Once upon a time, I had the most wonderful brother in the world. His name was Jimmy, and he was my best friend. He would have been 76 years old on Feb. 10, had he lived, but he was taken from us when he was only 47 years old, leaving his wife, Vivian, and two children, James and Yvette, behind. But Jimmy left more than that behind him. He was fun and he was funny, and everybody loved Jim.
We did everything together until we both got married. We went to grammar school, and because I stayed back in the third grade, we even did a year or two of NFA together.
In 1950, we both joined the Marine Corps, because the Korean War was raging, and the government was drafting young men. Jim and I wanted to be Marines, and as fate would have it, we were in the same platoon at boot camp. The Marines tried to avoid that. Brothers were separated. After boot camp, we were both assigned to Parris Island. Jimmy worked in supply, and I was a photographer photographing the thousands of recruits that were passing through Parris Island. Even at Parris Island, Jimmy and I had so much fun. I had a car, and we would go to Savannah or Charleston on liberty weekends.
Jim was ordered to Korea with the supply unit, and he and his friends joined the 1st Marines 3rd Air Wing. They were in combat, but it was mostly in support of the aircraft that we used for close air-ground support.
Jimmy had noticed a problem. The Korean parents were abandoning their children, and the Marines were bringing children back to the base that they had found in caves or abandoned buildings. While they could feed the kids and keep them warm, they needed blankets, diapers, formula and toys. So, we started Operation Brotherhood.
I had been transferred to the Submarine Base and was a staff sergeant. I influenced my commanding officer that the Marines at the base — 85 of them — should work with the Marines in Korea, and we established Operation Brotherhood. The Norwich Bulletin and WICH kept the public aware of our project. Names such as Jimmy Pedace and Ed Leonard would have a story everyday, and on one rainy Sunday, we collected thousands of dollars and nine Marine Corps truckloads of clothing, diapers, blankets and baby food. Before Jim left Korea, some 400 orphans had been placed with agencies such as the Red Cross.
Upon returning to Norwich, Dick Reed, who was sales manager at WICH, convinced us we should do a Bill and Jim morning show on the radio. The pay was $25 per week. It would only be 15 hours per week, and in those days, that was good pay. As it turned out, Jimmy was the funniest guy you could ever imagine. We called it “The Bill & Jim Show,” and for some eight years, we woke the town. Jim was a comic, and I was the straight man.
Jim always would do the unexpected, which sometimes was funny to the audience, but not funny to the boss. One example: Don Lasser, who owned the radio station, had come up with an idea called Sports Cap. It would be one minute of sports, and a one-minute commercial, but before you aired the Sports Cap, you pushed a doorbell which was to be the signal for Sports Cap. So, the first morning we were to do Sports Cap, and the boss was listening, when I hit the doorbell, and it went ding-dong-ding, Jimmy, in a high-pitched voice, sounding like an elderly lady, said, “Just a minute. I’m in the bathroom,” which was funny, but not to the boss.
Jimmy had ideas, and he had a sense of humor. He could imitate any voice. Edward R. Murrow was one he often used. He would say, out of nowhere, “I’m Edward R. Murrow.” I would say, “So.” And he would say again, “I’m Edward R. Murrow.” He had a flair for the gimmicks, but he was good-hearted, loveable, and so very talented.
In fact, one day a member of a New York radio station, WNEW, heard our show and invited us to audition. He thought we were good enough for New York. They had a morning team, and we were a back-up, because their team was arguing and might break up.
Then we were called by a young man named Allen Ludden, program director of CBS Radio, coast-to-coast. He had
heard some of the tapes we had made at WNEW. He told us he wanted us to go against Bob and Ray, who, at drive time, were coast-to-coast on the Mutual Broadcasting System. He loved our comedy and loved the show. In fact, the day we auditioned, we ate at the same lunch table with Eddie Arnold, one of the greatest country stars of all time.
Ludden said, “We want you to go coast-to-coast,” and he noticed our show was spontaneous.
