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Obituaries

John L. 'Jack' Dales, 95; As SAG Executive Secretary Championed Actors' Residuals

January 18, 2003|Claudia Luther | Times Staff Writer

John L. "Jack" Dales, who as executive secretary for the Screen Actors Guild pioneered the effort to get residuals for actors, died of a cerebral hemorrhage Thursday at the Motion Picture & Television Hospital in Woodland Hills. He was 95.

Dales, who retired in 1973 after 34 years with SAG, was also a 22-year member of the Motion Picture & Television Fund board, serving as president from 1980 to 1988.

"All actors owe him an enormous debt of gratitude for his championing the creation and implementation of our television, theatrical and commercial residuals," SAG President Melissa Gilbert said Friday.

Dales, who was born in Santa Monica on Feb. 24, 1907, and graduated from Stanford University Law School in 1932, joined SAG as an attorney in 1937.

In 1943, actor James Cagney, who was then SAG president, chose Dales as the guild's executive secretary -- the equivalent of executive director. Dales initially balked at the idea, thinking that the job was too big for one person.

"We need one man, and it's gonna be you," Cagney insisted. Dales took the job.

Bob Pisano, SAG's chief executive and national executive director, said Friday that Dales "led the Screen Actors Guild with strength, compassion and diplomacy through both good and difficult times and laid the foundations for many of the collective bargaining rights which all of our members enjoy to this day."

Among other things, according to SAG, Dales saw the guild through its first three strikes, the fall of the studio system, the rise of television and commercials, creation of residuals, the establishment of the first pension and health plan, the blacklist years and the push to bring greater diversity into casting.

The crucial issue of whether actors should be paid something extra when movies in which they appeared were shown on television first came up in 1948 and was the subject (along with pay rates) of three strikes.

"The principle of the residual came out of a historic situation that existed in radio," Dales told the Associated Press in 1973. "In the old days, the national programs were performed once for the East Coast and then were repeated three hours later for the West Coast.

"When audiotape was developed, the West Coast repeat was eliminated; the networks merely replayed the tape."

This did not make actors happy, as their salaries were cut in half. The radio actors union eventually worked out a formula to get actors payment for the repeat performance -- thus establishing the principle of residuals.

"Our biggest battle was in convincing the old-line movie producers that actors should receive residuals for feature films [shown] on TV," Dales said.

"They felt it was 'unnatural' for people to get paid again for work they had already been paid for."

The current system for theatrical films sold to television was largely established in the third strike in 1960, when Ronald Reagan was SAG president.

"We didn't get the residuals pushed back to 1948" -- as actors wanted -- "but they did start in 1960," Dales said. "We also got a pension-welfare plan so well-funded that it was able to start paying pensions the first year." Members approved the plan by 95%.

Dales, an unassuming man who stayed behind the scenes, worked with 13 guild presidents: Robert Montgomery, Ralph Morgan, Edward Arnold, Cagney, George Murphy, Reagan, Walter Pidgeon, Leon Ames, Howard Keel, George Chandler, Dana Andrews, Charlton Heston and John Gavin.

Although he was friends with a few actors, including Reagan, Melvyn Douglas, Dana Andrews and Heston, he did not hobnob with many in Hollywood.

"I was a professional union official and, while I was, of course, on the Hollywood scene, I wasn't in it in the usual sense," Dales told The Times in 1973. Anyway, he added, how would a man of his income ($40,000 a year at the time) ever repay invitations from such people?

Besides his SAG and Motion Picture & Television Fund work, Dales served as president of the Crippled Children's Society of Los Angeles and vice president of the California Labor Federation and was on the California Women's Board of Terms and Paroles.

"People like him should be stamped 'no expiration date,' " SAG historian Valerie Yaros said Friday.

Dales is survived by his wife of nearly 70 years, Freda "Betty" Dales; sons Dr. Loring Dales of Berkeley and the Rev. Randolph Dales of Wolfeboro, N.H.; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Services will be private. A reception will be held at the Motion Picture & Television Fund. For information, call (818) 876-1543. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Motion Picture & Television Fund or to SAG's John L. Dales Scholarship Fund.

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