Ricardo Montalban, one of Star Trek’s greatest guest stars, made unforgettable appearances as Khan Noonien Singh in the “Space Seed” episode of Star Trek: The Original Series and in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The beloved actor was born on November 25, 1920, meaning he would have turned 96 years old were he alive today. Sadly, the iconic actor died in 2009, but we at StarTrek.com honor his life and legacy with details, quotes and anecdotes from and/or about Montalban…
Montalban, born in Mexico City, Mexico, was the youngest of four children of Castilian Spaniards who had immigrated in 1906 to the city, where Montalban's father owned a dry goods store, according to The Los Angeles Times. He ventured to Los Angeles as a teenager with his oldest brother, Carlos, who had lived in the city and worked for the studios.
Montalban was already a star in his native Mexico when he was discovered by an American producer in 1942. He became a popular contract actor for MGM from 1945 to 1955, and starred with several of Hollywood's most-glamorous leading ladies.
"When I first played Khan (on television) I really enjoyed it," Montalban told journalist Ian Spelling during a 1994 interview for the New York Times Syndicate. “The show was treated with all seriousness by everyone and that spirit got to me.”
Beyond Star Trek, Montalban was no doubt best known for his role as Mr. Roarke on the television series Fantasy Island. The show ran from 1978 to 1984. He also made a mark as a pitchman, appearing in many commercials touting the virtues of Chrysler’s Cordoba, including its “soft Corinthian leather.”
It was during Montalban’s sixth season of playing the composed, almost emotionless Mr. Roarke on Fantasy Island that he received the offer to reprise his role as Khan in The Wrath of Khan. "I was dying to do something other than Mr. Roarke," he told the New York Times Syndicate in 1994. "It was wonderful, because Khan had become so passionate and consumed with avenging his wife's death by getting Kirk."
Walter Koenig, after a screening of The Wrath of Khan in 2012 that was attended by StarTrek.com, called Montalban "a delightful man" and added, "That was his chest," drawing laughs. Koenig also shared a memorable story about a pre-shoot cocktail party. He and Montalban made small talk, and Montalban declared that they'd get on well. Montalban then asked Koenig who'd be playing Terrell. Koenig let his inner imp get the better of him. "Fernando Lamas," he replied. Lamas, of course, was a Montalban contemporary and frequent competitor for roles. Despite his joke, Koenig and Montalban apparently did get on well during production.
Montalban’s long career encompassed the stage, screen and television. Along the way, he won an Emmy Award and was nominated for a Tony Award. He earned his Emmy, for Outstanding Single Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Drama Series, for a turn on How the West Was Won (1976). And his Tony nomination -- as Best Actor in a Musical -- came in 1958, when he co-starred opposite Lena Horne in the Broadway production of the Caribbean fantasy, Jamaica.
He served as vice president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1965-1970.
In 1970, Montalban founded an organization called Nosotros to improve the image of Latinos and Hispanics in the entertainment industry, both in front and behind the camera, and to expand their employment opportunities in the industry.
The actor surprised many people with his fine comedic work in The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! The 1988 film cast him as the villainous Victor Ludwig.
Pope John Paul II, in 1998, named Montalban a Knight Commander of St. Gregory, the highest honor bestowed upon non-clergy in the Roman Catholic Church.
The Ricardo Montalban Theatre opened in Hollywood in 2004 to serve as a training ground for artists and talents. It was the first major theater facility in the United States to carry the name of a Latino artist.
By the early 2000s, Montalban’s spinal problems required that he use a wheelchair. Still, he continued to work. He lent his voice to such animated series as Kim Possible, Family Guy and American Dad!, and he appeared on screen in Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams and Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, with the magic of visual effects enabling him to fly in the latter family film.
Montalban’s Star on the Hollywood Walk of fame, awarded on February 8, 1960, can be found at 7021 Hollywood Blvd.