Captain James E. Wise Jr.: 1930-2013
The U.S. Naval Institute and the military history and literary world lost a great man in July, Captain Jim Wise. He was 82.
After graduating from Northwestern University, he became a naval aviator in 1953 and served as an intelligence officer, going on to command various naval intelligence units until he retired in 1975. He later held several senior executive posts in private-sector companies. Following that, he began to dabble in writing.
Jim was working on Stars in Blue, a book he was writing about celebrities in the U.S. Navy with Annie Rehill, when the phone rang at home one day. His wife answered, and the caller said he was Paul Newman. “Oh, sure it is,” she said, and handed the phone to Jim. Turns out it was, indeed, the multi-Oscar winner, a Navy veteran who called to tell Jim he found a photo of himself on the deck of a ship he served in.
Jim’s wife started to get used to that. He not only wrote the books Stars in Blue and Stars in the Corps, but also Stars in Khaki and International Stars at War, featuring some of the best known TV and movie personalities—several of them unlikely veterans of military service—from around the world. Jim wrote a number of other books that weren’t nearly as star-studded, but they were nonetheless well-crafted and relevant to what the Naval Institute does.
I owe a great deal to him for motivating me to conduct my own interviews with seemingly unreachable people. Few are, and most of the time all you have to do is ask. Who doesn’t like to talk about themselves, anyway?
Whatever I was doing, whenever Jim showed up at the office, I dropped everything and mostly listened. Did I know, for instance, that he was in the movie In Harm’s Way (he’s in a ballroom dance scene, one of the film’s opening sequences shot at Pearl Harbor)? He also told stories about being an honorary Hollywood western insider, because he was a great friend and biographer of TV’s Marshal Matt Dillon of Gunsmoke, the famed James Arness, who also happened to be a wounded veteran of World War II. Because of that relationship, Jim regularly attended dinners of an association of actors who appeared in movie and TV westerns, where he became friends with Burt Reynolds, Dale Robertson, and Dennis Weaver, among many others.
When we were germinating ideas for the Naval Institute’s Americans at War series of TV vignettes, Jim was very helpful, providing suggestions of people for us to interview. A real renaissance man and a long-time and generous Naval Institute supporter, he will be a truly missed friend and mentor. Captain James Wise will forever hold a prominent place in my heart and my memories.—Fred Schultz, Managing Editor, Proceedings, and Contributing Editor, Naval History