He said, “You will have to be scripted and read your commercials, not just talk them.” On the second audition, he realized both of us were severely dyslexic. We couldn’t read, and while he apologized, we understood. So, Jimmy decided to return to New York to make a career for himself, and I left radio and became a stockbroker.
But even in New York, Jim and I stayed together. He was so funny. He always used to say. “You can do anything y
ou want, as long as you conduct yourself like you know what you are doing” … which brings me to a night when we were having dinner in New York.
Two bond traders I worked with, my brother, Jim, and I were in a small restaurant to the rear of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. As we left the restaurant, the streets were crowded with protesters. Police lines were set up. Other policemen on horseback were controlling the crowd.
One of the bond tradesmen said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could go to the Kennedy party?”
Jimmy, very seriously, said, “You want to go?”
My friend replied, “They said that’s impossible.”
Jim said, “Let me do the talking, and we’ll get in.” So, we walked between the sawhorses, all four of us, and a police captain shouted to come back. Jimmy turned around and said, with a pointing finger and the voice of authority, “Captain, I’m Jim Stanley.”
To my surprise, the captain said, “I’m sorry, Sir. I didn’t recognize you.”
We went on into the lobby. The party was on the 7th floor. We took the elevator to the 11th. Jimmy said when you come to an event from the floors above, very often security believed you were a guest in the hotel and didn’t check you as thoroughly.
When the door opened at the 7th floor, the Secret Service was there, but as the door opened, Van Johnson, the movie star, was passing by. Jim yelled at him calling, “Van, baby” and extended his right hand, which took Jim out of the elevator. Then he said to Johnson, “I want you to meet my brother and two friends.” So we left the elevator to shake Van Johnson’s hand.
Jimmy said, “So good to see you again,” and he had never seen Johnson in his life. He was unbelievable.
That night we passed Sugar Ray Robinson in one of the halls. Jimmy said, “Hi, Sugar,” and the great prizefighter said, “Hi.” Jimmy said, “At the Garden it’s ‘Hi, Jim.’ Over here it’s just hi?” For the second time that night, an important person said, “I’m sorry, Jim. I didn’t recognize you.” Of course he didn’t. He never met Jimmy.
We had no tickets, so we couldn’t stay for dinner. It was then that he went up to Carol Channing and started a casual conversation. I remember him saying, “everybody who is anybody is here tonight.” She said, “Oh, yes.”
Jimmy then said, “You know the rumor is that later this evening Jim Stanley is coming to the party.” She said, “Really?” But, Jimmy had been drinking, and we got him out of there.
Voice of the Fair
Jimmy became the voice of the electric utilities at the New York World’s Fair. He enjoyed every night introducing a famous personality who would turn on the brightest light in the world. After the World’s Fair, he returned home and became director of the Norwich Chamber of Commerce.
Now married to Vivian, and with two young children, his life took a very bad turn. He was thinking like he did at the World’s Fair in New York, but in Norwich, they were thinking like Norwich. He developed some wonderful ideas that were vetoed by the authorities, and then he angered Gov. Ella Grasso when he came up with the slogan “The Other Connecticut” — sayin
g we in Eastern Connecticut had open space, clean air and a wonderful living environment, while the other Connecticut had congested highways, pollution and very high living expenses.
Jimmy contracted leukemia, and to treat it, they removed his spleen, which weakened his immune system, and he contracted Legionnaire’s Disease. He was rushed to Yale, where they cured his Legionnaire’s Disease, but a little bit of fungus from a needle used to test his blood gases worked its way into his brain, and seven days later, Jimmy died at age 47.
My wife, Peggy, and daughter, Mary, were with me, but that wonderful brother of mine died in my arms. I cannot imagine why I was allowed to live these 80 years, and Jim, a far better man, was cut short at about half my age.
So, while I think of Jim everyday, I will be thinking even more this coming Wednesday, his 76th birthday.