A Man of Contradictions : Producer-Director Plays an Ambiguous Role in a Web of Bizarre Circumstances
He claims to be descended from the English-speaking world’s oldest theatrical family, whose members appeared in the Globe Theatre when Shakespeare was alive.
He claims to have been the “golden voice” of Havana radio until he fled the Cuban revolution with actor George Raft.
He claims that as a child radio star he was invited by President Harry S. Truman to attend the 1949 inauguration.
He says he once was secretly married to film actress June Allyson; her manager denies it.
He says he earned a doctorate from Caltech in environmental science, although the university has no record of him.
He is Dirk Summers, a producer and director, and in Hollywood, where the realms of reality and fantasy are never far apart, he is a mysterious figure whose life has straddled both worlds.
Summers is a man of contradictions.
At the same time that he was being used as a key government witness in a multimillion-dollar federal stock fraud case, a prosecutor in Las Vegas was portraying him in court as a “blue-eyed” con artist with a “little-boy face.”
Some whose lives have been affected by him--comedian Jonathan Winters, entertainer Liberace and financier William Belzberg--are still shaking their heads in bafflement.
In the case of Liberace, Summers seemingly came out of nowhere to befriend the entertainer in the midst of a palimony suit filed by Liberace’s one-time housemate. In the end, Summers wound up being charged with forging Liberace’s signature.
In Winters’ case, it was a variety show featuring the comedian at Las Vegas’ Sands Hotel that brought the two men together. The show, produced and directed by Summers, was supposed to run for three weeks but was aborted after six days following a series of bizarre snafus.
In the last year, Summers lost a $30,000 default judgment to the city of Pomona for reneging on a promotional film he was paid to produce; he was charged in Las Vegas with practicing medicine without a license, and he became the subject of a wide-ranging investigation by the Los Angeles County prosecutor’s office, according to Deputy Dist. Atty. Ed Consiglio.
One probe centers on the alleged kidnaping and attempted robbery of a car salesman who said that Summers and two other men pulled guns on him, according to police reports. They allegedly drove the salesman to a car dealership one night in April, 1983, and tried to force him to transfer to Summers the title to a Rolls-Royce. Summers has denied the claim.
The case was shelved when the salesman left the country, but authorities said recently that they have reactivated it. Consiglio said Summers is also being investigated for grand theft in connection with allegations that he failed to pay rent on two homes.
Another case, Consiglio said, involves suspected insurance fraud stemming from two arson fires that destroyed Summers’ Sherman Oaks home in 1980.
In depositions taken by insurance company lawyers, Summers claimed that the FBI set fire to his house to shut him up because he had “solved” the D. B. Cooper skyjacking case, in which a mystery man extorted $200,000 and parachuted from a jetliner into the Northwest woods.
Summers says that while conducting research for a documentary film, he learned that Cooper was linked to late FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
What is even more incredible is that Summers, according to authorities, is not the man he says he is.
“We know the guy to be Ronald W. Kelly, born in Chicago, Ill., in 1931,” said George McCauley, a State Department special agent in Los Angeles, who says he is investigating Summers in connection with possible passport fraud.
McCauley said Summers’ fingerprints match Kelly’s.
“I showed him his fingerprints under the name Kelly, and he said, ‘It’s not me.’ I said, ‘If that’s true, you’re going to free every criminal ever convicted on fingerprints.’ ”
California Justice Department records indicate that Kelly applied for a government job in 1952 and that the same man was arrested in Los Angeles in 1953 under the name Ronald Wayne von Werbe on suspicion of forgery. He received probation.
In 1969, the same records show, the man--only now known as Dirk W. Summers--was arrested in Los Angeles on suspicion of grand theft and forgery, but the charges were reduced to a misdemeanor and again he received probation.
“Dirk Summers is not the name given to him at the time of his birth,” prosecutor Consiglio said. “He has gone by a number of aliases.”
Summers, in an interview with The Times, denied ever using the names Ronald Kelly or Ronald Wayne von Werbe.
“I’m not (Ronald Kelly),” he told The Times. “I’m Dirk Wayne Summers.”
