Vancouver isn’t particularly known for its nightlife these days, but at one time it was. For Jack Wasserman, iconic entertainment and celebrity columnist at the Vancouver Sun, there was nothing else like it.
“The thing you should know about Jack is that he so loved his column,” says Joy Metcalfe, the late Wasserman’s close friend and colleague, and former author of “Joy in the Morning” in The Province. “When Jack was doing his column, we were alive with excitement on Hornby. All the clubs—Sneaky Pete’s, The Living Room, Oil Can Harry’s, Isy’s—but the Cave was the centerpiece. If you were anybody, you went to the Cave. Big names: Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, first string players. Jack would be there almost every night.”
Wasserman was born in Winnipeg in 1927, and his family moved to Vancouver in 1935. He grew up here, started attending the University of British Columbia’s law program, and then dropped out to become a reporter for the university paper, The Ubyssey. Soon after, he joined the Vancouver Sun as a police reporter. He proved himself fairly quickly with an approachable tone, getting his first column in 1952; in the spring of 1954, the paper gave him his “About Now” column, in which he chronicled nightlife, entertainment, gossip, and some of the seedier aspects of the city. His reliable inside scoop made it a huge success.
He was nearly teetotal, but that didn’t stop Wasserman from loving the city’s nightlife. “It was a wonderful time,” Metcalfe recalls over the phone. “I was just starting out and doing PR stuff, so I could fill Jack in on things going on outside of the Cave. Everybody wanted to be in Jack’s column, it was the high point of anyone’s career. He had many celebrity friends. He was friends with Mitzi Gaynor and her husband.”
He was a striking figure, tall with excellent posture and big, dark-rimmed glasses that made him look every inch the newspaperman. But after the printers at the Vancouver Sun went on strike he switched over to radio, using his connections to make it a success. “He wasn’t good at radio and didn’t have a good voice, but he succeeded because everyone knew him and liked him,” says Metcalfe. He went back to the paper once the strike was over.
On April 6, 1977, Wasserman went to a roast for politician and businessman Gordon Gibson Sr. at the Hotel Vancouver. While speaking to the crowd, Wasserman suffered a sudden fatal heart attack. Audience members initially thought his collapse was part of the roast.
The city he loved mourned him deeply. “Jack had so many popular, well-known friends,” says Metcalfe, “because he was approachable. He never carried an air of superiority. He was relatable.” Metcalfe and her colleagues were responsible for having Wasserman’s Beat recognized by the city; a plaque on the 600 block of Hornby Street was dedicated to him by then-mayor Jack Volrich and still remains there today. “We wanted something that would recognize Jack in a real way,” Metcalfe says. She and others also made sure he was included in the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame.
Christina Potter, board member for the Hall of Fame, reflects on whether Wasserman’s column would be read today: “It would absolutely be read,” she declares via phone. “People, now more than ever, want to know.”
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