Ricardo Montalban, Tony-Nominated Star Who Was Role Model for Latinos, Dead at 88

Obituaries   Ricardo Montalban, Tony-Nominated Star Who Was Role Model for Latinos, Dead at 88 Ricardo Montalban, the Mexican-born actor who made only three Broadway appearances, earning a Best Actor Tony nomination for Jamaica, but who landed big on film and TV, died Jan. 14 at his Los Angeles home, according to published reports.
Ricardo Montalban
Ricardo Montalban

He was 88, and widely known for playing the charming, godlike Mr. Roarke, whose magical machinations fulfilled wishes on TV's "Fantasy Island."

As a TV pitchman, he was often parodied for describing the "Corinthian leather" feature of Chrysler cars.

Montalban's death was reportedly announced at an L.A. City Council meeting by president Eric Garcetti, who represents the district where the actor lived. A theatre named after the actor is situated in Garcetti's district.

In 1970 Mr. Montalban organized fellow Latino actors into a group called Nosotros ("We"). The goal was to improve the image and opportunities of Spanish-speaking Americans in entertainment.

He wrote a 1980 autobiography, "Reflections: A Life in Two Worlds." After work in Mexico's film industry, Mr. Montalban first came to fame in America as a star of M-G-M movie musicals, playing the Latin-lover stock figure. With bathing-beauty star Esther Williams, he starred in the pictures "Fiesta," "On an Island with You" and "Neptune's Daughter." Mr. Montalban's late-career, famous screen credits included playing villains in "Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan" (he was joyless Khan) and "The Naked Gun."

On Broadway he wooed Lena Horne in the Caribbean fantasy Jamaica, with songs by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg. He was nominated for a 1958 Tony as Best Actor in a Musical for the Jamaica role, which had been intended for Harry Belafonte. Mr. Montalban is heard on that show's cast album, and the album of his other Broadway musical credit, Seventh Heaven (1955). In 1973 he appeared in the brief Broadway engagement of George Bernard Shaw's Don Juan in Hell. The production also featured Agnes Moorehead, Edward Mulhare and Paul Henreid.

Mr. Montalban also toured as the King of Siam in The King and I in the 1960s.

"Smiles, everyone, smiles," he would admonish his employees on "Fantasy Island," as wish-seeking visitors arrived by seaplane to his tropical paradise. Dressed in a white suit and accompanied by an exotic little person named Tattoo (played by Herve Villechaize), Mr. Montalban's all-powerful host fulfilled dreams that often left his visitors enriched and enlightened.

The show ran on ABC-TV 1978-84. A network reboot almost 20 years later starring Malcolm McDowell flopped.