According to one source, the term was created by employees of the Young & Rubicam advertising agency .
Corinthian Leather is a marketing term that does not actually indicate any particular type of leather. In fact, according to one reference, Chrysler's "Corinthian" leather was mass produced in a plant in Newark, New Jersey (not Corinth).
Montalbán was born in Mexico City to Ricarda Merino and Jennaro Montalbán, a store manager. He had a brother, Carlos, and a sister, Carmen. Montalbán is a practicing Catholic and has said that his religion is "the most important thing in his life".
Montalban has stated that when he first arrived in Hollywood, studios wanted to change his name to Ricky Martin.
He has frequently portrayed Asian characters - mostly of Japanese background (as in Sayonara and the Hawaii Five-O episode Samurai). His first leading role was the 1949 film Border Incident, with actor George Murphy. During the 1950s and 1960s he was one of only a few actively working Hispanic actors. Many of his early roles were in Westerns in which he played character parts, usually as an "Indian" or as a "Latin Lover". In 1950, he was cast against type, playing a BarnstableCape Cod police officer in the film noir movie Mystery Street. In 1957, he played the role of "Nakamura" in the film Sayonara.
In 1975, he was chosen as the television spokesman for the new Chrysler Cordoba. The car became a successful model, and over the following several years, was heavily advertised; his mellifluous delivery of a line praising its "soft Corinthian leather" upholstery, often misquoted as "rich Corinthian leather", became famous and was much parodied, and Montalban subsequently became a favorite subject of impersonators. Eugene Levy, for example, frequently impersonated him on SCTV. In 1986, he was featured in a magazine advertisement for the new Chrysler New Yorker.
Montalban's best-known television role was perhaps that of Mr. Roarke in the television series Fantasy Island, which he played from 1978 until 1984. For a time, the series was one of the most popular on television, and his character as well as that of his sidekick, Tattoo (played by Hervé Villechaize), became pop icons. Another well known role was that of Khan Noonien Singh in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which was a reprisal of his role in a 1967 episode of Star Trek entitled "Space Seed". There were some questions initially as to whether Montalban had prosthetic muscles applied to his chest during filming of Star Trek II to make him appear more muscular, on account of his being over 60 years old at the time. Montalban and many individuals associated with the production of Star Trek II have disputed this, most notably Leonard Nimoy in his book I Am Spock, citing the fact that he was always physically active and worked out regularly, and those really were his muscles. Montalban took a significant pay cut to play Khan, because he enjoyed playing the character so much.
Montalbán has appeared in many diverse films including The Naked Gun as well as two films from both the Planet of the Apes and Spy Kids series. In addition, he has appeared in multiple musicals, such as 1966's The Singing Nun, also starring Debbie Reynolds. Over the course of his long career, he has played lead roles or guest starred in dozens of television series. Since 1993, Montalban has had to use a wheelchair after a long-unresolved spinal injury from the 1951 film Across the Wide Missouri recurred.
In several interviews and public speeches, Montalbán has described "the five stages of the actor", which are as follows:
Who is Ricardo Montalbán?.
Get me Ricardo Montalbán.
Get me a Ricardo Montalbán type.
Get me a young Ricardo Montalbán.
Who is Ricardo Montalbán?
Montalbán did a voiceover for a Taco Bell commercial that aired during Super Bowl XLI. In the commercial, one lion suggests to another to roll his Rs in a manner that is "sexy, like Ricardo Montalbán" while pronouncing carne asada. This segues to a voiceover featuring the actor.
Five Were Chosen (1942) (a Spanish version was filmed the following year)