“I know my own needs” He says in a silky latin accent as a flamenco guitar plays in the background. He picks up a set of car keys with a small gold medallion attached to the ring. A stylishly dressed (for the era) and well groomed Ricardo Montalban observes the keys in his hand with confidence that only soap operas greatest actor ever could.
“And what I need, I know I get from this new [insert dramatic pause] CORRRDOBAH!!” That R rolling off his silvery tongue in a way that makes you wonder how big his pool could be.
Smash cut into a panning shot of the round headlights to the passenger quarter panel of the 4 ton 18 foot long 1975 Chrysler parked in Ricardos driveway. A trio of trumpets sound off in exaltation as Ricardo slides into the driver’s seat.
“The tastefulness […] the workmanship” he remarks. His voice, like a cuban cigar, is rich, and sweetly smoky.
We are now inside the car with him. From the passenger seat we see him roll up his driver side window with the touch of a button. As we pan out, we finally hear him say it “thickly cushioned seats in,” here it comes! “…soft CORRRINTHIAN leather.”
A string section fills in with the flamenco guitar and trumpets as Ricardo takes a corner on an empty road. From the hood, we fight to see him with his large satin collar splayed open over the lapel of his lightly colored suit jacket, staring with that daytime tv confidence against the reflection of the trees and sunlight reflected off the windshield.
Ricardo pulls off the highway at a scenic overlook of the pacific ocean. The suspension of the car rocking back and forth under the weight of 1970s engineering and materials as the Chrysler comes to a stop halfway through a turn. He refers to the car as small. Then he says some other stuff about the Corrrdobah providing what he needs. The scene fades and the medallion shows “Cordoba, the small Chrysler” in marvelously wavy script.
Roughly, ten years later Ricardo Montalban is a guest on David Letterman’s Late Night show. They talk about Ricardo’s current daytime TV show, Dynasty 2: The Colbys (interesting tidbit, Charlton Heston gets shot by his own rifle in an episode) and his role as “Zack Powers” a rich and ruthless character. Letterman switches from TV shows to TV commercials after his own commercial break. We hear that Ricardo has been celebrating the Chrystler in commercials for 13 years. From the B-body all the way to Lee Iococa’s K-body. Then, from between the gap in David’s front teeth, like a bull, charges out the questions “What is Corinthian leather? Is that a real thing?” Ricardo, elegantly evades “they found a leather that is very soft, very pliable, very [insert minor pause for effect] durable.” Ricardo, for the first time in the interview begins to fidget, spinning the golden ring around his left pinky. “The writer for the commercial, Jim Nichols, wanted to find a word that I could say that sounded elegant, with a verb, and so CORRRINTHIAN” The audience claps, David laughs.
“But does it mean anything?” David presses.
“Nothing.” says Ricardo.
And with that, the mystique and romance cloaking a level of luxury never heard of before filtered through Ricardo Montalban’s dapper and gentlemanly ora was washed away. Poor Ricardo had to, with good humor and grace, admit on Late Night that Corinthian leather was just a marketing term cooked up by the ad team that gave us “Pork, the other white meat” and “Genesis does what Nintendon’t”. In fact, Corinthian leather is regular leather sourced from Radel Leather Manufacturing in New Jersey. But in some ways, the mystique lives on in pop culture. Look no further than Sopranos season 2 episode 8 “Full Leather Jacket”.