#TBT: 'Fantasy Island' Actor Ricardo Montalban Was the First Mexican in Space… Sort of

Lead Photo: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
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For this week’s installment of Throwback Thursday we bring you an homage to the late, great Ricardo Montalbán.

One of Hollywood’s original Latin lovers, the Mexican-born Montalbán had an impressive career that spanned seven decades in everything from Broadway to the Spy Kids franchise, but he is perhaps best known for his turn as the miracle-working Mr. Roarke on the long-running ABC television series, Fantasy Island.

Something like a 70’s version of Lost, except entirely different, Fantasy Island featured a debonaire Montalbán in his characteristic white 3-piece suit, accompanied by his faithful sidekick and proto mini-me, Tattoo. Each week Montalbán’s Mr. Roarke would receive a special guest with the promise of fulfilling their every fantasy, only to leave them with a meaningful life lesson at the episode’s close. To give you an idea of the gentlemanly glory that is Ricardo Montalbán, here’s a typical opening sequence from Fantasy Island’s third season.

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Another claim to fame for the man from Torreón was his stint as the first Mexican in outerspace… sort of. Montalbán interpreted the famous Star Trek villain Khan in the 1967 episode Space Seed and later in the 1982 feature Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to great critical acclaim. And then there was the Chrysler commercial…

Montalbán’s residency as spokesman for the Chrysler Cordoba in the mid-70s earned him a place in American pop-culture history for his sensually-delivered line about “Corinthian leather seats” — a marketing ploy cooked up to peddle the nylon/leather upholstery Chrysler stitched up in New Jersey. Accompanied by dramatic Spanish guitars, Montalbán is todo un galánas he cruises down coastal highways extolling the Cordoba’s tastefulness and workmanship.

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But in addition to his work for the stage and screen, Montalbán was a lifelong activist for U.S.- Mexico relations and representation of Latinos in Hollywood. A founder of The Screen Actors Guild Ethnic Minority Committee, he also started the Nosotros Foundation to advocate for Latinos in the film and television industry. Our readers in Califas may have heard of UCLA’s Ricardo Montalbán Theater, which is named in his honor.

To close off, we’ll leave you with one of Eugene Levy’s iconic parodies of Montalbán for the groundbreaking Canadian sketch-comedy show SCTV.

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