Gregarious and athletic, Big Jim was better at inspiring his children than providing for them. He was known for his sunny personality and big dreams. Born in Maine, he served in the U.S. Cavalry in Wyoming during the Spanish-American War and later landed in Philadelphia as a physical director for the YMCA. After marrying Caroline Doebele in 1904, he held a series of short-term jobs before becoming a partner in a successful newsreel business. He died at age 56 of a heart attack. Although his direct involvement with dancing lessened over the years, he always enthusiastically supported the various activities of his wife and children.