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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Ricardo Montalban, Exotic Actor of more than 60 years, passes away at age 88.

Ricardo Montalban was, for many people of many generations, THE ideal model of Latin machismo, a man who as an ageless icon of male bravado captured the eye of women and the envy of men. TCM will honor the late actor with a 7-film tribute on Friday, January 23rd.

Many people will remember Ricardo Montalban as the mysterious and affable Mr. Rourke of “Fantasy Island”. Others will forever think of him as Captain Kirk’s most charismatic nemesis, Kahn, from “Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn”, as well as the “Star Trek” television series. And still others will recall the deep, sultry timber of his distinctive voice in many animated childrens shows such as “Kim Possible”. Interestingly, he was all that and so much more.

Although he began his career in Mexico, American audiences came to know Montalban at the end of the studio era. His early beginnings often cast him as the exotic, romantic lead opposite such powerhouse players as Lana Turner, Jane Powell and Ester Williams (with whom he co-starred multiple times and sang an Oscar winning duet!). Along the way, Montalban managed to squeeze in some juicy character roles, including the terrific war film “Battleground” and the noir thriller “Border Incident”. And, of course, being a person of another culture, the studios placed the very Latin actor into several roles as an Asian (“Sayonara”) and even a Native American (“Cheyenne Autumn”), something Hollywood often did with actors of ethnic diversity (just take a look at Rita Moreno’s resume).

Most impressively, the man never stopped working. During the course of his extensive guest appearances in television (“I Spy”, “Mission Impossible”, “Hawaii 5-0”, etc.), Montalban garnered an Emmy. Among his distinguished theatre career, he earned a Tony nomination for the 1958 musical, “Jamaica”. Even in his later years Montalban was a lead actor in the whacky comedy “The Naked Gun” in 1988 and managed two installments of “Spy Kids” while confined to a wheelchair a decade after receiving the Screen Actors Life Achievement Award in 1994.

In the course of more than 60 years, not much changed in Montalban’s professional personae. He was a strikingly handsome man with a cocky, yet suave confidence about him that age seemed unable to tarnish, let alone diminish. When one thinks of the Mexican born actor, there comes to mind the image of a self-assured man’s man who never entered a room without taking complete control of it. Even when portraying the benevolent host of the ultimate vacation spot, Montalban always held his head high and led every movement with a full, proud chest. It would be impossible to remember the sophisticated and exotic figure as anything less than the very essence of dashing manhood.

In tribute to the late actor, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will dedicate the entire daytime lineup of Friday January 23rd to seven of his most popular films. The collection features musical pairings with Esther Williams as well as dramatic roles. The following is the complete schedule (all times are EST, adjust 3 hours for West Coast viewing):

7:30 a.m. “Fiesta” (1947) – In his first American leading role, Montalban plays a young man whose parents want him to become a toreador, but he is more interested in music. Esther Williams and Cyd Charisse also star in this musical shot on location in Mexico.

9:30 a.m. “Neptune’s Daughter” (1949) – Once again teaming with Esther Williams, Montalban plays a millionaire playboy trying to win the affections of a bathing suit designer. This colorful musical features the Oscar-winning song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” which he sings with the famous swimming star.

11:15 a.m. “Latin Lovers” (1953) – Montalban vies for the affections of a wealthy heiress played by Lana Turner in this lush, tropical musical directed by Mervyn LeRoy.

1 p.m. “Border Incident” (1949) – This early look at the issue of illegal immigration features Montalban and George Murphy in a tense story of agents out to stop a ring smuggling Mexicans across the border.

2:30 p.m. “Battleground” (1949) – This one is a truly terrific ensemble piece with Montalban giving an outstanding (even Oscar worthy) performance as a Mexican-American soldier fighting in Germany during the Battle of the Bulge. Van Johnson and John Hodiak co-star.

4:30 p.m. “Across the Wide Missouri” (1951) – In this pioneer epic starring Clark Gable, Montalban plays a young Indian war chief out to prevent a band of pioneers from reaching their destination. John Hodiak co-stars.

6 p.m. “The Singing Nun” (1966) – In this true story, Montalban plays a warm-hearted priest who helps a guitar-strumming Belgian nun spread her music to the world. Debbie Reynolds stars, along with Greer Garson, Agnes Moorehead and Chad Everett.

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