Transcript:

Speaker When did you first hear it, when you first contacted about Jamaica in 1957, I was contacted my agent actually somebody approached my agent to know that I was available and they asked me to go to New York and and do an audition for a new play called Jamaica, written by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg. Something intriguing to me starring Lena Horne is wonderful. So I went to New York and I auditioned before I auditioned. Somebody else had a vision before me, and that was Sidney Poitier, who would have been marvelous in that part. But Sidney would be the first one to tell you that it really doesn't carry a tune very well. He has a little bit of a tin ear. It just you know, now I'm know I'm not a singer, but I can carry a tune, you know, and I can with the song and got away with it. So they audition Sidney and me and they opted for me. And so I had the great pleasure to be in this play, which is it was a wonderful experience in my life.

Speaker Oh, well, there wasn't any was there any culture shock for this Mexican to be a Jamaican in those days?

Speaker You see, my parents are from Spain. My I was born in Mexico. My sister and I are the Mexicans in the family. But the Spaniards have a lot of hair. You know, we have a lot of head in the body and of course, Jamaicans don't.

Speaker And so I had to prepare for this role as a Jamaican and try to learn a little bit of the lilt, the way they can make us talk and so forth. But they're so now. We had to shave my whole body. I used to do it twice a week for two years in a row. Not only that, I have to shave my whole body. I have to put what are called Texas dirt to sort of give me a nice dark tan color, the whole body. And I was the first one in the theater and the last one to leave. I had to take a shower to shower. And I tell you, two years of that was very, very dry. But it was a joy. It was the most wonderful company. I mean, so many good friends there. And working with Lena was an experience that was inspiring to me. Her professionalism, fairly, thoroughly professional. She never missed one performance in those two years. Never. And sometimes she would come to, you know, with a cold and never missed a performance. I missed eight. I got pneumonia one time and I missed that performance. But Lena never did. And so it it was I mean, as I said, many good friends, Josephine, premies, Adelaide Hall, God rest her soul. Joe Adams, who now is Ray Charles manager. We became very close, very, very, very close to these people. And it was really a very inspiring experience for me. Tell me again about what the cast was like, Jamaica was, you know, in two years, you you get very close. It's it's corny to say it become a family, but you do in a way. You do become a fireman. And I miss many good friends besides Leno, you know, whom I have admired prior to that for so many years and then since then. But Adelaide Hall, God rest his soul, was that she was really such a lovely lady. She was so innocent, so sweet. You know, Ossie Davis, who has been my friend ever since. You know, when we try the show out of town in New Haven, Philadelphia and Boston, he and I used to long talks, talk about philosophy that were world and prejudices and things like that. Never forget those those walks with Nancy Davis, then Josephine Premies, who was such fun to be with Josephine premies. The the choreographer was Jack Cole, and the lead dancer was Alvin Ailey, who later, you know, became what he did, a magnificent choreographer himself. So it was a I don't know, it was an experience that that lives with me forever. I'm very grateful to God for having placed me in that position and get to know these people really know them well. I love them. What do you think you learned by being in the.

Speaker Well, as I said, I was born in Mexico and I was raised in a very small town called Torreón at that time, I think there was something like 125 thousand inhabitants and prejudice. I never knew prejudice there. I mean, we're a small town that were the only blacks that I had ever seen where the some baseball players that came from the state of Veracruz, where there is some Negro blood in Veracruz and we admire them. And it was and nothing was said of it. I didn't know anything about Jewish or nothing. And then I came to this country, I went to high school here and I did. I did notice a lot of prejudice around me that I couldn't understand. So by the time I came here in 1945, by 1957, the little drop of water, of hearing certain words, certain prejudicial things in back of your mind, which is really a computer in which you feed information, you begin to wonder, well, I wonder if there's something to it.

