Dale Sheets, Lew Wasserman Lieutenant Turned Personal Manager, Dies at 91

Dale Sheets
Courtesy Sheets Family Collection

Dale Sheets

During his 70-year career, he helped guide the careers of Bob Newhart, Bob Barker, Mel Tormé and Vic Damone.

Dale Sheets, the onetime right-hand man for Lew Wasserman at MCA and Universal who went on to serve as the personal manager for such singers as Mel Tormé, Vic Damone and Patti Page, has died. He was 91.

Sheets died Monday in Los Angeles of heart failure, his longtime family friend and former business associate Rob Wilcox announced.

In 1954, Sheets was working at United Television Programs when the company was acquired by MCA, and Wasserman became his boss. A year later, at age 25, he was the youngest vice president in MCA history.

"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," Sheets wrote in his 2017 autobiography, Accentuate the Positive. "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."

Over the next 15 years, Sheets was the agent responsible for such clients as Bob Newhart, Bob Barker, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Ralph Edwards. He also packaged and sold MCA television programs to the networks, hired the producers and writers for the shows and developed new properties.

In 1961, when MCA purchased Universal Studios, Sheets was one of only five MCA executives to follow Wasserman as part of his new management team.

The youngest of two kids, Fredrick Dale Sheets was born in Los Angeles on April 26, 1929. His father, also Fredrick, was a purchasing agent for Cecil B. DeMille. When he was 7, his dad died from alcohol abuse, and his mother, Florence, raised her sons in her native Salt Lake City.

Back in Southern California, Sheets worked as manager of the Earl Carroll Theatre in Hollywood, where live musicals and radio shows were produced, then was hired at fledgling TV station KTTV to work in its promotion department.

"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," he wrote in his book.

His relationship with Wasserman continued until 1969, when Sheets launched International Ventures Inc., a personal management company and TV production house. Concurrently, he spent 2 1/2 years in the '80s as an executive vice president at Metromedia Television, whose flagship station was KTTV.

Sheets' first client was Tormé. With the singer's career waning, he promoted Tormé's skills as a jazz stylist and booked him at the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl and at the Newport Jazz Festival. He also got Tormé a deal with Concord Records, where the rejuvenated singer made dozens of albums and collaborated with pianist George Shearing en route to winning two Grammy Awards.

He was married to singer Anita Gordon from 1948 until their 1963 divorce and to actress Joan Staley (Roustabout, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken) from 1967 until her death in November 2019.

He and Staley ran International Ventures, which repped other musical acts including The Four Freshmen and Jack Jones, until 2018.

Survivors include his children, Linda, Patti, Vickie, Sherrye, Stephanie, Greg and Dina; nine grandchildren; and 25 great-grandchildren. In light of the COVID-19 crisis, a celebration of life is planned for this spring.