The opening of the Ricardo Montalban Theatre fulfills a 34-year quest by the veteran movie and television star who has long championed Hispanics in Hollywood.
The 83-year-old actor, whose career encompasses MGM movies of the 1940s, TV’s “Fantasy Island” and the recent “Spy Kids” films, has long sought a real home for Nosotros, the nonprofit theater group he founded in 1970 to improve the image of Hispanics in the entertainment industry.
“You can imagine. It’s a dream a come true,” Montalban said. “With this theater, we can do a lot of positive things, not only for Hispanics but for better understanding among all of us.”
The theater opens Saturday.
Nosotros — “Us” in Spanish — set goals of increasing employment for Hispanics in the industry, improving the skills of actors and attracting new talent. Its original board included Desi Arnaz, Vicki Carr and Anthony Quinn, and it became a training ground for actors such as Eddie Olmos, Salma Hayek, Lupe Ontiveros and Lorenzo Lamas. But it has long been crammed into small, rented theaters, said Jerry Velasco, director of its sister organization, the Ricardo Montalban Foundation.
The 1,200-seat theater is the latest remodeling of a historic Hollywood building dating to the 1920s. Most recently named the James A. Doolittle Theatre and previously the Huntington Hartford, it is co-owned by Nosotros and the foundation. Corporate and nonprofit donors assisted in the purchase.
Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., said the theater is part of a larger redevelopment effort under way in Hollywood, and is itself a breakthrough.
“People are finally recognizing the Latino community for its creativity,” he said. “It recognizes somebody who’s been in the business for quite a while and is very well regarded.”
Montalban’s career has spanned more than 60 years. He has appeared in more than 100 films, plays and TV shows.
Born in Mexico, he says he is grateful to his adopted country and to the American public, “which has always been very warm to me” — particularly after his seven-year run as the enigmatic Mr. Roarke of “Fantasy Island.”
But he has harsher words for Hollywood.
Montalban said directors rarely let him go beyond the Latin lover or the bandit, and that Mexican actors have a particularly tough time in the industry.
“I often played Argentineans and Brazilians,” he said. “But Mexican? Hollywood never thought it sounded attractive. Look at all the Hispanic actors who are doing quite well, and thank God, but they are Puerto Ricans or Cubans and Venezuelans. When it comes to Mexican actors, I can count them on one hand.”
Montalban said he loved playing the family patriarch in “Spy Kids” but noted that it took a Hispanic director, Robert Rodriguez, to cast him in a role not expressly written for a Hispanic.Montalban said he initially balked at naming the theater after himself but later agreed.
“Having my name in the marquee sends a message to the Hispanic community, ‘Look, it can be done,”’ Montalban said. “It’s a great honor.”