Ricardo Montalban, of the perfect suits and the urban manner, appears at the pinnacle of success -- but he has regrets.

He is sorry that in the first 30 years of his career he spent a total of seven years away from home; on movie sets around the world.He regrets he never won the Big Role, as Kirk Douglas did with "The Champion," and as Anthony Quinn did with "Zorba the Greek;" ro Yul Brynner with "The King and I;" or Marlo Brando with "A Street Car Named."

And to top it all, he endures incredible pain, the result of a horse fall while making a movie with Clark Gable in 1949.

Still, Montalban, at 65, does not let the negative outweigh the positive.

He explains: "I am very grateful to acting, because it has enabled me to raise my children, to feed and clothe my family.

"Unfortunately, I didn't go to college, so there is nothing else I could do. I was derailed by this business.

"I haven't had the big romantic lead, and now I feel it is too late. What I can hope for now is to play really great characters. And that is not so bad, because that draws on the real talent of the actor. To be somebody else."

He thinks about the years spent away from home; considers the guilt he felt while wife Georgiana was trying to raise the children without the sound of a male voice in the next room.

"She had to be many things, many times. It was difficult. Yet I never thought the business of acting was destroying my marriage. It was, simply, hard work.

"With the children now gone, I am in a position where I constantly reflect on the great efforts Georgiana has made. Her achievements IN the home have been every bit as great as mine OUTSIDE the home."

Montalban was married when he was 23. Georgiana was 18. He says it seems like only yesterday.

"We have four grandchildren now. That is wonderful. But for marriage, the important thing is love. You must love each other.

"Another important element is a sense of humor. When things are bad, humor brings you through.

"Above all that, we have something that is solid: a commitment to each other, when we said, with God as our witness, that we would be together until death.

"Now it hasn't always been easy. We go through periods of nervousness, irritation and personality clashes. We've been through periods when we didn't want to be with each other, didn't want to talk to each other.

"But today, after all these years, I am more in love than ever before."

With the children grown, Montalban and Georgiana have time to spend together.

One son works in the intensive care department of a major Los Angeles hospital, continuing a medical career he started in Vietnam.

Another son works for the telephone company, in the public relations department.

His eldest daughter, a one-time model, is buying fashion and launching shows for a major house in New York City.

Another daughter recently married a commercial photographer in Los Angeles, is planning a family.

Montalban discouraged his children from going into show business, explaining: "The chances of success are so slim. Less than 10 percent of registered actors make a living. And of those, only .4 percent make $100,000 a year - which is what I would call comfortable.

Montalban has moved a long way since he started playing Indians gunned down by a long line of great American heroes.

Today he is willing to accept a role if he feels it does not demean any particular culture, especially his own Hispanic heritage.

Montalban could have been many things. Had he not found bit parts in 13 films in Mexico, he might well have taken over his father's dry goods store when the family moved from Mexico City to Terreon.

He could have just as easily have been a bullfighter, but decided, finally, he didn't have the courage. "With every pass," he says, "you face death."

It was his brother Carlos who encouraged him to follow his lead to the U.S.

Montalban started engineering studies, but followed his heart into acting, winning a summer stock role in "Her Cardboard Lover," with Tallulah Bankhead.

"Fantasy Island" was the television show that shot him to star status, but today he feels the experience, artistically, was empty.

Out of "Fantasy Island" - like a dream from the script - came a renewed contract to be spokesman for Chrysler, a post he still holds today, 15 years later!

There is, for Montalban, even an upside to his inability to find a "star vehicle."

He explains: "I stay hungry. I must fight for every frame. I must make my point, show my talent, and do it in less time with less role than anybody else.

"Maybe this is the reason I have never become bored."

Ricardo Montalban is family man who thinks close to home. Watching his children leave the nest was an emotional experience.

"We can now have our intimate moments. I can play music, burst into song, do anything I wish - or we wish. With a house full of children, that was not always the case . . ."

The pain in his leg is a negative getting worse with age.

"I was riding this horse bareback, and I had galloped it to the top of a hill, to try and take a little of the fire out before we shot the scene.

"I had no bridle, just a halter and a lead rope. I was resting on top of the hill, and let the rope free, so the horse could graze.

"From somewhere down below they let off a cannon, as part of another scene, and the horse bolted down the hill.

"With nothing to hang onto, and sitting sideways to start with, I fell, the small of my back hitting a rock.

"No bones were broken, which is unfortunate. You can fix bones. Instead, I hemorrhaged. This caused partial paralysis in my left leg. You can stick me with a pin, or cut me with a blade, and I don't feel it.

"It has been very annoying, a cross to bear. But what is the alternative? Sit and cry? You must go on with life.

"I would rather endure the pain - because I am afraid of getting hooked on drugs."