Ricardo Gonzalo Pedro Montalbán y Merino was born in the year 1920 in Mexico City. When he was a teenager he left Mexico to move to Los Angeles with his brother, actor Carlos Montalbán, and in the year 1940 the pair of them left LA for New York.
Montalbán’s career started in 1941 when he landed roles in a few motion pictures. These films were produced for the Soundies film jukeboxes. So, what are Soundies? Three-minute musicals on film that people could view on the Panoram (a coin-operated film jukebox) in areas such as nightclubs, restaurants, bars, and amusement center. Montalbán’s first starring role came from the film “He’s a Latin from Staten Island” which came out in 1941.
During that same year; however, Montalbán returned to Mexico for a family emergency. While in Mexico, he acted in Spanish-films and became a star in Mexico.
In 1943 he returned to America and arrived in Hollywood to begin acting again. In the ’40s though, Latinos still weren’t getting the same respect as Anglo film stars. Though he was in a variety of films and television shows, Montalbán often portrayed Asian characters instead of Latinos. But in 1949 he was the first Latino actor to appear on the cover of Life magazine.
Montalbán was one of the only Latino actors working during the ’50s and ’60s. He also had the opportunity to star in “Jamaica”, a broadway musical in which he sang and starred in for two years. Montalbán even acted off-screen and off-stage when he started his own radio show, “Lobo del Mar”. “Lobo del Mar” was a half-hour weekly-ran show that aired in Spanish-speaking countries until the ’70s.
In 1975 Montalbán was back in front of the camera, this time as the spokesman for the Chrysler Cordoba. He became well-known for being associated with these cars and Montalbán starred in several commercials advertising the car over the years.
It wasn’t until 1978 that Montalbán landed an ongoing part on television in the series “Fantasy Island.” Playing the role of Mr. Roarke, Montalbán remained on the show for 6 years. Mr. Roarke became a pop culture icon, and Montalbán became a classic icon. Along with appearing on “Fantasy Island”, Montalbán had played roles such as Khan Noonien Singh in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” and reprising the role in an episode of “Star Trek” in 1967. He then appeared in “The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad”, “The Money Trap”, “The Singing Nun”, “Escape from the Planet of the Apes”, “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” and several more. He has also appeared in such shows as “Bonanza”, “Hawaii Five-O” “Murder, She Wrote”, “Freakazoid” and “Kim Possible.”
Montalbán contributed to the Latino community in his own way. In 1972, he co-founded the Screen Actors Guild Ethnic Minority Committee. Prior to that in 1970, he co-founded the Nosotros Foundation to spread the word on how Latinos were portrayed in the industry and advocate for them in the movie and television industry. From the foundation came the creation of the Golden Eagle Awards which highlights Latino actors. You can read more about this organization at http://www.nosotros.org/home
In 2004, the Nosotros Foundation and the Ricardo Montalbán Foundation established the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre, located in Hollywood on Vine. In addition to his own theatre, Montalbán also is one of the Latino stars to have his own star on the Hollywood walk of fame.