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Joan Staley, who starred opposite Don Knotts in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken and appeared on such TV series as 77 Sunset Strip, The Dick Van Dyke Show and a McHale’s Navy spinoff, has died. She was 79.
Staley died Sunday of heart failure at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital in Valencia, California, her family announced.
In Roustabout (1964), Staley played Marge, the jilted girlfriend of carnival singer Charlie Rogers (Elvis Presley), and she gets to slap him across the face in the film.
“I asked him if he wanted me to pull up,” she recalled in Tom Lisanti’s 2001 book, Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema. “He said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Are you sure? I could leave a welt.’ He replied, ‘That’s OK.’ So I belted him. That slap you hear in the film was not put in afterward — that was the slap.”
Staley also had memorable scenes as a waitress with Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear (1962) and as a stewardess with Paul Newman in A New Kind of Love (1963).
Staley donned a brunette wig she said was left around from a Claudia Cardinale movie to star as damsel in distress and Knotts’ love interest Alma Parker in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966), a spoof of haunted house movies that became a huge box office hit for Universal.
Also in 1966, she played a kidnapped saloon singer who is rescued by Audie Murphy in Gunpoint and Shame’s (Cliff Robertson) villainous sidekick Okie Annie on Batman. However, Staley broke her back in a horseback riding accident that year, curtailing her career.
A daughter of missionaries, Joan Lynette McConchie was born on May 20, 1940, in Minneapolis. She studied the violin as a child in Los Angeles and played the instrument with the Junior Symphony at the Hollywood Bowl and on a fire truck in Billy Wilder’s The Emperor Waltz (1948), starring Bing Crosby and Joan Fontaine.
A self-described “Army brat” — her father was a chaplain in the Armed Services — she and her family moved all around the world when she was growing up, eventually ending up in Paris for her senior year of high school.
She moved to Memphis after marrying TV director Charles Staley at age 16 and performed as a backup singer for Sun Records, then returned to L.A. to perform in plays at the Music Box Theatre in Hollywood. In 1958, she appeared on an episode of Perry Mason and was Playboy‘s Playmate of the Month for November.
Staley was seen in the opening credits as a woman in an answering service ad in Vincent Minnelli’s Bells Are Ringing (1960) and then signed a contract with MGM. She also was one of the beauties in Jerry Lewis’ The Ladies Man and starred in Valley of the Dragons, both released in 1961.
On the 1961 Dick Van Dyke Show episode “Jealousy!,” Staley portrayed a movie star whom Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) is convinced is having an affair with her husband. And on the final season (1963-64) of 77 Sunset Strip, she recurred as Hannah, the secretary to Stuart Bailey (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.).
“I’ve made a career of playing an undulating blonde in tight dresses,” she said in a 1964 interview. “It isn’t that I wanted that brassy sexpot image, but that’s the image producers feel you project when you’re, well, blonde and shapely.”
Staley played Roberta “Honey-Hips” Love, a machinist’s mate and ex-stripper who had joined the U.S. Navy during World War II, on the McHale’s Navy spinoff Broadside. It was canceled after the 1964-65 season.
She also starred with singer Vic Damone on a 1962 summer replacement series, The Lively Ones, and appeared on other programs including Hawaiian Eye, The Untouchables, The Tab Hunter Show, The Lawless Years, The Ozzie and Harriet Show, Mission: Impossible and Adam-12.
Staley married her second husband, MCA executive Dale Sheets, in 1967, and they ran the talent agency International Ventures Inc. — representing such clients as Tennessee Ernie Ford, Bob Barker and Mel Tormé — until last year, when daughter Dina Sheets-Roth took over the day-to-day business.
In addition to her husband and Dina, survivors include children Linda, Victoria, Patricia, Sherrye, Stephanie and Greg, 10 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren. A memorial service is pending.
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