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A Hollywood love story

Local couple and business owners recount the love story of their lives

Posted: March 10, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 10, 2014 2:00 a.m.

Joan and Dale Sheets, along with their rescue dog Itty Bits, pose in their Valencia office with Hollywood memorabilia collected over many years in the industry. Top right is a photo of long-time client Mel Torme and a rug that was a given to them as a gift from pianist Roger Williams. Signal photo by Dan Watson.

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Joan Staley was an actress. Dale Sheets was a Hollywood executive. 

The moment they first locked eyes was a long time coming.

Black ties and bouffants buzzed around the office of a Universal Studios building, which stood on 420 acres in the center of 1960s Tinseltown.

Joan’s picture hung on the wall, framed by portraits of Doris Day, Gregory Peck and other faces that still grace black-and-white scenes today.

On a lunch break from the backlot, Joan pointed her finger to an executive’s booth across the room.

“Who’s that?” she asked casually of a friend.

Dale looked up and smiled. Joan blushed, casting her eyes away. When she looked up again, he was gone.
“I was hooked,” she said, pursing her lips into a smile.

Unbeknownst to Joan, Dale had been staring at her picture for weeks, wondering what it would be like to know her.

“I thought she was very pretty,” he said.

But they were from different circles.

“We called them ‘the suits,’” Joan said of the Universal executives who worked in the office. “They were known for not understanding the art.”

But Dale and Joan had shared a fleeting moment that altered the course of lives.

“It was fascinating when it was all sparkling, shining new,” Joan said of Hollywood around the ‘50s.

Dale’s story

Dale has been working since he could find a job, securing his first big gig with CBS radio as an usher at age 15.
An already-seasoned working lad, Dale was enamored by the glitz of Golden Age Hollywood.

“I would sit in the parking lot to watch the cars, to see who got in what car,” he said. “I would see who was making the most money and think, ‘What does he do?”

It was the late ‘40s, and TV hadn’t yet emerged as a driving force, he said.

“They told me, ‘Don’t be silly — don’t get out of radio. TV is never gonna last,’” he said with the same wise smile he most likely practiced on the naysayers of 70 years ago.

Dale went to work for KTTV as the man in charge of purchasing TV and film content for the channel.

“But I wanted to be the seller, not the buyer,” he said.

So he worked his way up to assistant national sales manager for United Television, traveling the country for six weeks at a time and selling syndicated material. Eventually, the company was bought by Music Corporation of America, or MCA, an American media company — and at the time the dominating force in the film and TV business.

During the buyout, Dale was promoted to an agent. Before he knew it, at age 26, he had scaled the ladder again, becoming a vice president of the firm.

At one point, Dale oversaw 25 half-hour shows with clients including Tennessee Ernie Ford and Bob Barker.
But Dale wasn’t done.

Lewis Robert “Lew” Wasserman merged MCA and Universal Studios in 1962, forming a media giant that rocked Hollywood and acquired the beautiful, big-name talent of the day.

For a time, Wasserman took hold of Hollywood, influencing the way the film industry operated. And Dale worked alongside him and other executives, wearing formal black suits and bow ties to work every day.

“We were supposed to stay behind the scenes of the talent,” he said.

Joan’s story

Since her first day in this world, Joan soaked up a life of travel, spotlight and achievement.

Her father’s military career led them all over the world, and her mother’s background as a musician lived on in Joan’s young career as a professional violinist.

“I was dipped into both oceans before I was 6 years old,” she said. “Then (at age 6), I came to make a debut at the Hollywood Bowl. I remember the lights sweeping back and forth, and they fell on me.”

Joan’s mother saw no point in acting, but a man and a dream called Joan to many small stages in the big city by the time she was 17. With her first husband, Charles Staley, Joan started off in Memphis.

“That is when I first met Elvis (Presley),” she said. “I sang ‘Love Me Tender’ to him on the dance floor.”

Just like a classic Hollywood storyline, the Staleys’ quest for fame eventually carried them to Los Angeles.

“We had a Murphy bed, a hot plate and a bathroom,” she said, laughing.

While working as a secretary, Joan secured early roles in “The Robe” and “Brigadoon” as Fiona. Steadily collecting more credits, she eventually came upon an opportunity that gave her pause. 

“I was scared to death,” she said, throwing her hands in the air.

Joan was approached to pose for a Playboy centerfold in 1958. With an impending rent payment in mind, she accepted.

Now she speaks of the photos with seeming amusement.

“My mom wasn’t thrilled,” she said.

While she suspects the shoot affected her ability to procure roles to some degree, Joan “made the rounds,” auditioning and accepting parts with Universal.

She benefitted from an “old-style studio,” in which the talent learned from a series of coaches in singing, drama, elocution, publicity and more, she said.

Joan appeared in “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” “77 Sunset Strip,” “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” and “Roustabout” with Presley. She also co-starred alongside Vic Damone in “The Lively Ones.”

By age 26, Joan had completed 30 motion pictures, 350 TV shows and a Playboy centerfold.

And then she met Dale.

Hollywood love story

Joan and Dale had their first shot during a company Christmas party — one that executives didn’t normally attend, Dale said.

“He asked me to dinner after the party, and we talked until we closed the place,” Joan said. “I fell in love with him that night.”

Today, the Sheets have been married for 46 years. Both with ex-spouses and children, their blended family has never felt less than perfect, they say. 

And they’ve carried their Hollywood love story into a Santa Clarita sequel.

About 44 years ago, the couple started a business with the wisdom they’d acquired from mentors like Wasserman. Still at the helm of International Ventures Inc., the Sheets have represent musicians and artists from their office in Valencia, including Mel Tormé, Vic Damone and Bob Eubanks.

In his office, Dale leans back in the swivel chair behind his wooden desk and glances at a black-and-white movie still of his wife in her youth, framed on the wall.

“We have lots of pictures, lots of memories,” Joan says, sighing.

“I feel like I’ve lived three or four lives,” Dale says with a satisfied smile.

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