Senior in Action – Jim Whirlow

Marilee Marrero Stefenhagen
Former County of LA Public Library Administrator is having the time of her life as a retiree; meeting fascinating people who are active seniors, and volunteering for Soroptimist International of Norwalk and other women’s groups.

Re: photo taken in front of the waterfall:

The waterfall picture was taken at Mendenhall Lake in Alaska when we took our boat up


Senior in Action – Jim Whirlow

by Marilee Marrero Stefenhagen

At his birth in 1954, Jim’s parents named him James Jr. after his father.  His mother’s name was Lois Jean, but she always went by Jean.  Growing up in small town Greensburg, Pennsylvania gave Jim the opportunity to try many creative outlets, including drama, music and photography in high school.  He played drums in a stage band, experimented with infrared film in his 35mm camera, and began his first commercial venture from his parents’ basement; silk screening shirts for local ball teams.  “I ran with a bunch of guys who would sneak down a back alley and squeeze through a large barn-style door, to enter behind the screens at Manos Theater to see movies. I followed all the West coast bands like The Doors, Janis Joplin, and the Grateful Dead.

How did your early interests transition into your current passion for musical theater production?

JW: “It’s been a long and winding road that started with music. I wanted to design record album covers so I attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh after graduation.    My goal was to learn graphic arts that would SELL, to be commercially successful. From Pittsburgh, I spent two years at Kodak Institute of Photography in Rochester, NY, and then attended the Film and Art Design University of Pittsburgh while doing commercial photography. When I worked at Kennametal Inc. just after college, John Hobbs was my supervisor in the advertising and photographic department where I worked as a darkroom tech before advancing to an industrial photographer.  It was my second job within Kennametal after moving up from a company mail carrier where I became acquainted with everyone from the guys on the manufacturing floor to the President’s secretary while delivering their mail. I’d like to credit my first mentor John Hobbs, a real stickler, for helping me focus on improving my dark room skills, printing, and more. John Hobbs, a master photographer, introduced me to Arnold Newman’s photographic work and shared books which I studied to discover a new form of portrait work. My first photography subjects were ghostly self-portraits taken with old trains arriving at stations.  However, I decided portrait photography was not for me.

In 1982, I started my own Audio-Visual Production Company to develop training or marketing videos, as well as create films for the travel/tourist market.  I became involved in the corporate market with Hughes Aircraft in Los Angeles in 1988.  Some of my friends were not so fortunate and struggled as independent contractors or entrepreneurs. 

“During the 90’s I became involved in fundraising for children with AIDS, and I scheduled tribute artists.  That’s when I met my wife, Bethany Owen, a gifted impersonator and singer.  I eventually produced shows featuring Bethany, and we toured casinos and created entertainment for cruise lines.  Eventually, we tired of living like nomads and looked for a home base.  We settled in Huntington Beach. My production company, JRW Productions, provides first class variety shows once a month at The Grand in Long Beach with catered lunch.”

It sounds like you invented the concept of multitasking.  Are you always working on multiple projects?

JW: “Yes! Before I met Bethany, I wanted to travel throughout Africa to produce a documentary on traditional healers.  Without a corporate sponsor for that project, I made arrangements with the Peace Corps, Save the Children, and the Red Cross organizations to travel to their African locations in Zambia and Botswana to film marketing commercials in exchange for their hospitality.  In a single day, I managed to nearly drown while white-water rafting, then was talked into bungee-jumping over the Zambeze River from the Victoria Falls Bridge.  I hope to never repeat those adventures.”

“During 2020 and 2021 when COVID curtailed live entertainment, I started a Surf City Radio station named after the City of Huntington Beach, which plays Doo-Wop and Classic Rock & Roll.  It’s still going strong.  NBY readers can check out the website found at”

“These days, besides the monthly JRW Productions at The Grand, Bethany and I plan exceptional cruise entertainment.  In March 2023, we hosted a Doo-Wop Cruise in partnership with Princess Cruises.  Our next project is a 16-day Hawaiian cruise in October 2024 called “Princess and the King” featuring an Elvis Presley tribute extravaganza.  Our goal is to engage the audience and provide the most fun they’ve ever had on a cruise.  Besides Elvis impersonators for each decade in the main showroom, there will be afternoon seminars presented by people who worked with Elvis, including Tanya Lemani, the belly dancer who appeared in the Elvis ’68 comeback television special as “Little Egypt”, and Brian Beirne, music historian and celebrity DJ from KRTH.”

Any advice for NBY readers?

JW: “After going through heart surgery in November 2022, my advice is to always have somebody on your side who can advocate for you in medical situations.  During my hospitalization and recovery, I was so grateful for Bethany’s love and support.  My second piece of advice is:  treat yourself to the JRW Production Hawaiian cruise in October 2024, or attend a lunch and show at The Grand.  We’d love to entertain you!” 

For more details on the Elvis Cruise, visit

For the lunch and variety show schedules, check or call Bethany at (714) 475-9678.


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