What History Has Taught Me: Michael Dante Michael Dante, actor and author.

michael dante true west magazine
Michael Dante, actor and author.

When I was nine I almost drowned. It’s like watching television. There was no pain and it was a very serene experience. Thank God my next-door neighbor, Anna Capana, was there to rescue me. She saved my life.

My favorite memory from Cloonan Junior High School is that I was voted the most athletic boy and the shyest boy in school.

My first love was baseball and I fulfilled the dream I had since I was nine years old, and went to Major League spring training with the American League Washington Senators.

My idol growing up was Joe DiMaggio. When I first saw Joe, as a nine-year-old kid at Yankee Stadium, I knew I wanted to be a Major League Baseball player, just like him. And to think one day he would become my friend… Amazing!

If it wasn’t for Mary Jane, my life would not be complete. We are a team. We love each other and are blessed to be together.

For my money, the best Western ever made is John Ford’s Stagecoach, starring John Wayne and a great cast of supporting actors.

I was one of the last Hollywood studio contract players. I was under contract to MGM, Warner Brothers and Twentieth Century-Fox.

Working with Budd Boetticher taught me why he was a great director. He gave me my first starring role in Westbound. I played a one-armed soldier boy, returning home from the Civil War.

I co-starred or appeared in Cheyenne, Maverick, Lawman, Sugarfoot, Colt .45 and many other Western television shows when I was under contract to Warner Brothers.

I did Bonanza because it was my favorite Western television show. It was a great company and cast to work with; we were like family.

Over my long career I have played American Indians in Winterhawk, Apache Rifles, Custer [in the role of Crazy Horse] (ABC, 1967) and Daniel Boone (NBC, 1964-1970). I have tried to give these roles the dignity and nobility they deserve.

Of all the Westerns I made my favorite is Winterhawk (1975). “I loved this role and I made him a spiritual man. The character was not written that way and I wanted to give another important dimension to his character.”

The trick to playing Crazy Horse is to discipline myself with my speech pattern and my physical movements, to then speak like and move like Crazy Horse would.

Not many actors can claim a street sign named for them. A street was named after me in my hometown of Stamford, Connecticut, Michael Dante Way.

Most people don’t know I love to cook. One of my favorite dishes to make is Pasta Salsiccia.

My favorite line is: “timing is not important, it’s everything.” It applies to so many things in life. One must work hard and be prepared to recognize that fact.

When I’m out West I love the open spaces and the mountains that remind me of the many Westerns I had the pleasure of performing in throughout my career as an actor.

History has taught me never to look back. Sempre avanti—Always ahead!   

Michael Dante was born Ralph Vitti and raised in Stamford, Connecticut. He got his start when Tommy Dorsey saw him rehearsing in a play at the University of Miami, Florida, just before spring training with the Washington Senators. He arranged a screen test for Dante at MGM Studios; they signed him to a contract and he never went back to baseball. The rest is history: 30 films, 150 television shows and so much more. Honors include The Golden Boot Award and the Silver Spur Award, given by his peers in the entertainment industry; a Palm Springs Sidewalk Star; Superstition Mountain Museum Wall of Fame; and the second Honorary Arizona Ranger in the state of Arizona since 1902. The other honored Arizona Ranger was President George W. Bush. He is also the author of Michael Dante-From Hollywood to Michael Dante Way, winner of the Ella Dickey Literacy Award; Winterhawk’s Land, the sequel to the movie Winterhawk; and Six Rode Home, a Civil War yarn.

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