As I recall, Ricardo Montalban made it a point to demonstrate that the slight accent he used on screen was one he developed to meet the expectations of MGM bigwigs who thought that Latin lovers shouldn't speak perfect English. And for a minute or two Montalban spoke as though he were a network new anchor.
Montalban began his film career in the 1940s when Hollywood was reaching out to the Latin American audience to compensate for a European audience that was lost during World War II. Montalban would have preferred to play a variety of roles, but it was not to be, at least during his early years.
"I guess my timing was bad," he told me. "Latin lovers were big in the 1940s. In fact, one of my pictures was called 'Latin Lovers.' If I had waited about five years, things might have been different."
And that was only part of his problem.
"Somehow MGM regarded me as a musical performer. Singing and dancing were the things I did least well, but I was hammy enough to try them."
Montalban was born and raised in Mexico, but moved to New York in 1940 with his brother, Carlos, also an actor. He did some short films in New York, but returned to Mexico in 1941 and made a series of films there.
Nowhere in the story that resulted from the interview did I mention why he had called me. It was 1965 and by then he was doing much more television than movies. He talked about the variety of roles he was then being offered and mentioned recent appearances on "Slattery's People," "The Defenders," "The Man from UNCLE," "The Rogues," and a Hall of Fame production of "The Fantasticks."
Two years later he would play Khan Noonien Singh in an episode of "Star Trek," never imagining it would be one of two characters regarded as his most famous, the other being Mr. Roarke on "Fantasy Island," (1977-84).
In 1982 he was featured in perhaps his biggest movie hit, "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," though it's possible more people remember him as the villain in the first "Naked Gun" film. And he remained busy on television, including roles in "The Colbys" (1985-87) and the short-lived "Heaven Help Us" (1994).
Montalban, like Richard Egan, was a devout Catholic and was married to Georgiana Belzer for 63 years until she died in 2007. Montalban died two years later, at age 88.