterwards, he returned to Mexico and began a career in film there, making more than two dozen movies. His 1942 film La casa de la zorra brought him to the attention of Hollywood, which was turning out an increasing number of films with Latin American themes in support of the Good Neighbor Policy during World War II. In Hollywood, Montalbán was cast in a series of stereotypical "Latin Lover" roles at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios, where he signed a ten-year contract in 1946. His appearance in Neptune's Daughter (1949) was a breakthrough in that it was the first major film to portray a Hispanic character who romantically pursued and married an Anglo woman. Montalbán's Spanish accent and Hispanic looks, however, frequently caused him to be cast in stereotypical roles, either of the "Latin Lover" lead or that of sidekick or friend to the romantic lead (Battleground, 1949), or even as a "Hispanic-looking" character. This situation continued through the 1960s, when he was cast as a Native American (Across the Wide Missouri, 1951), as a Japanese warlord (Sayonara, 1957), as a French duke (Love Is a Ball, 1963) and an Italian lover (Sweet Charity, 1968). In 1969, Montalbán helped found Nosotros, the first organization to promote equal opportunities for Hispanic actors and actresses in Hollywood, in part by its sponsorship of the Golden Eagle Awards to recognize outstanding performances by Hispanic actors.

Among the most important films of Montalbán's career have been: Cheyenne Autumn (1964), Madame X (1966), Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), Return to Fantasy Island (1977), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), and The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad (1988). Montalbán began acting for television productions in the late 1950s, often appearing on The Loretta Young Show. From then on, he made numerous guest appearances on various series through the 1970s, many of them westerns or police dramas. From 1978 to 1984, he starred in his most famous role, that of Mr. Rourke on Fantasy Island. In the 1980s he began serving as a spokesperson for the Chrysler Cordoba, a model named for a city in Spain.

—Nicolás Kanellos

Further Reading:

Tardiff, Joseph T., and L. Mpho Mabunda, editors. Dictionary of Hispanic Biography. Detroit, Gale, 1996.

Richard, Alfred Chars, Jr. Censorship and Hollywood's Hispanic Image. Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1993.

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Montalbán, Ricardo (1920—)

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Montalbán, Ricardo (1920—)