Dante in Winterhawk
September 2, 1931
Stamford, Connecticut, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Mary Jane (unknown date)|
Michael Dante (born Ralph Vitti; September 2, 1931) is an American actor and former professional minor league baseball player.
Dante was born Ralph Vitti in Stamford, Connecticut. Growing up, he would sneak into a local movie theater with his friends to watch westerns. "I grew up wanting to be the sidekick of The Lone Ranger and wanting to follow my heroes", Dante told a reporter in 2006. He was a shortstop on the Stamford High School baseball team, then played for "The Advocate All-Stars" team which won a 1949 New England baseball championship. After graduating from high school, Dante signed a bonus contract with the Boston Braves. He used his $6,000 bonus to buy his family a four-door Buick with whitewalls.
During spring training with the former Washington Senators, Dante took drama classes at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. Bandleader Tommy Dorsey arranged a screen test for him at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. His first film, Somebody Up There Likes Me, was released in 1956. He changed his name at the urging of studio boss Jack L. Warner, who thought "Vitti" would not fit well on theater marquees. Warner suggested some first names, from which the actor picked "Michael". He chose the last name "Dante" because it had been used by some relatives.
Dante has appeared in 30 films and 150 television shows. He spent seven years in supporting roles under contract to three major studios at once: MGM, Warner Brothers and Twentieth Century Fox. He considers his best performances the role that he played in Killer Instinct on the CBS television series Desilu Playhouse, along with his roles in the movies Westbound (1959), Seven Thieves (1960) and Winterhawk (1975). His other film credits include Fort Dobbs (1958), Kid Galahad (1962), Operation Bikini (1963), The Naked Kiss (1964), Apache Rifles (1964), Harlow (1965), Arizona Raiders (1965), Willard (1971), That's the Way of the World (1975), The Farmer (1977), Missile X: The Neutron Bomb Incident (1978), Beyond Evil (1980), Return from the River Kwai (1989), and Cage (1989).
Dante was cast twice in on the ABC/Warner Brothers western series, Colt .45, starring Wayde Preston. Dante and Forrest Lewis portrayed Davey Lewis and Willy Ford, respectively, in the 1957 episode "The $3,000 Bullet". Dante then played the role of Ab Saunders in the 1958 episode "The Deserters", with Angie Dickinson as Laura Meadows and Myron Healey as an unnamed fur trader, and directed by Leslie H. Martinson. He also appeared on the ABC-WB crime drama, Bourbon Street Beat, with Andrew Duggan, on the syndicated adventure series, Rescue 8, starring Jim Davis and Lang Jeffries, and in three episodes of CBS's The Texan, starring Rory Calhoun.
Dante made two guest appearances on Perry Mason starring Raymond Burr. In 1959 he played Arthur Manning in "The Case of the Dangerous Dowager", and in 1965 he played murder victim Douglas Kelland in "The Case of the Feather Cloak."
A frequent extra on the original Star Trek television series, he was cast in the role of Maab" in the 1967 episode, "Friday's Child" alongside Julie Newmar. Dante has appeared at Star Trek conventions. He also had a recurring role as the Sioux Chief Crazy Horse in the short-lived ABC military western series, Custer starring Wayne Maunder in the title role of Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer.
In 1969, he played Clay Squires, a bitter young half-breed man, in the episode "Long Night at Fort Lonely" on the syndicated Death Valley Days, with Robert Taylor as Ben Cotterman and June Dayton as Cotterman's wife, Rachel.
In the 1970s, Dante met John Wayne, whom he watched on screen as a child. Wayne had seen Dante in Winterhawk and asked him to co-host a charity event in Newport Beach, California. That started a friendship between the two actors, and they co-hosted other events until Wayne's death in 1979.
Michael Dante is currently the host of a syndicated radio talk show, On Deck, previously known as the Michael Dante Celebrity Talk Show on which he interviews some of Hollywood's biggest stars. His program guests have included Milton Berle, Tony Curtis, and Bryant Gumbel. An avid golfer, he once hosted the annual Michael Dante Celebrity Golf Tournament, a charitable fund-raiser held annually in Palm Springs, California, beginning in 1991.
In 2006, Dante told an interviewer that he had written a script for a sequel to Winterhawk and was trying to get funding for the projected movie.
- The Silver Spur Award (called the "Golden Globe of the Western film and television genre") presented by Reel Cowboys
- The Golden Boot Award ("the Oscar of Westerns")
- Southern California Motion Picture Council Award for the 'Best of the Best' in the Motion Picture Industry
- Wall of Fame Honoree – Stamford High School – Stamford, Connecticut
- Spirit of the West Award by Wild West Gazette/Bison Western Museum
- Palm Springs Film Festival Award for the Sammy Fuller classic film The Naked Kiss
- 1994 – Golden Palm Star on the Walk of Stars
- Apacheland Days, Apache Junction, Arizona – Guest of Honor – Western boot prints in cement – Superstition Mountain Museum
- Lee, Natasha, "A reel cowboy: Actor doesn't forget Stamford roots", article in The Advocate of Stamford, October 22, 2006, page 1
- "Colt .45". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved December 24, 2012.
- "Long Night at Fort Lonely on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved July 13, 2015.
- Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated