Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Latino program, grandson remember actor Ricardo Montalbán

Ricardo Montalbán was one of the most well-known Mexican-born Hollywood actors of all time. He is remembered in several key roles: As mysterious Mr. Roarke of “Fantasy Island,” as epic tyrant Khan Noonien Singh of “Star Trek,” as the quintessential Latin Lover and for being the elegant three-piece suit pitchman with charming Spanish cadences for the Chrysler Cordoba's “soft Corinthian leather.”

Film student Alex Montalbán wears a favorite corduroy jacket that once belonged to his grandfather, actor Ricardo Montalbán, during a tribute for the late actor. (Photo by Vivianne Schnitzer)

But for his grandchild Alex Montalbán, a senior who studies film and English, LSA, the perception of this iconic actor is much more complex and filled with nostalgia: “I remember when I was 9 years old, we celebrated Christmas at his home in Hollywood. He told us the most amazing stories with his authoritative and captivating voice, while playing Flamenco.”

The home on Oriole Street, one of the exclusive “bird name streets” of Hollywood, recently went to market for $20 million, “but it is very hard for the family to sell it,” explains Montalbán, who was one of the keynote speakers this week at a Tribute to Ricardo Montalbán. The event was organized by Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, a professor in the The Latino/a Program.

Montalbán and La Fountain-Stokes met last semester through the professor’s popular course “Latinos in the media.”

“Having Alex in our class has been very special, as he was able to talk to us about his personal experiences with his grandfather,” La Fountain-Stokes says. “We were all incredibly surprised the first day of school when he explained without having said his last name that he was taking the class because his grandfather was a Latino actor in Hollywood.”

La Fountain-Stokes, who teaches the role of Montalbán as an advocate for Latino actors in Hollywood, says that when the actor died at 88 last January, “I immediately contacted Alex and expressed my great sorrow and condolences to him and his family” and started to plan a tribute.

“Many have heard about Ricardo Montalbán, or have seen him in a film or a TV program, but few know about the great importance he had in Hollywood as a person who defended the rights of Latinos.”

Alex Montalbán, is on the Michigan Men's Club Ice Hockey team. He decided to study at the university because he was “a huge U-M football fan all my life.”

The young Montalbán, who plans to write scripts in Hollywood or be an actor, says that people often react to his surname. “Especially when I pay with a credit card and they see my name, they ask, ‘You’re not related to the actor, are you?’”

For him it “stings” that he did not share more time with his grandfather, especially at the end of his life, when Alex Montelban was studying at U-M. He remembers his visits to the old and frail Ricardo Montalbán with visible sadness.

“I have learned more about my grandfather here at the university than in all previous years,” says Montalbán, who surfs the Web in search of articles, photos, films or any more clues about his grandfather.

For the tribute, he wore a “brown corduroy jacket” belonging to his grandfather, one of his most sentimental objects. “After he died, I went to his closet and took his carefully folded shirts and some shoes” that he will carry back to Los Angeles at the end of his U-M journey.

The young Montalbán captures the nostalgic sentiment of immigrants to the United States in his creative writing. He hopes to carry on the legacy of his grandfather, whose image is included in the collective memory of popular culture of Latinos and Americans of many generations, as he launches his own career as screenwriter in Hollywood.