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Ricardo Montalban (1920-2009)

  1. Robert Coote, The Three Musketeers, 1948.    No one was allowed to rub any shine off Gene Kelly's 19-year-old D’Artagnan. (Kelly was… 35).  Not even the actor of whom John Cassavetes famously said: “Ricardo Montalban is to improvisational acting what Mount Rushmore is to animation.”

  2. Anthony Dexter, Valentino, 1950.   
    The second of Dexter’s 25 screen roles (go on, name one) is his most famous film. The Nebraska farm boy was a real clone of the silent movie icon - aka Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguolla. “Incredible!” declared George Melford who directed Valentino's The Sheik in 1921. “The same eyes, ears, mouth - the same grace in dancing.”  The Columbia Pictures publicity machine insisted  that 75,000 applicants led to 400 screen tests none seemed to be Italian. Certainly not the final seven. Producer Edward Small (his name condemned his work in advance - Small productions!) finally went through Argentine Fernando Lamas, two Mexicans, (Arturo de Córdova, Ricardo Montalban) and three Yanks (John Derek, Jon Hall, Guy Williams) before voting  Dexter. UK director Ken Russell made a glossier (well, typically Russellian) version in 1976.  His Rudolph wasn’t

  3. Mel Ferrer, Scaramouche, 1951.   MGM's first idea for the greaest sword fight was Montalban v Fernando  Lamas - in a cheaper, Tex-Mex version.
  4. Bobby Van, Skirts Ahoy! 1951.    Various critics felt that the Van and Debbie Reynolds number was an added, dry afterthought in the wet Esther Williams vehicle. Correct! A previous dance routine from Montalban and Vera-Ellen was shot and scrapped and the uncredited Van and Debbie Reynolds almost stole the movie -  the reason she won Singin’ in the Rain.
  5. Farley Granger, Small Town Girl, 1952.          Talk about meet cute… Rich kid gets arrested for speeding in a tiny township - and falls for the sheriff’s daughter. She was Jane Powell. No question about that. But MGM had such difficulty finding the playboy among its own ranks - Van Johnson, Peter Lawford, Dean Miller and, according to a 1951 MGM News item, Ricardo Montalban - that it loaned Granger from Samuel Goldwyn Productions.   Of the MGM boys, only Miller won a role. As Mac. (There’s always a Mac).
  6. Kirk  Douglas, The Story of  Three Loves,  1953.     Or, how Kirk flew  the trapeze three years before his career rival, Burt Lancaster. Montalban was the aerialist in the Equilibrium sketch, until the trapeze was passed to Douglas after  filming stopped when co-star Pier Angeli broke a wrist. “I knew he'd been working every day on a trapeze,” said Kirk.  “If there was a way for him to keep the part I was all for  it.”  But  Montalban said: “They're not happy with  me.  The  hell  with  it.  You go ahead, Kirk.”  That's also how Douglas met  Angeli  -  quite another story.
  7. John Ericson, The Student Prince, 1954.      Mario Lanza, Jane Powell and Montalban finally became Purdom, Ann Blyth and Ericson, once the dust settled from an enormous row between Lanza and MGM, “No director tells me how to sing!” Problem was solved, after two years, when Purdom mimed to the best of Lanza. His voice. (He was dead within five years at 38).
  8. Virgilio Teizeira, Return  of the Seven, 1966.  Well, two of them did…!   Yul Brynner reprised Chris but with Robert Fuller hopelessly lost as Steve McQueen’s film- stealing Vin. They (and director Burt Kennedy) looked around for new guys for the old saddles.  But Montalban found that the Luis Delgado character was a trifle low in the cast list for hiom – at #9.   The following year, Teizeira (billed here as Texeira) was a South American general in… The Magnificent Two.  The two being the top UK comedy duo, Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise. (Tons funnier on TV).


 





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