HOLLYWOOD – If one follows the paths of Hollywood legends, breathing the air of the greats of myths and truths of cinematic lore, it’s hard not to come to the corner of Hollywood and Vine. It is here that the historical pulse seems to emanate under magic.
It’s also here just steps away, and part of that pulse, is one of Los Angeles’ oldest theaters. It is a film that is not only proud of its contribution to the artistic past, but also a beacon of the magnificence that the theater is yet to become. This theater is the Montalbán.
The Montalbán is the most recent, and probably forever, name of a theater that has evolved and fought for its place in the theater history books. It was originally envisioned in drawings made in 1925.
Imagined by the famous Wilkes brothers, its beginnings were notorious. The Wilkes family was the largest theater family in the United States at the time. The brothers were the grandnephews of Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, who stepped out of a play one fateful night, to shoot the President.
The brothers fought with Paramount over the location of their new theater, and while they won this battle, they were to lose one later when one of the brothers was criminalized for racketeering and money laundering at to the tune of $ 12.5 million.
In any case, the theatrical landscape of Los Angeles has been forever affected by the presence of the Wilkes Brothers Vine Street Theater.
Years later, he would become the Huntington Hartford, then the James Doolittle. UCLA then bought it for use as a theatrical annex while its theater department on the Westwood campus was re-equipped. During this period, the theater saw many incredible before and after Broadway productions performed for audiences in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, another legacy was forming in Hollywood. A good-natured young Latin actor was making his way through Hollywood ranks, MGM studios and Broadway. His name was Ricardo Montalban. Through roles like the fantasy giving Mr. Rourke of Fantasy Island, the wrathful Khan of Start Trek and the very chic spokesperson for the sleek Chrysler for many years, Ricardo has not only shattered stereotypes of Latino men, but has become forever consecrated as a unique icon itself.
He was dignity and grace, the ideal vision of a “gentleman”. Behind the scenes, he was more of a renegade and a cultural hero. He fought Hollywood clichés of Mexicans. He was told that Latinos in movies had to be “colorful characters”. He fought back and was blacklisted. He retired to Broadway where he performed on stage with Lena Horne, and on the streets of Sammy Davis Jr. They each brought interracial relationships on stage in the various productions, all challenging the status quo and sensibilities. of the time.
In 1970, Montalbán founded the Nosotros organization, which is today the oldest organization for the defense of the Latino arts. He had a lifelong vision of giving Latino artists a path to success and authentic representative careers in film, theater and television.
Friend of the former UCLA chancellor, Ricardo had the opportunity to take over the old Wilkes Brothers / Huntington Hartford / Doolittle theater, and he did.
Ricardo Montalbán died in 2009. Today, he would be 101 years old.
His legacy is still alive today, carried by two men who, each in their own way, embody the legacy of Montalbán. The first of these men is Gilbert Smith, who came to Ricardo through a Hollywood type love affair.
Gilbert had been a child actor and had been seen on shows such as Dennis the Menace. Acting wasn’t his thing, however, even though he hung out on the movie theater with Jay North, Billy Mumy, Ron Howard, and others. Rather, he found himself in love with the magic of the visual arts. As a young man, he embarked on various image projects in search of creative opportunities. He was doing a photoshoot with a lovely model named Anita, and together they started to think about a fashion layout for a client. The layout of the photos didn’t work, but the collaboration certainly worked. They have become inseparable to this day. “She has been my long-time partner in business, love, passion and art,” Gilbert told me.
Anita, is the daughter of Ricardo Montalbán.
Ricardo has become Gilbert’s true father figure. Years later, as Ricardo moved away from running the theater, artistic director Margarita Martinez-Cannon hired Gilbert to represent him. She felt that the board needed to involve the Montalbán family.
He is now the CEO of the theater.
Margarita also hired another man, who would soon become her successor to lead operations, Ricardo Ortiz-Baretto. Ricardo had been named after Ricardo Montalbán. “My mom named us all after the biggest Latin American celebrities of the day. It was a spiritual kismet that I came to this theater to carry on its legacy, ”says Ricardo.
Gilbert was a genius of innovation, visual presentation and technique. The theater has been remodeled from the bottom up in a creative and flexible space. The audience orchestra level has been constructed to be at stage level, allowing both Covid-regulated distancing or cutting-edge theatrical presentations.
Ricardo, who returned to Los Angeles after he and her husband raised four sons, has worked to deliver diverse and creative productions that live up to the legacy and vision that Ricardo Montalbán has established. Besides the Latin and black theater groups, the theater has been involved in various charities ranging from AIDS to host families.
“Gilbert’s vision is huge, and a lot of what we can now bring to the theater is because he’s willing to take a chance,” Ricardo said. “He has dedication to Ricardo’s vision, that it will come true. The LA theater will rebound after the pandemic closes. There is a lot of good theater in LA. It will never go away, which is why people are here in LA.
The current production, Rooftop Screams, can be found on the rooftop oasis of Montalbán. The rooftop venue is equipped with a bar, concession stand and kitchen, offering an open-air cinema room with a large projection screen, state-of-the-art projector, headphones noise canceling and fresh popcorn.
Rooftop Screams includes terribly creepy and horribly creepy films from the past 50 years. It started on Friday, October 1, 2021 with 1996 American satirical slasher Scream, directed by Wes Craven. Other fan favorites this month: The Shining, Friday the 13th, The Exorcist, It, Hocus Pocus, Beetlejuice, and Pan’s Labyrinth. There will be a double feature film premiering on October 31st with The Nightmare Before Christmas followed by The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The program includes live interactions with many of the stars and movie dignitaries appearing on Zoom, and in person.
There will be non-stop weekend programs throughout the holiday season. As restrictions related to the pandemic continue to fall, the Montalbán Theater is locked down and loaded. “We have a number of productions just waiting for us to say ‘go for it’.” Ricardo Ortiz-Baretto promises.
In 1993 Ricardo Montalbán won the SAG Lifetime Achievement Award. In his speech, he teased about his name. Her son-in-law Gilbert was seated in the audience with her daughter Anita and Ricardo said: “I would like to thank my wonderful daughter Anita, to whom I gave a glorious name, Anita Montalbán… but she got married. And now she’s… Anita Smith.
Don’t be afraid Ricardo. Your glorious name lives. Do not fear artists of color seeking greatness. Your legacy will last forever, as permanent in Hollywood as the famous sign in the hills, thanks to a man named Ricardo and a man named Smith.
And the theater forever named Le Montalbán.