Dale Sheets, a television pioneer and a manager for some of the top names in music, died on Monday in Los Angeles of heart failure at age 91. His death was confirmed by longtime family friend and former business associate Rob Wilcox.
Sheets held many key entertainment industry roles during his 70-year career. An executive with MCA Universal Chairman Lew Wasserman, Sheets became the personal manager of such musical artists as Mel Tormé, Vic Damone, Patti Page, Jack Jones, the Four Freshmen and George Shearing.
Sheets’ first client was Tormé, who he engaged with a handshake on a flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles.
Sheets focused on promoting Tormé’s gifts as a jazz artist, and booked him to perform for jazz venues, including the iconic Newport Jazz Festival and the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl. After “The Velvet Fog” signed a deal with Concord Jazz Records, he made dozens of albums and collaborated with pianist Shearing, winning two Grammys for the musical collaboration. Sheets managed Tormé during the most successful years of his long and storied career until the singer’s death in 1999.
But it was as a chief lieutenant to Wasserman that would be a hallmark of his career. Sheets’ involvement in production in the early days of television led to a life-changing opportunity. In 1954, he found himself working for Wasserman when United Television Programs was bought by MCA.
In his 2017 autobiography Accentuate the Positive, Sheets wrote: “It didn’t take me long at MCA to realize that Lew Wasserman was one of the brightest men to ever work in the world of entertainment. He was a true visionary who knew what he wanted. And when he needed to get something done, he did it exactly the right way.”
In 1955, at age 25, Sheets became the youngest VP in MCA’s history. While at the behemoth agency for the next 15 years, Sheets was the responsible agent for such clients as Bob Newhart, Bob Barker, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Ralph Edwards. He also packaged and sold MCA’s television shows to the networks, hired the producers and writers for the shows and developed MCA’s new television properties.
In 1961, when MCA purchased Universal Studios, Sheets was one of only five MCA executives to follow Wasserman to become part of the new management team.
Fredrick Dale Sheets was born April 26, 1929, in South Los Angeles, the second of two children to Fredrick and Florence Sheets. His father worked as a pure chasing agent for film writer and producer Cecil B. DeMille. But his father died of kidney failure when Sheets was 7. His mother moved the family back to her native Salt Lake City, where she could have the help of her family in raising two young sons.
The family returned when Sheets was 14 and settled in North Hollywood. In 1948, he married singer Anita Gordon, and they had three daughters before their divorce in 1963.
As television began to gain steam in the late 1940s, Sheets wanted to transition from radio to the new medium, though there was great skepticism in the movie and radio industry on whether television would last. Sheets had no such doubts. He contacted a former executive at CBS he had gotten to know who was now working at fledgling Los Angeles station KTTV.
Sheets was immediately hired at the station and began work in the promotion department, as well as handling the ushers and the audience shows in production.
“I remember my excitement on the way home that day,” wrote Sheets. “My starting salary was $37.50 a week at KTTV. But it felt like a king’s ransom because it meant that I was getting into the television industry. I knew I was in on the ground floor of an exciting new business.”
At the age of 21 he was promoted to film director at the station. Successfully doing that job he was offered the position of West Coast Director of Sales. The sale to MCA began a close working relationship with Wasserman that lasted until 1969, when Sheets founded his own company, International Ventures Inc. The company began by producing various television shows and then primarily became an entertainment personal management company.
While still at Universal he met a young actress under contract to the studio named Joan Staley. After dating for a year and a half, they were married in 1967. She had a young daughter from a pervious marriage, and the couple went on to have two daughters and a son. They were married until her death last year.
It all came full circle for Sheets when running his own management company in the 1980s. He was asked by his lifelong friend Bob Bennett to come work for him as an EVP of Metromedia Television, whose flagship station was KTTV.
Sheets continued to run his own company with the help of his wife while he was at Metromedia for two and a half years.
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