“I have never gone under the name Von Werbe,” Summers said. “He is an Austrian. He is an old accountant that my grandmother used 40 years ago. The man’s been dead 25 or 30 years. . . . They (U.S. State Department) keep asking me who Von Werbe is. He’s been dead for a long time.”
Despite the denial, Summers’ telephone exchange one day called a Times reporter to say Summers would be late for an interview, and the operator began the conversation: “This is the exchange for Dr. Werbe.”
Summers claimed in a sworn deposition that he was married to June Allyson.
No ‘Formalized Wedding’
“We never had a formalized wedding,” he told The Times. “We lived together. We were together for four years. I’ve never gone public with that. . . . We had a wonderful relationship. We’re still very close friends.”
Allyson could not be reached for comment, but her manager, Jerry Cohen, said: “They were never married. She loaned him a credit card. That was it. He went to Europe and spent $3,000, and she got the bill.” Summers had befriended Allyson after the death of her husband, actor Dick Powell.
He also claimed that he was a radio personality in Havana before Fidel Castro took over and that he lived next door to George Raft in a four-story mansion with a “huge, alabaster marble stairwell.”
“I had three live-in servants,” he said. “I was the hottest thing in Havana. The world was my oyster. I met Castro several times. Che Guevara came by my show.”
Then the revolution struck and, Summers said, he was forced to flee.
Summers said he and Raft “fought our way down to the docks” and hired a boat for $600 to flee to West Palm Beach, Fla.
A nonconformist, Summers writes only in green ink, drinks nothing alcoholic but light beer over ice and travels with a 135-pound golden retriever named Ruby.
Asked why he writes in green ink, he replied with a laugh: “It reminds me of money. . . . I’m eccentric. You see, a long time ago I decided I was going to live with the most absurd, eccentric person I know. So I did. I chose me!”
Liberace Palimony Case
In 1982, Summers surfaced in the Liberace palimony case after reading a first-person story in the National Enquirer by Scott Thorson, who claimed that he had been Liberace’s lover and caretaker.
Two weeks earlier, Thorson had filed suit against Liberace, claiming the pianist had reneged on a promise to support him for life.
Summers said he became so outraged by the “scurrilous attack” on Liberace that he wrote the Enquirer a letter and sent a copy of the letter to Seymour Heller, Liberace’s personal manager.
In the letter, Summers wrote that he was once preparing a film documentary on prostitution entitled “The World’s Oldest Profession” and recalled a youth, who might be Thorson, seeking a part in the film. Thorson denied seeking a role in the film project.
Summers then offered to act as a go-between to settle the suit, subsequently meeting with Thorson and his lawyer. Nothing came of his efforts.
Summers said Liberace and his manager appreciated the help he tried to give them.
“Seymour said, ‘Dirk, what can Lee (Liberace) do to show his appreciation?’ ” Summers recalled. “I said, ‘Seymour, I don’t want a thing (but) if Lee wants to do something for charity . . . that’s fine.’ And that’s when the celebrity golf tournament came up.”
Celebrity Golf Tournament
Summers said he proposed putting on a celebrity golf tournament at the Tropicana Hotel using Liberace’s name to raise money for charity. Liberace and Heller denied under oath that they ever discussed or approved such a tournament.
“Liberace didn’t know him,” Clark County (Las Vegas) Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Amador said. “He (Summers) just used his name.
“He had probably a list of 35 to 50 names of top Hollywood stars who were going to come out. Bob Hope was going to help emcee it. Just outrageous stories. The hook was, he (Summers) was going to film it, being a famous Hollywood producer, and sell it to CBS for a couple million, maybe $5 million.”
The tournament never took place, and Summers is awaiting trial on a charge of forgery.
The marquee outside the Sands Hotel read: “Dirk Summers Presents the Wonderful World of Jonathan Winters.”
The show, which ended Sept. 2 after only six days, was conceived and produced by Summers and Maurice Rind, a financial consultant from Sherman Oaks. The two men had met when Summers rented a house through Rind for $3,000 a month.
With Summers’ connections in Hollywood, Rind said he thought they could reap big profits by staging a Las Vegas show, videotaping it and then selling the video to cable television. It was on that basis that they attracted the talents of Winters, Rose Marie, Scatman Crothers, Dick Schaal and other comedians.
It was a production no one would soon forget.