Speaker Maybe these people are different. Certainly the color is different. Maybe, maybe is their soul. There is a different and you begin to not question but have a little bit of a, you know, a germ of a doubt. I went I did Jamaica and I tell you all about disappear forever. And I am so grateful to God because I think that prejudice is one of the worst cancers in the world. It is so ugly. I cannot understand how people of goodwill, of people of intelligence can have prejudice against anybody. And so to me, I think the Lord placed me in that position to cleanse me totally. And I really, really despise that prejudice. And to me, it was, thank you, God, for putting me in that position. Thank you.

Speaker Could you describe for me, if you remember that the first day of rehearsal?

Speaker Was there any anticipation that? Very much so. I had the director was Bobby Lewis and Bobby had taken Lena and me, I think it was a Chambord, a restaurant in New York to get us acquainted before there. I was so impressed with Lena. As I said, I have admired for years. I didn't I think I had met her just once or twice at MGM. I was under contract to MGM and Lenny Hayton, as you know, her husband was at MGM. And I think I met Lena casually two or three times with him, but didn't get to know him well. Well, we went to dinner and of course, everybody's looking at Lena Horne is enhancing the whole, you know, and I was very much in all Lena. And then actually we went to rehearsal and we sat down on stage, Bobby Lewis sitting, you know, down stage facing us. The audience would be there, an empty theater. And we the actors laid on a table here. And we listened to the theater of acting from Bobby Lewis, which was brilliant.

Speaker He's wonderful in theory, you know, and he mentioned a word that I've always kept with me. He says that every performance should have Thek. And then I added an ethical tackle. Every performance should have truth, humor, energy, clarity. And I had a love. I was so impressed with that. So then we began to look at the book and the thing. And finally we got on our feet. And I noticed that Lena, this was the very first Broadway show, was just like a she wanted to absorb everything she could, you know, it was to to to learn, to learn, to learn. But Buddy Lewis, right or wrong, and I think he was right, said leave her alone, just let her instincts go, because he noticed that when she worked, that energy came through, you know, that tremendous fire from within. Leave that alone. Don't touch her. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. And Lena was like a blotter, you know, she really wanted. And she she didn't get too much of that. She was left to, you know, by herself to to to to to conquer this role and to interpret it. But of course, you know, I mean, to me, she's one of the great Supremes singers of all time, because you always got tremendous respect not only for the for the music, but for the lyric. She intemperate to the lyrics as an actress and therefore acting became quite easy for Lena and then leave her alone. Bobby was right. We didn't we didn't explore some of the more subtle little innuendos in the play where we play this energy, which in a little bit this was because I thought it was a very simple story. That's why it was successful because of Lena Horne. She was extraordinary. And he left her alone. And she I mean, she just imbues you with with with her energy and the love of her work and professionalism. I learned a great deal working with Lena. I learned that in watching her to the watching her do the songs, for instance. And then I, I had always watched her, you know, when she did a nightclub act and everything. She taught me one thing as an actor, economy of movement. See, we particularly in the Latin world, we have a tendency to use our hands a little too much as I am doing now. But when we're singing a song, very often we say the moon, the stars, the ocean and the Earth. I love you. And it's that. And pretty soon they're meaningless, meaningless motions. LEA Not in a song. She was stand out. It's the wrong time in the wrong place and never move moving. I don't know if I'm that movement became magic. You see, by economy movement than movement becomes important part of the interpretation of the song. And so that's something very, very, very interesting that I learned that I can use as an actor.

Speaker When you talked about how slight the story was, it was like it was like the story was the story.

Speaker Yes, I understand that there was in Philadelphia that things came to a head because changes need to be made. And could you tell me about.

Speaker Yes. What we were trying to play in Philadelphia, the powers that be and I don't know the powers that be were were a little concerned that the story wasn't coming across, that something needed to to be fixed. And they started to panic a little bit. And we were called to a meeting. And in this meeting, they said that they felt that maybe Bobby Lewis should be replaced by this time.

