An Encounter with Ricardo Montalban- A Class Act by Tony Piazza

   We shared the same birthdate, but not the same year. He worked on radio, televsion, theatre, and film. So did I. His career spanned six decades, mine only one. He was a star, and I…a fan. His name, was RICARDO MONTALBAN and he was every inch a movie actor in the classic sense. Granted there were other actors that could project the charm, wit, and sophistication that he did, but somehow his performances always seemed to do it better. Perhaps it was because it was no act, but film capturing the real man. 

   Montalban with Herve Villechaize (Fantasy Island).

   RICARDO MONTALBAN… to most, he needs no introduction. From early MGM musicals with Esther Williams (whom I also met) to Star Trek, Fantasy Island, The Naked Gun, and Escape to Conquest of the Planet of the Apes…he has been a prolific actor that has brought us much enjoyment through many generations. This photograph (below) was taken in 1971 on location in SF for a televsion mystery movie called “The Face of Fear’, co-starring Elizabeth Ashley.

   Montalban- a class act!

  They were filming at San Francisco’s Aquatic Park, close to the boat club, a very dramatic scene that included both Ashley and Montalban. On screen it was a private conversation, but in life they were surrounded by lights, camera, reflectors, sound recording equipment, booms, and a couple of dozen people which included director and film crew. That is the reality of the movie industry; creating an illusion that will convince an audience to accept what is projected on the screen as life. I have to admit that working in film does rob you of some of that magic, but it also instills in you an admiration for a film when it is really done right. That is where the actors come in, and the concentration and intensity delivered by both Montalban and Ashley in this scene really sold it for me.

   Co-star Elizabeth Ashley.

   “The Face of Fear” production company shot for forty-five minutes at that location. I was there the entire time, watching with the crew- others, a much larger crowd of onlookers were roped off at a distance, but because my father worked with the company I was given a front row view. After the scene was completed , Mr. Montalban was whisked away to his car. My father took my mother’s hand and led her towards the parked limo, I in close tow. When we reached it, I saw him sitting in the front passenger side, exhaustion etched on his face. My father called his name and tapped lightly on the car door. Always the latin gentleman…when he saw us with my father…he got out of the car…and then took my mother’s hand, a smile stretched broadly across his face…kissed her hand, and said, “you are a very lovely lady” and then asked “who is this gentleman?” (me), and shook my hand. There was class, and a fine example of what a gracious man he really was in life. If only the stars of today could conduct themselves with such panache, perhaps then we would have a few actors that years later we could call a class act.

 

Great memories. Thank you for letting me share them with you.

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Tony Piazza is author of the 1930s Hollywood murder mystery novel; “Anything Short of Murder,” which had its roots on the TCM fan website. His next novel, “The Curse of the Crimson Dragon” has just been released. He was an actor/extra during the 1970s and worked with such legends as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Karl Malden.

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