Today, here at the Classic Video Showplace, we kickoff the celebration of Hispanic Heritage with a look at the legendary and diverse career of Richardo Montalban.
Richardo Gonzalo Pedro Montalban y Merino was born on November 25th, 1920 in Terreon to Spanish immigrants Genaro Montalban Busano and Ricarda Merino Jimenez.
As a teenager he moved with his brother Carlos to Los Angeles and later to New York City, where he got his first role in a 1940 play titled, Her Cardboard Lover. He started working as an extra or with small singing roles in short films (billed simply as “Ricardo”) and gradually began to build his screen time before his mother got ill and he returned to be with her in Mexico.
While in Mexico he began performing in Spanish-language films. Between 1941 and 1947, he performed and later starred in 17 full length films–all produced in Mexico.
Former actor-turned-successful film director Norman Foster, who directed Charlie Chan films and worked with Orson Wells, Walt Disney and other Hollywood legends, was living in Mexico due to visa issues. Forster saw Montalban’s work and featured him in several films, quickly making him a star.
During this time, Ricardo found the love of his life–Georgiana Young, who was half-sisters of movie stars Polly Ann Young, Sally Blaine and Lorette Young. The latter became the star of her own television series and would later cast her brother-in-law frequently as a guest star in many different roles. Georgiana and Ricardo were married in 1944, a bond that lasted until her death in November 2007.
Ricardo’s success in foreign films then caught the attention of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayor producers, who were looking for an authentic looking/sounding Mexican bullfighter to play opposite Esther Williams in a movie called Fiesta. The film was viewed as a success by both critics and movie-goers and MGM immediately signed Montalban to a long-term contract.
He then took on a variety of roles and starred with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Montalban danced in a Frank Sinatra vehicle, The Kissing Bandit, he was Lana Turner’s love interest in Latin Lovers, he sang in multiple films with Williams, he served as a soldier in the wildly successful 1948 film Battleground, and was the lead in several film noir films around the turn of the decade.
Montalban was born with arteriovenous malformation in his spine which was aggravated when he was thrown from his horse and trampled on during the filming of the 1951 film Across The Wild Missouri. Despite being in constant pain, he continued to work. The condition never healed and later left him paralyzed below the waist down for the last 15 years of his life.
Instead of lashing out, Ricardo said in various interviews and speeches that he thanked God for the opportunity to use his physical disability to inspire him to create an organization to help support and promote people with handicaps.
In an article entitled “Dignity First” written by Jim Bawden for the Toronto Sun on February 22nd, 1986, Montalban revealed that he was disgusted with many of the Hispanic stereotypes he was either forced to play or refused to play–only to have them go to other actors who would take the role.
He felt so strongly about this that he later teamed with other Hispanic actors to form the Nosotros Organization, which means “We” in English. Among the organization’s work included forming the Golden Eagle Awards, which identifies outstanding contributions by Latino actors.
By the mid-1950s, he had had enough of the stereotypes and decided to make the potential career-killing decision to leave Hollywood and turn down any roles that featured Spanish or Mexican actors in a negative or prejudicial way.
Montalban was just beginning to make his mark in both Hollywood and the entertainment industry as a whole. In addition to changing many people’s views on Hispanic actors, he was about to impact the film industry in a way few others had ever done.
We’ll have more on the life and legacy of Montalban in two weeks here at “The Showplace.”
In the meantime, be on the lookout for Ricardo Montalban’s early television work on programs like The Loretta Young Show, Bonanza and other shows and movies, seen on the Astound TV Network.
To view the complete rundown of classic programming on ATVN, check out the weekly listings here on our website.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Astound Broadband or any other agency, organization, employer or company.