"My guests! I am Mr. Roarke, your host.
Welcome to Fantasy Island."
by Mark Langlois
Ricardo Montalban is best known as Mister Roarke from TV'sFantasy
Island. Alongside scene-stealer Herve Villechaize, Montalban was a
Saturday night staple for a generation of 70s TV watchers.
Born Nov. 25, 1920, in Mexico City, the son of Spanish
immigrants, young Ricardo was brought up to speak the Castilian Spanish of his
ancestry. He was jeered by his Mexican schoolmates for his
"effeminate" sounding speech and formal manner of dress (lace collars
and short pants). As a teen, he followed his older (actor) brother to Hollywood
and attended Fairfax High school. He faced prejudice in Los Angeles and recalled
being refused entrance to a dance because he and his friends were Mexicans.
After graduation, he acted in NY summer stock and returned to
Mexico City to care for his ailing mother. He landed leading roles in Mexican
films from 1941 to 1945 - which led to an MGM contract. He was cast opposite
Esther Williams in Fiesta, and starred again with the swimming
beauty in On an Island with You and Neptune's Daughter.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Montalban was one of only a
handful of actively working Hispanic actors in Hollywood. With his good
looks and athletic body, he was often cast in "latin lover" roles
(as in Sweet Charity with Shirley Maclaine) or as the occasional
handsome priest (as he played in 1966's The Singing Nun opposite
Debbie Reynolds and Agnes Moorehead).
In 1971, troubled by the way he was asked to portray Mexicans,
he helped found Nosotros ("We"), an advocacy group for Latinos working
in the movie and television industry.
In the mid-1970s, he was the commercial spokesperson for the
Chrysler Cordoba with its "soft Corinthian leather" (a marketing term
made up strictly for its linguistic appeal).
Starting in 1977 (until its cancellation in 1984), Montalban
became a household name as the omnipotent resort owner and fantasy granter Mr.
Roarke, who was either some supernatural entity or practitioner of tourist mass
hypnosis. Montalban never learned of his character's secret - and executive
producer Aaron Spelling didn't care as long as people kept watching. The series
followed Spelling's Love Boat on Saturday nights and it was a huge hit.
Filmed at LA's Arboretum, the series used the Queen
Anne Cottage and the lush grounds for its many outdoor scenes.
Montalban, at age 62, whipped himself in shape with endless
pushups for his reprisal of villain Khan in 1982's Star Trek II: The Wrath
of Kahn. Despite later speculations that he was wearing a fake breast
plate, Leonard Nimoy confirmed (in his 1995 book: I Am Spock) that
Montalban was displaying his own "enviable pecs."
When Latin screen goddess Rita Hayworth died in 1987, Montalban
was one of her pallbearers at her Beverly Hills funeral.
In 1994, Montalban hosted a 30-minute infomercial for
"Nativity Stones," jewelry said to contain actual stones from the
cave site of Jesus' birth. The cross necklaces sold like hotcakes and the ad
played for years. Montalban was honored with a knighthood from Pope John Paul II
on January 4, 1998. The Nativity Stone Foundation later aligned themselves with
the Vatican Treasury in 2000.
Montalban struggled with health problems and a spinal injury
in his final decades, often appearing with a wheeled-walker in public. Director
Robert Rodriguez coaxed him to play the wheelchair-bound but active grandfather
in two Spy Kids films in 2001 and 2002. Here is (I think) a
rare picture of Ricardo, sans toupé.
Montalban's beloved wife of 63 years, Georgiana, died on
November 13, 2007, at the age of eighty-four.
In his private life, Ricardo Montalban was a dedicated family
man who shared a love for football often attending LA Rams games at the Stadium
following Sunday 10 a.m. Mass.
Montalban reportedly enjoyed chocolate malts at half-time. His
youngest son (of four children) Victor told the press that his father
"treasured every moment with his fans...He was a very personable
guy...Everybody loved my dad."
At the time of his death, the Emmy-winning actor was living in
this 6 bedroom, 5.5 bath Hollywood Hills home at designed by
architect Ricardo Legoretta.
Here are the gates
that Leonardo DiCaprio has to drive past, to get to his own house.
Here is the front door,
(How cool would it be to have a shot of Patron with Mr. Roarke?)
The home has framing views of city, canyon and ocean -
with a motor court
for 15 cars.
In 2009, months after his death, the estate was put on the market
for $20 million. Not that you would, but if you bought the house, I bet
you could pee on Winona Ryder's roof from the backyard.
Montalban, age 88, passed away at home on January 14, 2009 of congestive
heart failure, with his
family at his side. A private funeral was held and he was buried alongside his
wife at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City.
The Ricardo Montalban Theatre in
Hollywood and its Foundation's Endowment Fund remain as a legacy of this
well-loved star and true gentlemen.
Upon news of his death, the marquee
Trivia: It was from the side steps at the
Montalban Theater (at the time, The Huntington Hartford) where Steve Martin
mumbled the words, "I
was born a poor black child..." in The Jerk.
Agony. Some films are best left a memory.
More: He was related by marriage to Loretta
Young and Sally Blane.
Findadeath friend Jamie sends this: I love
the new section on Ricardo Montalban (especially all the pictures of his cool
home) but there was no mention of one of his best roles. Montalban did a great
job of self-parody as Vincent Ludwig, the villain in the first of the Naked
Gun films. His character also tried to do the world a favor
by eliminating OJ Simpson (as Detective Nordberg) before he got his hack(s)
at Ron and Nicole.
Thanks to my buddy C, and Richard Kappler for
help with the information on this page.