He out-emoted William Shatner in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khanand survived Fantasy Island with his dignity intactand now the man whose accent launched a thousand Cordobas has reached TV Heaven. This fall, Ricardo Montalban, 73, reunites with Fantasy producer and high-concept maestro Aaron Spelling on the new syndicated series Heaven Help Us, playing an angel who guides a pair of newlyweds (John Schneider and Melinda Clarke) caught between the here-and-now and the hereafter.
''This one has some of the same elements as Fantasy Island,'' notes the Mexican-born veteran of 40 movies, lounging on the terrace of his majestic Hollywood Hills home, a bandanna knotted at the throat of his RM-monogrammed shirt. ''Good humor, a very positive approach-away from television's terrible mire of negativism and lack of beauty and dreaming and clahss.''
Montalban himself is fairly well-stocked with class. In July of last year, he underwent a 9 1 2-hour operation to correct a spinal hemorrhage; his recovery has been difficult-an aluminum walker stands next to his terrace chairbut it hasn't weakened his desire to work. (He has also resumed his post as chairman of Nosotros, an organization he cofounded in 1969 to promote opportunities for Hispanic actors and to help eradicate stereotypical images of them in Hollywood.) Originally, Spelling-who cast Montalban in Fantasy Island over ABC's suggestions of John Huston and Orson Welles offered Heaven's angel role as a voice over part that Montalban could record from home, but stations slated to carry the show wanted to see him on camera.
''My doctor said, 'Do it, it's good for your mind,' '' says the actor, who flies to the series' San Antonio location every few weeks. ''Getting to the airport, it's a big effort, but the challenge keeps me going. I don't have to move too much during my scenes. An angel just pops in, you see, and then pops out.'' But Montalban himself plans on sticking around on TV, Heaven willing.