Lana Turner's Ex Maintains Dreams of Grandeur

Ronald Dante i i

In a purple silk scarf, gold whistle medallion, and blue rubber clogs, the self-proclaimed "doctor" looks more like a deposed rock star than a former stage hypnotist. Jennifer Sharpe hide caption

itoggle caption Jennifer Sharpe
Ronald Dante

In a purple silk scarf, gold whistle medallion, and blue rubber clogs, the self-proclaimed "doctor" looks more like a deposed rock star than a former stage hypnotist.

Jennifer Sharpe
Ronald Dante press clipping i i

"Mr. Hypnotism" appears in an article featured in his 1960s press kit. Courtesy of Jennifer Sharpe hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Jennifer Sharpe
Ronald Dante press clipping

"Mr. Hypnotism" appears in an article featured in his 1960s press kit.

Courtesy of Jennifer Sharpe
Ronald Dante with Woody Herman and Mel Torme i i

Dante poses with Woody Herman (center) and Mel Torme (right) in an item from his press kit. Courtesy of Jennifer Sharpe hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Jennifer Sharpe
Ronald Dante with Woody Herman and Mel Torme

Dante poses with Woody Herman (center) and Mel Torme (right) in an item from his press kit.

Courtesy of Jennifer Sharpe

Photo after photo in his 1960s press kit shows Ronald Dante next to a wide variety of celebrities: Louis Armstrong, Liberace, Benny Goodman. In each pose, the Sunset Strip hypnotist looks a little more confident than his famous counterparts, with his dreamy eyes and luminescent bulb of white hair.

"Roy Rogers would never look at me," says Dante, who now lives in a rural trailer park outside San Diego. "He thought I'd hypnotize him."

A headline on the cover of Dante's old press kit announces that he was Lana Turner's seventh husband. But it wouldn't be until years later that his name would come up again, in a different kind of headline.

In 2004, at the age of 73, Dante was sentenced to eight months in prison for having run Columbia State University, a notorious mail-order school that — for roughly $3,000 — offered 27-day Ph.D. degrees granted for "life experience," and not much book learning.

Years earlier, Dante had opened a permanent cosmetics school called the Perma-Derm Academy, which taught students the art of tattooed-on makeup. Dante, however, had only completed one hour of training himself.

Convicted on 10 counts of criminal contempt in the Perma-Derm case, Dante skipped out on his trial and fled to Mexico. There, he launched Columbia State from his 80-foot yacht. According to the grand jury on that case, the scheme netted Dante more than $10 million.

Now out of prison and scraping by on $600 a month, one of Dante's latest enterprises is an instructional DVD on how to make scented paper flowers. Recently, he has saved up just enough to take out an ad in a magic magazine for a seminar that would reveal how magicians are making (he claims) $10,000 a show.

"I'll charge $1,500 for a two-day seminar, Dante says. "This should get me right back up to snuff again."

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