Events Called ‘Bizarre’
Winters’ wife, Eileen, described events surrounding the show as “bizarre” and said her husband got involved with Summers only because he had a contract with the Sands Hotel.
“He just came to us out of the blue sky,” she recalled. “We thought, ‘You don’t open at the Sands without knowing everything is all right.’ ”
Of Summers, she said: “I thought he was a nut. He arrived in a big, long limousine, and it had DIRK on the plates. It had a chauffeur and a sheet or a blanket on the seat where Dirk’s dog sat. . . . (Dirk) had bleached blond hair, and he was wearing Man Tan. I couldn’t keep a straight face.”
“Summers didn’t know what he was doing,” Rind said. “He had Rose Marie coming on and doing 25 minutes, and this was supposed to be the Jonathan Winters show!”
A feud soon erupted between the producers when Rind became upset with cost overruns and demanded an accounting from Summers.
Then during one performance, as Summers cued the lights, Las Vegas Metro Police arrived and led him out of the director’s booth in handcuffs on a $1-million bench warrant charging him with forging Liberace’s name.
Restaging the Show
Rind, who said he kept his role in the production a secret from the cast because he had previously served time in federal prison for securities fraud, stepped forward and told the surprised cast that he was the producer and that he was restaging the show.
Rind said the show, as Summers conceived it, was ridiculous because the cast was doing improvisational comedy wearing tuxedos and ball gowns. Rind ordered everyone to change into ordinary “rehearsal hall” clothing.
Summers became incensed when Rind took over the show. He said Rind was “just running around with a bunch of thugs. . . . It was like a bad Warner Bros. movie, 1935.”
The police returned to the Sands once more, and this time they grabbed Rind, mistakenly thinking that he was an organized crime figure, Rind said.
“These three big detectives flashed their badges, and they put me against a wall and searched me,” Rind said. “The first thing they asked me is, ‘Are you a felon?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ Then they asked, ‘Have you registered?’ I said, ‘No.’
‘Threatened His Life’
“They told me Dirk Summers said I extorted him, took over his show, took his money and threatened his life.”
Rind said Summers told police that Rind was an organized crime leader from California.
Summers denied this, but added: “Had I been clever enough to think of it, I would have.”
While Rind was being questioned by police, he said, a Sands official ran up to him and told him that Summers was at the cashier’s cage trying to remove $50,000 that had been deposited to produce the show.
“I went to see if it was there,” Summers explained later. “First, I wouldn’t be stealing my own company’s money. Second, I never even tried to take it. I just wanted confirmation that it was in the cage.”
Events took an even stranger twist when actor Schaal’s 14-year-old daughter, Danielle, came down with stomach flu. Remembering that Summers had previously represented himself to be a medical doctor and had administered Vitamin B-12 to guests at two dinner parties in Beverly Hills, the Schaals asked Summers for some medication for their daughter, they said.
“He was carrying a black bag around, and when they (the Schaals) couldn’t get a local doctor, they called him up,” said Las Vegas prosecutor Amador. “He said, ‘Don’t worry, I got something for her’ and gave them a couple different types of tablets.”
The Schaals said the girl slept for 24 hours after taking the pills.
That episode led to Summers being charged in Las Vegas with practicing medicine without a license. His trial is to begin soon.
‘Girl Had Hay Fever’
“My name is out on the sign (the Sands marquee) as a producer, and she thinks I’m a doctor?” Summers asked. “The girl had hay fever, and Tascha Schaal asked me if I would please give her something. I gave her an Allerest and a Sinutab. . . . Isn’t that a heavy-duty case?”
When the show ended, Rind and his wife returned to Los Angeles, where the stretch limousine they purchased for the production was stolen and is still missing.
Summers returned to Los Angeles furious with Rind.
He knew that Rind had often spoken of being friends with financier William Belzberg, chairman of Far West Financial Corp., and that Rind had been a stockholder in First City Properties Inc., a Beverly Hills-based real estate development firm controlled by the Belzberg family.
First City Properties was part of an investor group led by Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens that made a celebrated, but unsuccessful, attempt in 1983 to take over Gulf Oil Corp.