Speaker I think we need to start getting together, but they went through it instead of getting that OK. When we reached Philadelphia, there was concern that perhaps the story wasn't coming across as they had thought that something was lacking, that perhaps they needed a new point of view. And there was even talk in this meeting that Bobby Lewis should be replaced by director. And I said, what, you know, I am not a quiet man when it comes to I don't like to get into arguments, I like to reason things out and so forth. But but this time we're almost ready to open New York, change the actors just a week and a half or two before we opened, I thought it would be a disaster. And I remember that I for the first time really raised my voice. I say, no, you would not do this. We cannot get rid of this man.

Speaker He knows we are with him and sink and swim with him. Otherwise we are going to sink. If you bring somebody else is going to be a disaster will never happen in New York.

Speaker No, no, no, no, I, I kind of insisted on for some reason they were taking it back because I never said a word, you know, before. And somehow I was stayed and he was very grateful to me. It was very sweet. Very nice. Thank you. Regardless of what and I think Lena was also in my corner. And as far as let's not change Bobby Lewis. And then I said we opened and two years later we closed. So so it was it was it was right that everything worked. But I still think that the main element of this, the main element for the success of the show, my father was Lena. They know Lena is magic on the stage. Magic. She's she's she has a magnetism. I mean, there can be 20000 people on the stage and your eyes go to Lena. It's a magnetism she has that is emanates from within. Not only she's beautiful and glorious voice, enormous talent, but she has it's something that it's a magnetism that is quite unique. I really considered it a great privilege in my life to have worked with her. I love Lena. My wife and I both love her.

Speaker Well, you did become close, and I very close to lady is being close to her parties, their parties.

Speaker Lina, you know, after about six or seven months, we open on everything. We we really became quite, quite close. And she would invite us to her beautiful apartment.

Speaker And Lina and Lenny were the most gracious hosts. Lina could never do enough for you won't even have this hat, that hat that she would play music she she would sing. She was happy. She was relaxed, particularly after this Saturday evening performance. We had Saturday matinee concert, Saturday evening performance. And then Sunday was a dark day so she could sleep late in the day. And those Saturday nights were glorious at her house. She was like like a child. Joyful energy. After doing two shows, I was absolutely exhausted. I mean, I hadn't even tapped her resources. I mean, she was full of energy and full of joy and love. And she was very good to George and to me and George. And I used to love to go to that apartment because it was beautifully done. Turgenev remembers that the walls were white and she had this marvelous and.

Speaker I need you to see my wife, Jane, because when you say you don't know who you're talking, oh, I said yeah, but I said before my wife and I loved her. I said before that, yeah, this is my wife and I love my wife.

Speaker George remembers the wife.

Speaker Oh, yeah. Shall I start? That was my wife. Georgie remembers. She still remembers the beauty of the apartment. Maybe it was it was spectacular in very good taste. There were white walls of walls, white walls. And he had this wonderful the living room curtains that were royal blue of silk taffeta having. They came all the way to the floor and the floors were wood, dark wood, and you got this Oriental rugs. And then she had a lot of Korean antiques. It was it was my wife just to just drink it all in her computer. I mean, she has has wonderful taste. Wonderful taste. No, I shall never forget those shall never forget those those years, those two years because of lean on everything. Tell me about Lenny, about Lenny Haden was a man who was thoroughly and totally in love with Lena. And I think Lenny Hayton, in my opinion, I may be wrong, but in my opinion, I think that he sublimated his talent to to enhance Leena's.

Speaker I really think that he there is an album that if I went to a desert island and I say you have to take only one album with something of, let's say, popular music, I would take classical music, Latin music. But if I was an American, which is I think it's a perfect album and the IT'S program orchestrated, I would say with me, Lena Horne at the Waldorf with the arrangements conducted by Lenny Hayton. It was the most beautiful program and started, you know, with the first song and the plaintive song. Then the humans, I mean, every every singer should buy this album and learn how to program the evening or the performance.

Speaker Absolutely wonderful. Lena Horne at the Waldorf. I love that album.

