George S. James

George S. James

Died August 9, 1991

After Yale George James went west to pursue a Ph.D. in musicology at the University of Southern California. He roomed with Alan Howard and Herbert Labouisse, both members of our Class of 1965 who were attending graduate school at UCLA. According to one of George’s friends, Diana Gould, he played the role of Raskolnikov in a scene from Crime and Punishment that Alan was directing for a class at UCLA film school. “His name was Buck, he was 22 years old. . . I played the landlady, Buck played Raskolnikov. . . He was to hit me over the head with a candlestick. . . Buck couldn’t hurt a fly. He apologized to me profusely before, during and after.”

George recovered from his acting debut to become orchestra manager for the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra, a job which put him on track to become orchestra manager of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

But then the late 1960s happened. George cut up his credit cards and burned his draft card and, by 1971, was living in a commune of writers in Hollywood, attending evenings of music and politics put on by the Black Panthers. Diana Gould tells the story. “Aida and I moved in with him . . . and quickly set up a feminist commune with George as our hapless exemplar of the New Man . . . It was the late 60s and the early 70s and it really seemed that the revolution was next week. . . We became vegetarians. We shared cooking and housecleaning duties. We confronted each other on gender roles. We smoked dope. We took mescaline. . . And we had the most wonderful time. . . I couldn’t believe that this tall, handsome, gentle man, this WASP from Virginia, . . . could be such a sweetheart. . . If all men were like George, there wouldn’t have had to be a Women’s Movement.”

When the revolution didn’t happen, the commune broke up and George took a job running South America Reps, an organization of travel agents and guides specializing in South America. He traveled throughout South America, including to Machu Pichu long before it became the popular destination it is today. When not traveling in South America, he could be found taking his dog, a Gordon Setter named Gulliver, on power hikes through Griffith Park or body surfing with him in the Pacific Ocean.

In 1977 he moved in with Stephen Jackson, who would remain his lover for the rest of his life. Stephen says that “George thought of himself as a writer first. He was always working on a book or script.” Near the end of his life, George and Alan Howard collaborated on a screen play.

George tested positive for HIV in 1989. “It was like the plague,” Stephen says of the years when AIDS ravaged the gay community. “Every week somebody was dying.” George began a two-year fight for his life which ended after an eight-month hospitalization on August 9, 1991. “At that point in my life,” Stephen says, “I finally understood the meaning of a broken heart.”

Because of both his physical presence (6’5” tall) and his personality, George was one of the best known and well-liked members of the Los Angeles gay community, and more than 300 people turned out for his memorial service which featured music performed by graduates of the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra. One of the speakers was his long time friend from Yale, Alan Howard. Alan told the mourners that George had been one of the first at Yale to be open about his homosexuality. “Now there is a vast organization of gay students at Yale and a powerful and richly funded alumni association of gay Yalies. How many of them know that George James got there first?”

Alan Howard remembers: George and I became friends sophomore year. He had just transferred from Washington and Lee. We met in the hidden Yale gay culture. George and I figured out that we were 4th cousins once removed (can you believe it!!) – his mother was a Maryland Howard and my father’s people were Virginia Howards. George, a fellow English major, was a true Southern gentleman – courtly, polite, well-mannered and possessed of a delicious wit. After Yale he attended USC studying musicology while I was at UCLA film school. The late 60s blew our minds. We both dropped out. We lived in an urban commune. We sampled all the freedoms (to coin a phrase). Dropping back in was bumpy and difficult. George died from AIDS in 1991, after a long hideous illness. George was a physical giant of a man – so big and healthy that it took the disease over a year to kill him. He always brought out the best in me, cooled my too-quick temper, encouraged me towards my dreams, nursed me through terrible hang-overs before I got sober. He was only 46 when he died.