Identifying himself as “Dr. Dirk Summers,” Summers telephoned Belzberg’s office and said he had information about some allegedly illegal stock trading by Rind, according to Frank Wheat, an attorney with the Los Angeles law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which represents First City Properties.
Summers met Belzberg in the financier’s office on Sept. 12 and told him Rind had served time in federal prison for stock fraud and was manipulating the price of First City Properties stock through brokerage and bank accounts in Texas, Wheat said.
Wheat said Summers also recounted for Belzberg the bizarre incidents surrounding the Jonathan Winters show and mentioned in passing that his ancestors had been actors since the 16th Century.
Called a ‘Wild Man’
After Summers left, Wheat said, Belzberg asked his lawyers who this “wild man” was and wanted Rind checked out as well.
Summers then went to the Security Exchanges Commission with his information and became a government witness.
On Feb. 11, the SEC filed a complaint in New York City accusing Rind and four other men of ordering $10 million in stock without paying for it, an illegal practice called “free-riding.”
Free-riding works like this: The perpetrator orders a significant quantity of a particular stock through a broker, who immediately buys it. When the client fails to come up with the money, the broker is forced to dump the stock on the market, causing the price to drop. Anticipating this, insiders can buy in at a lower price and ride the stock back up.
As a result of the SEC complaint, Rind and the other defendants signed consent decrees promising not to engage in such practices but not admitting or denying the allegations in the complaint.
Neither Belzberg nor First City Properties, which is traded on the New York Stock Exchange, was accused by the SEC of wrongdoing.
The inquiry, however, caused the company’s stock to drop, and its reputation on Wall Street suffered as a result.
Rind described himself as a friend of Belzberg and said the two had played racquetball and discussed various business deals.
‘No Inside Knowledge’
“We used to rap on the market in general, and he’d ask what stocks I liked,” Rind said. “I had no inside knowledge of FCP (First City Properties) at all. I’ve spoken to Mr. Belzberg, but we spoke about general concepts, you understand?”
Belzberg would not comment directly on the SEC investigation, but Wheat said, “A lot of people buy stocks in which they (the Belzbergs) have a controlling interest because they think the Belzbergs are movers and shakers.”
Summers said Rind often ordered First City Properties stock over the phone in Summers’ name in his presence.
“He would make 75 phone calls (a day),” Summers said. “He told me, ‘I control the stock. I make it go up, and I make it go down.’ I’ll give him this. (He) would tell me on Friday of one week what it would close at on Friday the next week. And he was right. He could take that stock and drive it up two or three points, or down at his whim.”
Rind denied Summers’ allegation but admitted that he put up the money for the stock orders in Summers’ name.
“Dirk Summers made all the calls,” Rind said. “He knew exactly what was going on. I can’t call up and do anything in his name unless I have a power of attorney.”
Financial Problems Cited
Rind said Summers was having financial problems before their Las Vegas venture.
“I asked Dirk how much money he needed to clean himself up, and he told me about $20,000,” Rind said. “I explained to Dirk that with his financial problems he could not function properly and that I would try and help him earn the money. Summers was elated and told me that this would enable him to devote all of his time to the (Las Vegas show).”
Summers said First City stock had been purchased--without his knowledge--through an account that had been established in his name in Cleburne, Tex., a tiny railroad town 50 miles southwest of Dallas.
Summers said he opened an account with $100 at the First State Bank of Cleburne, and the next day $681,000 went in and later out of the account, without his knowledge, to purchase First City Properties stock.
Bound Volumes on Summers
Rind became so enraged at Summers’ allegations of stock fraud that he and his wife, Arlene, have spent months investigating him. They have compiled a series of bound volumes on Summers’ activities, which they have shown to the news media and law enforcement agencies, trying to put Summers behind bars.
“He (Summers) called the organized crime squad and made up clandestine meetings with myself and the Mafia,” Rind complained. “He ran to the FBI and told them Belzberg and I were washing money for the syndicate. It’s a joke.”
Rind, who admitted knowing organized crime figures but denied being one, said of Summers: “He hurt me tremendously. He hurt me with Belzberg. I’m now an embarrassment to Belzberg.”
“It’s killing him that I’m a witness against him,” Summers said. “The FBI told me that when they mention my name, he goes into a rage.”