Partner Donald Howarth
Columbia University, 116th St & Broadway, New York, NY 10027
New York University, 70 Washington Square S, New York, NY 10012
9 Lower Mall, London W6 9DJ, UK
Tyn y Pant, Builth Wells LD2, UK
George Washington Goetschius (March 17, 1923 - October 11, 2006) was a sociologist, writer and academic. Though George Goetschius is perhaps best remembered for his important contribution to the planning stages of the English Stage Company at London's Royal Court Theatre in the mid-1950s, he was also an influential sociologist. His early training was with the radical Sicilian social activist Danilo Dolci, and he wrote two significant academic books in the 1960s while on the staff of the London School of Economics.
Born in Little Neck, Long Island, Goetschius took a BSc in sociology at New York University, followed by an MA at Columbia in 1947. He then became programme and executive director of Hamilton and Madison House settlements, a charity dedicated to helping the community in Manhattan's Lower East Side. At the time of the Korean war, he was conscripted into the US army but was invalided out. Later, he travelled to Europe on a fellowship to work initially in Sicily with Dolci, "the Sicilian Gandhi", whose campaigning on behalf of the poor and unemployed led to two Nobel prize nominations.
Moving to London in 1954, Goetschius was employed as a research consultant by the London Council of Social Service. At the end of that year, he met the theatre director Tony Richardson and, in January 1955, moved into Richardson's flat in Lower Mall, Hammersmith, where he remained for most of his life. The house was owned by George and Sophie Devine. At the time, George Devine was working with Richardson on a scheme for a radical new theatre company, which would come into being the following year as the English Stage Company at the Royal Court in Sloane Square.
George Devine developed a deep liking and respect for Goetschius; his social and political training were an important influence in this early planning stage of the company. He was one of the first readers of John Osborne's Look Back in Anger when it arrived at Lower Mall in early 1956, and his enthusiasm for the play encouraged Devine and Richardson in their desire to stage it. He was a central figure, much loved and respected, in the lively social circle that grew up at Lower Mall in the mid-1950s, becoming close friends with John Osborne, his wife Mary Ure and the directors Bill Gaskill, Karel Reisz and Lindsay Anderson, founder members of Free Cinema. In an article written in 1966, The Royal Court in its Social Context, Goetschius described the Royal Court as a "rallying point for those elements in the middle class who were attempting to clear the social scene of what they saw to be some of its impediments and irrelevancies".
In early 1958, Goetschius was sent by the Ford Foundation to work with the Delhi development authority on the new master plan for the Indian capital commissioned by the prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. While there he contracted a severe form of hepatitis and was forced to return to England. Although he eventually recovered, there is little doubt that the illness contributed to the breakdown of his health in subsequent years. By 1960, however, he was well enough to take up a teaching post at the LSE, where he remained until 1973. The books he wrote during this period, Working with Unattached Youth: Problem, Approach, Method, (with MJ Tash, 1967) and Working with Community Groups (1969), both remain in print.
Meanwhile, Goetschius's relationship with Tony Richardson had ended in 1959, when Richardson moved out of Lower Mall to live with the actress Vanessa Redgrave, whom he would marry a few years later. Goetschius took on the tenancy of the top-floor flat, and was joined there a few months later by the playwright Donald Howarth. Soon afterwards, George Devine also left to live in Chelsea, at which point Goetschius became a tremendous support to Devine's wife. He was devastated by her death, three months after the death of George Devine, in 1966. Five years later, he and Howarth bought the house.
In 1973, Goetschius's LSE course on community action was discontinued. Depressed by this and by the deterioration of his relationship with Howarth, he suffered a mental and physical breakdown from which he never fully recovered. He spent most of the 1980s at Tyn y Pant, Howarth's cottage in mid-Wales, virtually bedridden. Back in London in the 1990s, his health recovered somewhat, and he was able to see old friends and participate to some extent in the activities in his community. Two years before his death, he became a cherished resident at Galsworthy House, Richmond, Surrey, and on February 2006, his almost 50-year relationship with Howarth was legalised in a civil partnership, a joyful occasion enlivened by champagne and a wedding cake provided by Galsworthy House. He died 8 months later.
He was buried in the garden at Tyn y Pant on Donald Howarth's birthday. Howarth split his time between London and a countryside property in Wales, in the garden of which George Goetschius was buried. He died in March 2020.
My published books:
BACK TO HOME PAGE