Speaker Now, tell me something about the MGM. I didn't realize that you were also in MGM when you were there around the same time that she was. Yes, it was. MGM seemed to me to be the Mecca for musicals.

Speaker But tell me in your own words what MGM was was like when MGM you see coming if I told you from a small town in Mexico and everything and all of a sudden I am on the well, I I got moved to Mexico City and I started working in films in Mexico and an MGM saw my work in films in Mexico and they signed it to a seven year contract. That was that actually eight years later.

Speaker But I arrived at MGM like, wait a minute, I'm alive. Is my dreaming what I mean, to go in the commissary and see Mr. Gable as Lana Turner, Barrymores, that is Errol Flynn, Elizabeth Taylor and Loog and Jim Powell. That is Errol Flynn. I mean, it was when am I really I thought I was dreaming. I mean, it was the most exciting to me studio in the world. It had an array of stars that really rivaled the heavens. Stars in their lineup, of course, was there. And it was it was it was you just felt privileged to be there. He was such a joy. Now, the downside of the thing is that when you went on a contract, you really belonged to the studio and you did what they told you to do.

Speaker And if you said, well, no, I will not do that part, very good will put you in suspension until we find another role for you might take six, eight months, seven, nine months. You know, when I had a wife and children, you know, eventually have four children and I would never say no. So but but on the other hand, they MGM did create a persona for you that they radiated to the whole world through their publicity. They created this person like Francis. You were a product like if you're going to sell Coca-Cola, you photograph it beautifully with it, with the the bottle kind of sweating a little bit, appetiser with ice around it, too. But that's what I do with actors, each actor, how they have a plan, a publicity plan specially made for him. And in my case it was Latin. Love it, I guess at that time, which was very dull image, but nevertheless, the Latin lover. But they did give you publicity throughout the whole world. But you had to fit into that mold. You know, you were you were not in total command of your destiny. They they they took care of that. It was an incident with Lena. I remember she was always, you know, singing in the most beautiful, glamorous backgrounds to take advantage of her beauty and her magnificent voice. But as far as playing roles, I don't remember many instances of me not being able to do that. As I couldn't get away from the Latin thing. We were typecast. You were put in a compartment and it was difficult to get out of it.

Speaker Something like a golden straitjacket? No.

Speaker The. Oh, you were telling me about this New Year's Eve. Listen to your right.

Speaker Just look at the what will you take to your right up to my. Yes. You were telling me about this fabulous New Year's Eve, this happens when New Year's Eve. Oh, yes. Could you tell me about that every now and then?

Speaker Yes. There was one particularly New Year's party that Lena Lenni invited us to their home. And of course, we just always look forward to that. And I remember that night, I think it was Geoffrey Holder was there with Carmen, the love of God, and especially Hazel Scott, who sat at the piano. She was very lovely. She reminded me of a look a little bit of a Lana Turner look. Yeah. And and she played it was I mean, it was I wanted to stop and she played and Lena was saying and she would sing and somebody would join in. I mean, was it was almost like like children. It was so, so innocent and so beautiful, you know?

Speaker And those days we didn't need any stimulants to to have a wonderful time. And we were high on joy and the companionship and the and the music. And it was wonderful. Hazel Scott, she was wonderful. And I remember that the Hazel Scott was Catholic. And so my wife and I went to Catholic Saint that night. I remember we stayed until about five or five thirty, almost six o'clock in the morning all the time playing up. Where did the time go? I have no idea, because after that Hazel said, listen, we have to go to mass. And we went to six o'clock in the morning. As I remember, it was late and my wife, Georgina and Hazel and I went to six o'clock in the morning after having the most wonderful evening at Leanna's and then his about it was it was one happy days when I was there, too.

Speaker They were. What is that beauty and wonderful sound of jazz and and beautiful melodies and romanticism and joy and I. Where are they. I miss them so much.

Speaker Just I mean, just I think I've covered everything. But let me just go back for, you know, the kitten kittens.

