Ricardo Montalban, who died today at his Los Angeles home, started out as a sort of ethnic utility man in Hollywood, playing not only a variety of South and Central American characters but also Asians and Native Americans. (He is shown here receiving an award in 1993 from Anthony Quinn, who knew how that went.) Montalban seldom got the chance to display his range, but he could handle comedy as well as drama, and danced with Cyd Charisse in On an Island with You and starred opposite Lena Horne in the hit Broadway musical Jamaica. He became sort of an emblematic Hollywood Latin, and in later years was able to parlay this into a widely-parodied Chrysler campaign, in which he extolled the soft Corinthian leather of car seats, and the Prospero role in the TV series “Fantasy Island.” But few were as good as Montalban in playing this game while maintaining his dignity, and if his performance in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan skirts camp, it never quite gets there, because he is clearly enjoying the joke as much as we are — more, in fact. His passing was announced today, with great respect, by Eric Garcetti, the president of the Los Angeles city council and the representative of Montalban’s district.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 14, 2009