Published at: Jan. 15, 2009, 2:23 a.m. CST by headgeek
Hey folks, Harry here... It is thankfully rare that I find myself writing an obituary for a person that I have known personally, but that's the exact position that I find myself in today.
I remember back prior to the filming of SPY KIDS 2: ISLAND OF LOST DREAMS, when Robert Rodriguez called to tell me that he had cast "KHAN" as the Grandfather in his second SPY KIDS film. I screamed "COOL" very loudly and then we began to conspire to dream about the conversations we would have with Montalban.
The first day that I was on set with Montalban we had a 2 hour Lunch together, during which I delighted him by not talking about STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN or FANTASY ISLAND, but rather his films with Esther Williams. He literally lit up at the mention of FIESTA, ON AN ISLAND WITH YOU and NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER. That voice of his filled with joy as he told me about how lovely Esther was, and how proud he was to be in Hollywood working in that classic time. We spoke about the classic studio system and what it was like to be an MGM player opposite not only Esther, but beauties like Lana Turner, Kathryn Grayson, June Allyson, Jane Powell, Debbie Reynolds, Cyd Charisse, Shelly Winters, Claire Trevor, Yvonne De Carlo, Nina Foch and all the others that came and went through the lion's mane. He told me that it was a paradise, but that through it all he had his own beauty, Georgiana Young, the younger half-sister of Loretta Young. He was THE Latin Lover of his time in Hollywood, but more than that... he was and always will be one of the finest gentlemen that I or that anyone has ever had the good fortune of having spent time with.
I had him sign my title card for FIESTA, a one sheet for BATTLEGROUND (a wonderful World War II movie) and my Wrath of Khan 1-sheet, that I also had Shatner sign to me a few years before. We met a few more times over the course of the shoot - he gave me possibly one of my favorite complements that I've ever been honored to receive. When Robert came to join the two of us at that lunch, Ricardo commented to Robert, "Your friend here has a very keen intellect, I see why you like him." Robert howled, and I think my ego has forever been inflated by that moment. But that was Ricardo's way. He made you feel classy and remarkable to just breathe the same air. After the shooting of SPY KIDS 2, I saw Ricardo briefly on the set of the 3rd SPY KIDS film. If you remember, that was being shot in 3D. At this point, Ricardo was in great pain, confined to a wheelchair - but Rodriguez was committed to using digital and filming magic to not only put him back on his feet, but as the perfect specimen that he presented himself as being. Ricardo was fatigued and tired, but every time that Robert called action... even though Ricardo was on this moving platform with a computer controlled camera rig, swinging all about him in a sea of green... He sprung to life... not an inkling of the pain and tired feelings that he had a moment before. He was an inspiration and a marvel to watch.
For many, Ricardo was Khan Noonian Singh, the product of superior genetic engineering. Easily the greatest performance in the history of STAR TREK. If you ever find yourself reading Pauline Kael's thoughts upon that performance, you'll smile. Ricardo truly knocked it out of the park. Still for others, he was the hospitable Mr Roarke from FANTASY ISLANDS - and still for others he was the voice that made us all want Corinthian Leather.
For me, Ricardo Montalban was one of the most gracious and wonderful people that I have ever had the luxury, the honor and even the prestige to know. He was, is and will be known as a remarkable man.