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Ricardo Montalban Remembered

Submitted by on January 16, 2009 – 9:55 amNo Comment

Ricardo Montalban was, for years, best known as the ravishing
voice extolling the “Corinthian leather” of a Chrysler Cordoba. Unless GM was
processing its car seats in Greece, this “Corinthian” would apparently be an
adjective. As the poet Horace wrote, not everyone is lucky enough to go to
Corinth; the city was sort of the Fantasy Island of ancient Rome. Montalban’s
years at MGM need some rediscovery, particularly the John Sturges detective
movie Mystery Street
(1950). He also appeared in Border Incident (1949), one of Anthony
Mann’s film noirs.

There were three parts Montalban will be remembered for: the voice
of Chrysler, the affable but not to be trifled with Mr. Roarke and, ultimately,
the vengeful Khan Noonien Singh, on the royal hunt of James Tiberius Kirk in
1982’s Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan
(expanding on the character he played in a 1967
episode of the TV show).

Rolling his r’s, and baring his handsome 60-year-old breast, here
is your blood-questing alien. He apparently had some vengeful Sikh in his
family tree, just like his literary forebear Capt. Nemo, peppering Kirk with
Melville and Choderos de Laclos quotes as he chases the Enterprise
. Montalban used
everything he had: the theatrical magnetism, the polite Latin irony, the
savory, colossal pleasure of an actor with a juicy role in his teeth. “Ah Kirk,
my old friend, do you know the Klingon proverb that tells us that revenge is a
dish best served cold? It is very cold in spacssse.”

He was working until the end. Montalban was given
computer-generated legs by Robert Rodriguez to act again in the Spy Kids
movies after he’d been
wheelchair bound by spinal trouble.

Montalban’s name recalled that great ruined city in Oaxaca, with
its pyramids and observatory, thriving 1,000 years before the Europeans came;
Montalban’s career survived the era of accent-and-serape parts; he lived to see
100 different styles of Latin actors and directors in the American cinema. He
seemed quite deathless, and maybe it’s because of this one role that one would
prefer to think of him in the present tense. Death, shmeath. Richard von Busack for Mr. News Bureau


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