Wednesday, July 30, 2014

From Hollywood to Michael Dante Way by Michael Dante

Michael Dante. From  Hollywood to Micael Dante Way. Albany, Ga: BearManor Press, 2013.

Dante as a child worked as an assistant to a barker at the circus for $2 a day. He discovered he enjoyed performing.

Dante played on a baseball team that won the Connecticut high school championship in 1949 as well as a team that won the New England Newspaper League championship. The Boston Braves signed him for a $6,000 bonus, which was then the maximum bonus that could be offered without requiring the player be on the major league roster for two years. He hurt his arm playing. The doctor suggested he move to a warmer climate to heal. He moved to California. There, a scout signed him to play for Hermosillo in the Mexican Coast Winter League. This was followed with reporting for spring training for the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League. Yet his injury prevented him from playing for the team. He kept in shape playing semi-pro baseball in Connecticut.

Dante could play baseball yet had troubles throwing overhand. An operation attempted to correct this. While healing, he started class at the University of Miami as an Acting major. He got a scholarship to be Assistant Manager of their baseball team.

Dante attended spring training with the Washington Senators. He was designated to go to their Chattanooga team when he was also offered a screen test. He chose the screen test.

Dante writes “the 1950s was perhaps the most exciting and creative time in the history of the business because television was just coming into its own.” Lots of new opportunities arose for cast and crew.

Dante’s screen test resulted in a standard several year studio contract. The studio, MGM, could cancel the contract every six months. He was offered to meet with an acting coach, even if just to say hello. He made a point ot do that at least twice a week. He wored on improving his diction.

Dante also learned that there was much “envy and jealousy” among other actors.

His first role was in “Shorty the Greek”. He shared a dressing room with Steve McQueen.

During filming, a truck’s brakes failed. The driver managed to avoid hitting people on ground. Dante pulled Steve McQueen away from getting hurt. The truck ran into a plank with a dolly which tossed the camera operator into the air. Neither was seriously injured.

Steve McQueen considered Dante to be with him in the movie “Bullit”. Dante had observed tht McQueen had a complex about his height. When Dante rose at their meeting before McQueen rose, McQueen asked him “Whoa, hey, man. What did you do? Get taller since I saw you last?” Dante correctly knew that he had lost the part.

MGM had one of the first large scale dumping of actors. Dante’s contract was among those MGM did not renew.

Warner Brothers, which was investing in tV shows, hired Dante for $250 a week with increases over the following six years. We has cast before getting the contact. Dante insisted of $275 a week, which he received as he was needed for the movie. He did earn the displeasure of the head of casting.

Dante’s first Warner Brothers role was in “Westbound” where he portrayed a one armed soldier returning from war.

Jack Warner wanted to change Dante’s name fro his actual name that he was using, Ralph Vitti. Warner said of the first and second names that one had to be long and the other short. He picked a relative’s name, Dante, to keep his Italian heritage.

Dante had guest roles in 13 TV shows in addition to three movies in his first year at Warner Brothers. He was getting his name in publicity magazines which helped create interest in his appearances.

Dante was in the movie “Seven Thieves”. Joan Collins was often missing from the set. She was then often found with her boyfriend Warren Beatty. Collins and the director got into heated arguments. Edward G. Robinson advised regarding Collin’s actions “Michael, don’t behave that way, it’s so unprofessional.” Dante followed that advice.

Actors went on strike for six months. This ended all studio contracts. Dante was among the last of the contract actors.

After the strike ended, Dante did several more TV episodes. He then appeared in the movie “Kid Galahad”. He filmed a boxing scene with Elvis Presley as no stunt doubles were used. Elvis accidentally cut Dante’s mouth with a late blow.

Dante’s next movie was a low budget “Operation Bikini” about the Bikini Atoll and not bathing suits. It took two weeks to shoot and made International Pictures a lot of money for their investment, The actors received little pay.

Dante next appeared in the film “The Naked Kiss”. The movie receive rave reviews.

Dante filmed “Apache Rifles” with Audie Murphy Much of the filming was in the 117 degree Mojave desert.

Dante filmed “Harlow” with Carol Lynley. He improvised a line with her on a polar bear fug stating “do you like fff..fireplaces?”, elongating the “f”. The director Alex Segal stated it was one of the greatest improvised lines ever.

Dante made an appeared on “Bonanza”. While filming it, the Executive Producer, David Dortort, offered Dante a role in a TV series he was creating, “High Chapparel”. Dante turned it down and the show ran for five years. Dante writes he has no regrets turning it down.

Dante appeared in “Get Smart” . He writes that experience was the most fun as laughter reigned on the set.

Dante was cast in the TV series “The Legend of Custer”. He portrayed Crazy Horse. Critics did not like the series. It lasted 17 episodes. Four episodes were later edited into a movie “Crazy Horse and Custer---The Untold Story.”

Gene Roddenberry offered Dante to be in “Star Trek” Dante did not have to audition as Roddenberry already appreciated his work. Dante accepted. Most who appeared on “Star Trek” earned more money at fan conventions and autograph shows than what they received for being on the show. Dante and seven others who were “Star Trek”, including a brief appearance by William Shatner, filmed a comedic homage in 2013, “Unbelievable!!!”

Dante filmed an episode of “Daniel Boone”. He performed a scene in water with Darby Hinton. The crew did not realize the water was cold and Hinton was shocked by the coldness. Dante swam 40 yards, holding onto Hinton. Hinton credits Dante with saving his life.

Dante appeared in “Willard”. He notes that the scene were rats appear to kiss Willard’s ear were shot by placing peanut butter on Willard’s ears, thus making their eating look like they were kissing him.

Dante continued appearing in TV episodes.

Dante had the title role in the movie “Winterhawk”. He suffered torn ligaments when the horse he was riding for the film caught his foot between some logs and then reared up. This caused Dante to slide off as the horse bolted. They had to shoot around him during his ten day recovery.

In 1977, Rep. Chris Dodd invited Dante to the National Prayer Breakfast. Dodd was a fan of “Winterhawk”.

Dante’s next movie role was in “The Farmer”, followed by “Cruise Missile”. He then filmed “Beyond Evil”, his only horror film.

While Dante had turned down appearing in a soap opera in 1963, he agreed to appear in “Days of OUr Lives” in 1984.

Dante filmed two movie with Fred Williamson. Dante believes Williamson was “ahead of his time” and that his movies would be more commercially successful today.

Dante got a radio show. After 13 weeks of the show, the manager offered him another 13 week contract. Dante insisted in creating his own show. He paid for airtime and obtained his own sponsors. The “Michael Dante Classic Celebrity Talk Show” lasted 12 years.

In 2011, a road in Stamford, Ct. was named Michael Dante Way.

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