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A performer’s life filled to overflowing

first_imgWhat a wonderful life James Waldman Wolfe had. For more than 50 years, he was Jimmy Casanova, a nightclub performer and opening comedy act for such stars as the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and Tony Bennett. Only in the 1990s did he become the star, the main act. Not as Jimmy Casanova, but as Jamie the Storyteller. Instead of the nightclubs, he played the grammar-school circuit, children’s hospitals and anywhere else there was a kid who needed a smile, a life’s lesson or a fairy tale to get lost in for awhile. I never knew Jimmy Casanova, but I knew Jamie the Storyteller, and he was exactly as his daughter remembers him – a champagne glass overflowing. Full of life, bubbling over. “I played London and many of the big houses of the world. All that and half-a-buck gets me a ride on a bus today,” Wolfe told me at the time. When Jimmy Casanova died, he didn’t have far to look to find Jamie the Storyteller. Every time he played with his grandkids and worried about their futures in an uncertain world, he knew exactly where he had to take his talent. He started working the literacy circuit at local elementary and junior high schools, introducing kids to Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm. He offered teachers help assisting kids who had learning disabilities and problems. “It’s absolutely wonderful to look out there and see their shy little faces enthralled by the same stories my kids were growing up to,” Wolfe said. “After the stories, we play games and talk about the dangers of smoking, drinking and drugs.” Wolfe also took his act to senior citizen centers, taking his audience for a walk down memory lane. He reprised his “Old Man Bit” – an 85-year-old man watching the world go by from his front porch. He died on Thanksgiving Day at age 85, still working on his act, says his daughter, Casse Forczek. One of her favorite pictures is of her dad and John Lennon in 1964, hamming it up by imitating Napoleon. “My father’s cremation occurred on the same day that the 25th anniversary of John’s tragic death was being honored at Strawberry Fields, Central Park in New York, Dec. 8,” she said. Jimmy Casanova’s last opening act for a big star. “God gave my father a tremendous sense and gift of wit, humor and a great voice to make people laugh, and, at times, shed a tear,” Forczek said. Yeah, what a wonderful life James Waldman Wolfe had. Like a champagne glass overflowing. — Dennis McCarthy’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Dennis McCarthy, (818) 713-3749 [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORERose Parade grand marshal Rita Moreno talks New Year’s Day outfit and ‘West Side Story’ remake When illness and a serious car accident laid Wolfe low in the ’80s, Jimmy Casanova’s career waned. The phone stopped ringing. He didn’t get bitter or try to hang on to the past like most old entertainers do. No, Wolfe buried Casanova and found another stage on which to perform – a bigger, more important stage than he ever appeared on as an opening act. I saw that firsthand, following his new act from room to room at Shriners Children’s Hospital, then over to the Braille Institute, where Jamie the Storyteller put beautiful smiles on the faces of kids who couldn’t see him. But they could hear him, be touched by him, laugh with him. They didn’t need eyes to tell them Jamie the Storyteller was a good man. “In the ’60s, I was comedy upfront for a lot of acts in Las Vegas. I opened for the Beatles on their 1964 Hong Kong tour, and for Elvis a few times. They wanted clean comedy and that was my act.last_img read more