Actor Ricardo Montalban died at his home in Los Angeles on Wednesday at age 88. If the references “The Plane! The Plane!” and “KHAAANNN!!!” escape you then his death is not news. If, however, you are a fan of either “Star Trek”, bad 1970s dramas or fine Corinthian leather – his passing deserves a moment of reflection.
A star in Mexican cinema, Montalban was brought to the US in 1946 by MGM. He appeared in about a dozen films over the next 15 years – most notably with bathing beauty Esther Williams. In the 1960s he made appearances on some now classic TV shows, including the episode “Space Seed” of “Star Trek” … but more on that later.
In 1978 Ricardo Montalban got to take the lead on his own series – ABC’s “Fantasy Island”. If you’ve never seen the show, Montalban played Mr. Roarke – the host of an island resort where “all your fantasies can come true” (most especially if you were a B-list movie star, if I recall.) The camp glory of “Fantasy Island” landed Montalban his next gig – as commercial sponsor for Chrysler and its “fine Corinthian leather” seats. That man was smooth indeed to make an ’83 LeBaron seem classy.
In the 1980s Montalban had two big films – first, he parlayed that one-time appearance on a short-lived sci-fi series into a co-starring role in the second film adaptation of said series: “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”… my personal favorite. “Wrath” not only gave us the anguished screams of William Shatner, it also gave us something of a mystery in the sculpted oddity that was Khan’s chest.
Montalban finished out the 1980s by playing a villain in “The Naked Gun”. Aside from this and turns in two “Planet of the Apes” sequels (“Escape From” and “Conquest Of”), however, Montalban will forever be linked to “Star Trek” and 1970s wish-fulfillment fantasies. As a fan of both, I bid the man farewell – may all his fantasies all come true and may his casket be lined in fine Corinthian leather.