The Dr. is in… (click for larger image)
by Paula Bosse
I’ve written about the interesting old WFAA Channel 8 news footage which was either never aired or was aired decades ago and hasn’t been seen since (such as newly discovered Jack Ruby footage and a fantastic short interview with Jimi Hendrix at Love Field), which is part of an ongoing digitization project by SMU’s Hamon Arts Library as part of the G. William Jones Film and Video Collection. There are so many (SO MANY!) quirky clips that are being uploaded to the web almost daily that it’s easy to miss the super-quirky.
A week and a half ago the clip below was posted online, featuring an unidentified man who was much groovier-looking than one would normally have seen on the nightly Channel 8 newscast — he said that someone had shot at him from a car, just before dawn, near the Hilton Inn at Mockingbird and Central. He seemed pretty sure they were associates of Frank Sinatra, who was not at all happy that our mystery man had been fraternizing with his daughter, the singer Nancy Sinatra. Take a look at this short (1:43) footage from May, 1970.
Okay, that was weird. “I’ve been shot at *many* times — for one reason or another….” Add in an unexpected mention of Mrs. Baird’s bakery and, yeah, weird.
Who was that guy? The only information the SMU digitizers had on the out-of-context snippet was that it was filmed on May 21, 1970. It was obvious the guy was not local and, with that voice (and apparent ready access to Nancy Sinatra), he was most likely in the entertainment business. I could find no mention of this incident in The Dallas Morning News archives — I tried using every conceivable keyword I could think of. Nothing. So I checked Newspapers.com and found an AP story about this which had run all over the country — just not in the city where the incident had occurred.
The guy is Ronald Dante, who has gone by a variety of aliases but is generally known as “Dr. Dante,” the stage name he used for decades as a successful nightclub hypnotist. (According to a 1985 Dallas Morning News profile, he had legally changed his name from Ronald Hugh Pellar to “Dr. Dante” — with “Doctor” being his legal first name.) (This may not be true.) (Most of what Dr. Dante has said is not true.) At the time of the shooting described in the video above, he was performing in DFW.
To describe Ron Dante (who was born in Chicago on Feb. 5, 1930) (and is not to be confused with the Ron Dante who was the lead singer of The Archies) as “colorful” is an understatement. His extraordinarily … um … extreme life as a performer, con-man, fraudster, schemer, opportunist, convicted felon, etc., is too much to cover here, but there is a fantastic 2006 profile of him from the San Diego Union-Tribune here (seriously, READ THIS! — the part about him being orphaned in Kuala Lumpur when his family was attacked by Malaysian insurgents is great — in actuality, U.S. Census records show that he grew up in a nice Chicago neighborhood with his very-much-alive parents and brother).
But back to Dallas in May, 1970. Dante was, at the time, the estranged husband of Hollywood icon Lana Turner. They had married in May, 1969; it was Lana’s seventh (and final) marriage. In news reports of the nuptials, Dante was reported to be the same age as his new bride, but he was actually almost 10 years younger. (In the Channel 8 video above he is 40.) Below are some photos of the happy couple before Lana began to realize what she’d gotten herself into.
Their marriage hit the skids within 6 months, with Turner accusing Dante of misappropriating $35,000 of her money and, later, disappearing with many of her jewels, worth $100,000; on Nov. 14, 1969, Dante (not Lana!) filed for divorce on grounds of “extreme mental cruelty.” Two days later, the ad below touting a “computer-developed” self-hypnosis recording by Dante appeared in a Dallas paper, complete with a suspect thumbs-up testimonial attributed to estranged and recently-bilked Lana Turner (also worth a raised eyebrow was the inclusion of the even more suspect “American Medical Hypnoidal Assoc.” office which resided in a Dallas post office box) (click to see larger image):
Nov. 16, 1969
Six months later, Dante was in Dallas, claiming to have been shot at by men sent by Frank Sinatra to warn him to stop seeing his daughter Nancy. (A similar “being shot at” scenario was reported by Dante in Los Angeles in June, 1969 — photo here — Sinatra was not implicated by Dante in that shooting, but Lana Turner wondered about it in her 1982 autobiography: “Shortly after our wedding he was shot at, or so he said, in an underground garage, by a gunman wearing an Australian bush hat. It got a lot of attention in the papers — maybe that was what he wanted.”) One might reasonably wonder whether Dante was lying about the shooting in Dallas, but there seems to have been a witness: a Mrs. Baird’s employee, David Davis (whose name was misspelled in wire reports). Here’s the Associated Press report of the incident:
AP wire story, May 21, 1970 (click to read)
Other reports noted that “a spokesman for Miss Sinatra said she did not know [Dante]” or had even ever heard of him; a spokesman for Miss Turner said they had been separated for several months and “she doesn’t even know where he is.” (It should be noted that Frank Sinatra had had a very steamy affair with Lana Turner in the 1940s — a tidbit which just adds all sorts of weird tangents to this story.)
