The Dance Of Adversaries

“Social occasions are warfare concealed,” he said adding, “I see that you let your second in command attack while you sit and watch for weakness!” – a remark articulated with a suave voice and harsh gaze that could kill. [Khan Noonien Singh]

These are revealing words about leadership, diplomacy, adversaries and allies alike. Life expressed in military terms that can also apply to competitive  situations. A high stakes drama reflecting the tense dance in Space Seed, a first season episode of Star Trek, which guest starred  Ricardo Montalban as Khan Noonien Singh, a genetically enhanced human revived from two centuries of suspended animation by Captain Kirk, and who led a takeover of the Enterprise. A role he reprised in Star Trek II – The Wrath Of Khan, considered by many to be the best of the films based on Gene Roddenberry‘s ongoing saga.

Montalban, who died at age 88 on January 14th, 2009, had a fascinating career, a history of the struggle of ethnic actors during Hollywood’s classic era, typecast often as an Asian or Latin, but who had a gift for redefining his career to successive generations spawning theater, television and film.

Born in Mexico City on November 25, 1920, his first major English speaking role was in 1947, chosen by MGM to play a Matador in Fiesta opposite Esther Williams, then pairing them again in Neptune’s Daughter (1949), the film that won an Oscar for best original song, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” sung by Montalban and his co-star. Eight years later, he appeared in a Broadway musical, Jamaica opposite Lena Horne, from 1957-1959.

During television’s golden era, he guest starred in episodes of Wagon Train, Death Valley Days, Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare, Combat, Gunsmoke, Bonanza and so many others. But it was his portrayal as Khan Noonien Singh in February 1967’s Space Seed then, fifteen years later, revisiting the role of the embittered Khan in The Wrath of Khan (1982), that immortalized him to generations.

Fantasy Island (“Da Plane, Da Plane…”) which aired from 1978-1984, was hugely popular while another role as Chief Satanhkai in How The West Was Won, a TV Miniseries, also in 1978, won him an Emmy. In 1993, his accomplishments were honored by the screen actors guild with the prestigious Life Achievement Award presented by fellow actor and close friend, Anthony Quinn. The actor was cited for his acting and his long struggle to improve the image and roles of Latino actors by creating the Nosotros Foundation in 1970.

He was one of the few Latino lead actors who worked regularly throughout his career and was often endearingly humorized on Saturday Night Live.  He was married to Georgiana Young, the sister of screen legend Loretta Young for over sixty years, and lived in Los Angeles but remained a Mexican citizen by choice, perhaps as a reminder that although being foreign born, attaining success in America was possible without compromising his identity.

“What is appealing is the idea of attaining the unattainable and learning from it. Once you obtain a fantasy, it becomes a reality, and that reality is not as exciting as your fantasy, but through the fantasies you learn to appreciate your own realities.”  Ricardo Gonzalo Pedro Montalban y Merino.

For more on the career of Ricardo Montalban see the following:
IMdb database – http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001544/

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