Michael Dante could probably still play Maab. The veteran actor turned 82 in September, but in person he remains tall, fit, handsome and full of energy. StarTrek.com caught up with Dante a few months ago in Las Vegas, as he interacted with fans at Creation Entertainment’s Official Star Trek Convention. Over the course of the weekend, people stopped by his table in the dealer’s room to reminisce, pose for a photo with him and/or snag an autograph. During a quiet moment, we chatted with Dante about his memorable appearance as Maab in the TOS episode “Friday’s Child,” his career – which also included roles in Somebody Up There Likes Me, Raintree Forest (with DeForest Kelley), Seven Thieves (with Joan Collins) and Kid Galahad (with Elvis Presley), as well as Bonanza, Get Smart and The Fall Guy -- and about his life today. Here’s what he had to say.
How did you land your role as Maab on Star Trek?
DANTE: It was the easiest role I ever got. I walked in directly to Mr. Roddenberry’s office. He’d sent for me. I didn’t go through the casting agent or director or read or anything. I came in and Mr. Roddenberry said, “Michael, I love your work. I saw you on a show a couple of nights ago and I’d like you do this episode, ‘Friday’s Child,’ with Julie Newmar. They’re very tall people, handsome, intelligent and so forth. There are Klingons and Capellans, and there’s conflict between them.” He said, “Read it. See what you think of it. If you like it, you’ve got it. You don’t have to read for me whatsoever.”
What was the meat on the bone for you as an actor playing Maab?
DANTE: Maab was a very special character. Obviously, he had leadership qualities and, in the end, he sacrifices his life for his people. Now, where in our leadership today, in our own country, will you find strong leadership like that? We don’t have strong leadership, I’m sorry to say. A lot of leaders throughout the world are far too violent and their philosophies are closed-minded. Maab had great leadership qualities and he knew it. They were intellectuals. They were handsome people and tall in stature. They had that going for them. I shared my scenes with the beautiful and talented Julie Newmar, so it was easy to think of that nation and people before myself. I played it so that Maab would do anything for the survival of his people and, when he does sacrifice himself, he’s doing it to propagate his people from that day forward.
All these years later, what stands out most about the shoot?
DANTE: The weather. It was 117 degrees at Vasquez Rocks, where we were filming. The outfits we had, they couldn’t breathe. There weren’t any openings in the clothing. They were all tight, with boots. I was 180 pounds at that time – and I’m still 180 pounds, which I’m very proud of – but I lost seven pounds in one day. I literally lost muscle. I looked at myself in the mirror when I got home and I said, “I can’t believe what happened.” It was just so hot. The water was oozing out of us. Every time I’d take a step in my boots, there’d be a swooshing sound, and that was perspiration that went down to my boots.
How do you feel the episode holds up?
DANTE: I saw it about a year ago, and I think it holds up very well. I’m proud of it and proud of the work. The choices that I made as an actor, I still appreciate them. We had a great cast, great locations and a good director, Joe Pevney. The costumes were memorable. And I loved the weapons. I used a kligat, and I still have that kligat. I was gifted with it and I still have it.
Your episode of Star Trek was really just one job along the way for you. How fascinating has it been to watch Star Trek evolve into a phenomenon and to have it become something of annuity for you in the process?
DANTE: Mr. Roddenberry told me when I did the show, “Michael, you’ve done a lot of westerns. This is just a western in the sky.” It’s become something special, and I’m shocked by the billions of dollars that it’s accumulated in merchandising and movies and everything else that you could think of that has the Star Trek label on it. It was new and fresh at the time. You can imagine how the audience reacted to it. It helped carry their escape and fantasy into the space world. It was like jazz music. You appreciate the music, but it’s also a journey into the unknown because you don’t know exactly where it’s going to take you. We know a heck of a lot more about space today than we did then, but a lot of it is still science fiction, and the stories, the relationships, all of it still holds up so well. The show was way ahead of its time.
And for me, I never thought I’d still be asked about Star Trek or be asked to sign photos and pose for pictures. But here we are. It’s something that continues to perpetuate because – and I’m sure I’m right about this – there are more fans now than there were before. Part of that goes back to what I was just saying about the show being ahead of its time. A lot of the realities we’re looking at today were just fantasy and the work of imaginative writers.
What’s life like for you these days? What are you working on?
DANTE: Well, I just finished a film called Unbelievable!!!!! I really had a lot of fun. We had an interesting cast with a lot of Star Trek people. It’s an ensemble piece. My scenes involved about eight of us who were involved with The Original Series. It’s a science-fiction spoof. We play actors who are over 70 and looking for work. We’re basically playing ourselves, and it was like old home week because we all know each other, which made it easier to improvise and to work together. I think they’re looking at a 2014 release.
You also had a popular radio show…
DANTE: I did, yes. I did that for 12 years, 300 shows. It was me talking to some top stars in the motion picture and sports worlds. These interviews are an hour long each, and about 40 of them were with Hall of Famers from Major League Baseball, the NFL, the tennis world. Unfortunately, out of the 300 guests, about 70 of them are deceased now. It makes the interviews that much more valuable to have, and I can’t tell you how much I valued the friendships with these people. I didn’t need to work through an agent or press person. I just called these people at home. The 12 years went very fast.
You still do a handful of conventions each year. What do you take away from events like this?
DANTE: They’re special people, the fans. Trekkies are the most precious fans in the whole world. They are so cooperative and polite and patient. They save up their money and come to these events. For many of them, it’s their vacation. I sit and talk to them and I ask about their experiences, for their stories. They come from all over the world to be here, in Las Vegas or wherever one of these conventions is happening. They all say the same thing: “We save up all year to come to the conventions, and we love every minute of it.”
We know you’re working on a memoir. Tell us a little about it?
DANTE: It should be coming out soon, probably in October or November. It’s called From Hollywood To Michael Dante Way. Michael Dante Way is the name of the street they named after me (in 2011) in my hometown of Stamford, Connecticut, which is just 50 minutes from Times Square in New York City. It’ll be published by Bear Manor. I have a wonderful editor, Marshall Terrill, who wrote and edited Steve McQueen’s two books. He’s done a great job. I’m very happy and proud of it. So it’s done and it’s all about my journey in this life and in this business (first as a baseball player and then as an actor), and now my story will be out there for posterity.
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