I never saw a follow-up, but whether the story was true or not, it was pretty ballsy to accuse Frank Sinatra (a man of known “connections”) of being behind something like this. Someone should crack open this cold case!
Ronald Dante’s first appearance in Dallas was at the Adolphus Hotel’s tony Century Room in January, 1963, back when he was known simply as “Dante.” Tony Zoppi, who covered the city’s nightclub scene for The News, wrote, “The handsome showman entertained his Century Room crowd with one of the most amazing hypnotic acts in the business” (DMN, Jan. 3, 1963). Back then his act looked something like this:
An interesting New Year’s Eve engagement at the Adolphus’ Rose Room was announced in The News in December, 1970 (same year as the shooting…):
The Adolphus Hotel has lined up a star-studded evening for its New Year’s Eve celebration, including hypnotist Dr. Ronald Dante, reportedly to be accompanied by his wife, actress Lana Turner. (DMN, Dec. 17, 1970)
An appearance by Lana Turner seems … unlikely. Others rumored to be appearing on the star-studded bill? Actor Ralph Bellamy, comedian Tommy Smothers, and … singer Nancy Sinatra. Unsurprisingly, none of the special guests showed up.
Dec. 20, 1970
A couple of weeks after the New Year’s Eve engagement, an ad appeared in the paper filled with SO MUCH odd stuff in it: after a “world tour” which had him playing at swanky venues in Rome, Paris, London, Athens, Japan, and Bangkok, the next stop by Dr. Dante (“Ph.D.”) was none other than the somewhat less exotic Ramada Inn in the somewhat less exotic Irving, Texas; he billed himself as the “favorite husband” of both Lana Turner and “Brigett” [sic] Bardot (to whom he had never been married); and his eyes and voice were said to have been insured for 10 million dollars. Etc. In general, statements made by Dr. Dante were more likely than not to be absolutely untrue … untrue but usually pretty entertaining.
Jan. 15, 1971
A year later, Lana Turner and Ron Dante were divorced — the judge ruled that Dante had defrauded Turner, dissolved the marriage, and “postponed indefinitely a ruling on community property.” That was soon followed by a string of weirdness including the bizarre case of Dante’s being charged with soliciting an undercover cop to kill a rival stage hypnotist (!), creating a “school” to teach aspiring cosmeticians to administer permanent makeup (via tattoos), suing Johnny Carson for one billion dollars (“billion” with a “b”), and running an extremely lucrative diploma mill. (And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.) There were convictions and there was prison time.
Ron Dante — who is probably 88 years old — is, I believe, still with us. A short documentary about him, “Mr. Hypnotism,” was shown at SXSW in 2009 (watch it here). It’s entertaining, but he really deserves a much longer documentary — and I really hope someone is working on a book. (PLEASE let someone be working on a book!)
In a lengthy Dallas Morning News profile/exposé of Dante (“Dr. Dante’s Traveling Hypnotherapy Show,” Feb. 24, 1985), reporter Glenna Whitley wrote:
Whatever else Dante is, he is likable. Even the most outrageous statements seem strangely plausible when coming from his lips. That may be the secret to his success, says [District Attorney] Gary Kniep, who was alternately amused and exasperated during Dante’s attempted-murder trial.
“Yeah, I kind of like him,” Kniep says. “He’s got some sort of magnetism that gets people into his confidence.” (DMN, Feb. 24, 1985)
I can see that.
Sources & Notes
Screen captures at top and bottom are from the digitized WFAA Channel 8 News film footage from May 21, 1970; the video is from the WFAA Newsfilm Collection, held at the Hamon Arts Library, Southern Methodist University. The direct link to the Ron Dante clip on YouTube is here. Follow the WFAA clips as they are added by SMU digitizers to YouTube here, and on Facebook here. (Thanks for your tireless dedication, Jeremy and Scott!)
Photos of Lana Turner and Ron Dante are from Pinterest and eBay.
The photo of Dante performing in a nightclub was found on a page about Lana Turner on the University of Alabama site, here.
See Wikipedia for more on Dr. Dante and Lana Turner.
I HIGHLY recommend listening to Jennifer Sharpe’s 6-minute 2007 NPR story on Dr. Dante (“Lana Turner’s Ex Maintains Dreams of Grandeur”), here (click the “play” button in the blue circle at the top of the page). The short film “Mr. Hypnotism” was made by her and Austin-based director Bradley Beesley — the full film is here, the trailer is here.
All images are larger when clicked.
Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.