Our good friend Xena has passed along the news of the death of actor Ricardo Montalbán. Now in all probability, Ricardo Montalbán will be remembered by most people for his portrayal of Mr. Roarke, the mysterious host of Fantasy Island on ABC’s hugely popular late 70’s TV series. American audiences will also likely call to mind his roles as the villain of the week in just about every show ever worth watching during the 60s and 70s, one of the most notable being his turn as the imperious Khan Noonien Singh on Star Trek. And, of course, all of us MSTies can never forget his distinctive overdubbing work as the English voice of Claudius in the West German production of Hamlet, Prinz von Dänemark.
But my first exposure to Mr. Ricardo Gonzalo Pedro Montalbán Merino was sitting in a darkened theater as a little boy watching a bunch of damn dirty humans gun down the peace loving, time-tossed talking chimps from 1971’s Escape from the Planet of the Apes. (Yeah, I teared up you filthy pink hairless monkeys. Viva La Apes!) Ricardo played the role of Armando, the kindly circus owner who takes in the orphaned child of Cornelius and Zira. He reprised the role the following year in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, in which we find him doing his best to present the good side of human nature to the now grown Caesar. When Armando is tortured and killed by the authorities after refusing to hand over his ward, Caesar effectively looses his restraining conscience and in his fury instigates the ape revolt which will bring about the Planet of the Apes introduced in the first film.
Out of everything I’ve seen him in, I like to imagine Armando was the character most like Ricardo Montalbán in real life. You see, I took a small interest in Mr. Montalbán’s off-screen doings when in 2002, just after my return to The Church, he received the first annual Spirit of Angelus Award, an honor given “for a body of film work of surpassing quality complemented by a faith lived with integrity and generosity.” At his acceptance speech, he noted that his Catholic faith was the most important thing in his life, followed closely by his marriage. It wasn’t just talk. He remained happily married to actress Georgiana Young for 63 years (63 YEARS!) until her passing in late 2007. On the Church side, in 1998, he was recommended by his Bishop for membership as a Knight in the Order of St. Gregory the Great, an award given by the Vatican to acknowledge an individual's particular meritorious service to the Church.
A few days ago we rightly gave honor to Fr. Richard John Neuhaus on the news his death. Ricardo Montalbán’s passing isn’t likely to stir up as much bandwidth around the Catholic blogosphere as the good Father’s did, but we wanted to make sure he at least got his due recognition here. As much as we labor to separate the wheat from the chaff in the world of B-Movies, it’s very gratifying to occasionally run across the real deal. Godspeed, Ricardo. “How great will your glory and happiness be, to be allowed to see God, to be honored with sharing the joy of salvation and eternal light with Christ your Lord and God,… to delight in the joy of immortality in the Kingdom of heaven with the righteous and God's friends.” As Mr. Roarke would have said, “Smiles, everyone… smiles!