Speaker Oh, no, there were pugs. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. The first time we went to Leena's and Lenny's apartment, and particularly my wife, who loves beautiful things, she shows late night shows the whole apartment, everything. And then when I got to the bathroom, my wife just went on the the bathtub. She got this litter drop of Pug's the little dogs. The Pugs were the cutest thing, you know, the little wiggly things and everything. And Leanne, I just love her pugs. You know, it was this is wonderful. My wife just just melted looking at Lillian. I loved that pugs and those those days. I don't know what kind of dog she has now, but she does. Pugs were really so cute. Beautiful. Georgeann, I want to take one home. I said, no, no, honey, I do don't want any more responsibility. We have four children in the apartment and our dog. No, but yeah, Lena was just she just loves bugs that are very, very sweet.

Speaker I think they think they've got the.

Speaker I'll just ask you during. When but when you hit, what were you ever involved with any of the war efforts? A lot of the folks who were in Hollywood, Hollywood during the 40s were involved in a lot of the benefits and political activities that had to do with the war. And then later on, they were taken to task for that by the year by the House un-American Activities Committee. Were you ever involved in that?

Speaker Did you ever suffer any? Well, I came to I came to to think the contract in 1945. You see, I think that was past that time. No, I never did. I was at that time. I was you know, I was like an absorbing everything. I was so new to me. I was like in a dream world. I wasn't too conscious of anything except I'm under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. No, I. I missed all that. I missed all that.

Speaker We did we did visit hospitals, you know, for the wounded boys and all that man and everything. And I was I was registered with the draft, but because I had that three and then four children, I was registered as three a I seem to be always a little ahead of the draft. So I was not drafted, which in a way, it's I'm grateful in other ways. I wish I had been able to do something for this country has been so good to me.

Speaker When you hit MGM, what was what was it, Louis, being made his reputation?

Speaker You know, in in in Spanish we have a saying that everybody speaks about the same party according to how good a time or bad time he had in the party. So some people say it was a lousy party party. Others would say I was a wonderful party when that happened to me with Mr. Mayor. I still say, Mr. Mayor, Mr. Mayor, to me was so very kind, almost fatherly. He liked the idea that I was like a father. You know, I was 24 years old. And and I was brought up and with a certain demeanor, you know, my parents were very strict with me as far as having good manners and consideration and morality and all those things. And I had that from my parents. And I guess Mr. Mayor saw that. And he treated me with such different and such affection that I have nothing but but the kindest words to say about him. Now, I've heard some horror stories, but then you talk to the people like you talked to Janie Powell, who took the Mickey Rooney. I think that would be on my side. I, I have nothing but gratitude and warm affection for this. This man, he was very, very nice to me and is a man who created stars he loved. He loved stars. I love the business. And and he lived for the business to do this. It's, you know, corporations on this that and it's just dollars and cents.

Speaker But in those days, those were really the dream makers that dream, you know, the dream factory workers, you know, created this illusion of glamour. And it was it was a different era. And I think Mr. Mayor was one of the the main characters in this in this display of of of developing actors and stars and bloomwood around how we dressed when we went to the market. You didn't go you know, you always dressed you kind of, you know, clean in 1970. There was something about it that that he imbued us with. And to be very professional, he wanted to be very professional. It was strict that way. But personally, I can't tell you that the party I had a wonderful time of the party. He was very nice to me.

Ricardo Montalbán
Interview Date:
1996-02-08
Runtime:
0:28:57
Keywords:
None
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-2j6833nf1h, cpb-aacip-504-251fj29t7f, cpb-aacip-504-7m03x8457q
MLA CITATIONS:
"Ricardo Montalbán, Lena Horne: In Her Own Words." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 08 Feb. 1996, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/902
APA CITATIONS:
(1996, February 08). Ricardo Montalbán, Lena Horne: In Her Own Words. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/902
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Ricardo Montalbán, Lena Horne: In Her Own Words." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). February 08, 1996. Accessed January 27, 2022 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/902

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