May 29, 2013

Ricardo Montalban: What Happened to the Hispanic Beefcake

One of the most iconic beefcake images of the Boomer generation appeared on February 16, 1967, in the Star Trek episode "Space Seed": The Enterprise picks up the frozen survivors of a long-ago eugenics experiment, including the world's most perfectly developed man, former dictator Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban).  As he strutted around Sick Bay, his hospital gown robe falling off his massive, smooth chest, Boomers believed it.

Khan returned fifteen years later, in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982), to take vengeance on the Enterprise crew that stranded him on a barren planet.  He was gray-haired and craggy, but he still couldn't find a shirt that could cover his massive chest.  His crew, including male model Cristian Letelier, was buffed, too.  And he had a gay-vague sidekick played by Judson Scott.  Gay favorites  Ike Eisenmann and Merrit Butrick costarred.

In between, Ricardo Montalban played the mysterious, probably supernatural Mr. Roarke, who managed the wish-fulfillment Fantasy Island (1977-84) that our parents or, more likely, our grandparents watched.  Most wishes were about finding heterosexual loves.

But those parts are only two of the highlights of a 60 year career.

Born in Mexico in 1920, Montalban became a film star in his home country before moving to the U.S. in the late 1940s.  He insisted on remaining true to his heritage, and became one of the few Hispanic actors who was regularly cast as Hispanic, even though it meant many suave, sophisticated, gay-vague villains in B-movies.  He also played many hetero-romantic roles, reviving the Rudolph Valentino "fiery Latin lover" image in the postwar world.

And, during the craze for Biblical and ancient Roman epics, he got to take off his shirt a lot.

I haven't seen many of Montalban's 160+ movies and tv shows, but I did note the buddy-bonding Joe Panther (1976), in which Turtle George (Montalban) mentors a young Seminole Indian (Ray Tracey).

In Captains Courageous (1977), he played the noble Portuguese fisherman Manuel, who mentors rich kid Harvey (Jonathan Kan).

He played gay villain Victor Ludwig in The Naked Gun (1988), who doesn't hit on his secretary because he "likes German boys," whatever that means.

More recently, he was playing parodies of himself, such as Senor Senor Senior on Kim Possible and a Hispanic cow on Family Guy.