Monday, January 26, 2009

Rest In Peace: Ricardo Montalban!

This announcement has been delayed, because it’s difficult to find a place to begin cataloguing the achievement of this extremely talented Mexican born actor, who left us on January 14, 2009.
For most fans and admirers of Ricardo Montalban, regardless of age or era, it would be his iconic portrayal of genetically enhanced uber-dictator Khan, in the classic STAR TREK episode “Space Seed”, a performance strong enough for a return – not as a TV sequel, but as a feature film: Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan.

He also starred in FANTASY ISLAND, a show I never cared for, despite his well-crafted contributions and was a well-known spokesman for Chrysler automobiles. But to me, his best moments were spent guest-starring in various television series.

In recent years, Montalban was plagued with pain and confinement to a wheelchair, as a result of back surgery. At this time, he embraced animation voice acting, as detailed by FREAKAZOID! co-creator Paul Rugg

He excelled at animation voicing as he did at “live, on camera” acting – with such roles as over the top villain “Armando Gutierrez” on FREAKAZIOD! to a talking cow on FAMILY GUY!
Witness these quotes from what would seem to be two polar extremes in acting…
From I SPY star Robert Culp on a DVD commentary: “General Vera [an I SPY episode’s featured guest character] was written specifically for Ricardo Montalban. He brought the exact degree of strength, and totally unexpected passion and dignity, and just a touch of stuffiness that made his character revelations throughout the story more believable than I had thought possible.”
And, from FAMILY GUY creator Seth McFarlane: “Ricardo Montalban ended up being hilarious. It was that much MORE incongruous because he’s such a dignified guy that… [McFarland is interrupted and resumes] …I gottta tell you… this guy… He has that back injury, so he’s in a wheel chair… but you shake his hand and he’ll [Bleeping!] rip your arm off! [As the Cow] Ricardo Montalban has this absurd speech and he SELLS IT 100 Percent! We gotta bring that Cow back!”
…Alas, unless there’s something “in the can” I’m not aware of, that is not to be!
Ricardo Montalban was a frequent and always memorable television guest star. Here are a few of my favorite places to enjoy his work – episode title and DVD collection in which it can be found – and the character he played:
STAR TREKSpace Seed” (1967) STAR TREK Season One. (1990s superman Kahn). 'Nuff said!

THE WILD WILD WESTThe Night of the Lord of Limbo” (1966) THE WILD WILD WEST Season Two. (Embittered Civil War Colonel who, quite ironically, has lost his legs and is confined to a wheelchair! He plans to manipulate time to change the outcome of the war and restore his physical health. Oddly, near the beginning of this episode, AN AIRPLANE is briefly and inadvertently glimpsed flying overhead – thanks to new DVD clarity! Perhaps Montalban was already manipulating time!)

After Kahn, in my opinion, the above may be his best television performance!
I SPYMagic Mirror” (1967) I SPY Season Two. (Deposed Latin American Island Dictator, playing the United States and the Soviet Union against one another. Echoes the all-too-then-recent Cuban Missile Crisis.)
THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.The Dove Affair” (1964) THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. Season One. (Balkan intelligence official secretly helping U.N.C.L.E. oppose T.H.R.U.S.H.)

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.The King of Diamonds Affair” (1966) THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. Season Two. (Notorious master jewel thief)
IRONSIDEThe Sacrifice” (1968) IRONSIDE Season Two. (Detective sergeant investigated for murder of a suspected criminal)

FREAKAZOID!The Chip Parts One and Two” (1995) FREAKAZOID! Season One. (Corrupt and ruthless corporate CEO “Armando Gutierrez” is inadvertently responsible for creating the unconventional superhero Freakazoid!)
FREAKAZOID!The Wrath of Gutierrez” (1996) FREAKAZOID! Season One. (Gutierrez becomes a cyber-being and seeks Kahn-level revenge on Freakazoid!)

FREAKAZOID!Hero Boy” (1996) FREAKAZOID! Season Two. (Gutierrez makes his obligatory second-season appearance and, madder and more over the top than ever, imprisons Freakazoid!)
FAMILY GUYMc Stroke” (2008) FAMILY GUY Volume Six. (A talking cow that Peter Griffin saves from slaughter by a fast-food conglomerate! Yes, really!)

And that’s only the merest fraction of the achievements of the Ricardo Montalban! Rest in peace.


Chris Barat said...


And let us not forget Montalban's fine performance as one of Kim Possible's major adversaries, Senor Senior Senior. Imagine FANTASY ISLAND's Mr. Roarke growing bored with the whole idea of living on an isolated island and granting people's wishes... and deciding to while away what time he has left on this Earth by seeking world domination! Montalban pulled off just the right combination of polish and superciliousness to make the far-fetched notion work. (Though, due to his health issues, he was replaced by Earl Boen in several eps.)

I also offer this nugget of previously unknown (to me, at least) trivia about Montalban:

Anonymous said...

Joe and Chris,

To you he may be Khan or Señor Senior Sr, but to me he will always be Armando, the circus owner who was Caesar's father figure in "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes".