A few images from George Whaley’s long and illustrious career, accompanied by Victor Jara’s ‘Manifiesto’, a favourite song of George’s.
And here are some wonderful words from George’s widow, Georgie:
Every death, however much expected, comes as a shock.
In many ways George died the day he realised he could no longer go on stage for a play in Adelaide.
He would have been on stage for the whole show and he found he couldn’t learn the lines.
However, his last years were a peaceful unwinding. He came to accept his lack of movement, his need for help in dressing, eating, washing and all the other ignomies that old age brings.
His body refused to work, but his ability to think and express himself took much longer to leave him.
Up until the last few days he was able to understand and say what he wanted.
His memory failed him, and he found it harder and harder to capture words. But we were extraordinarily lucky. Janet Smith, an IT specialist, came on Tuesdays, after vast research, to help George remember his career. Our friend, Barbara would arrive and keep us up to date with what was happening in the world. And his friend, Jillian, came regularly.
George loved these visitors. He thought they were the most beautiful people in the world. When our world shrinks, contact with people becomes a lifeline.
In our shed is a vast, haphazard collection of information about George’s career. The local rats have been very grateful. I saw no way of letting anyone view it, but David, from Cloudcatcher, has taken the trouble to record some of the rescued material and Mic has gradually captured some more of the masses of books, scripts, photos, programs and voice recordings that he has wrested from the mouths of the rats. There may well be a rebellion there soon.
George had many skills. One his greatest was the ability to fall out with almost anyone in authority, so arranging a memorial in Sydney hasn’t been easy. However, I am amazed at the many people that he taught and worked with when they were young, who remember him with affection, despite his volcanic temper. He was always committed to helping young people who were starting out, to achieve their goals.
This doesn’t mean all of those people credit him with the help. That is the lot of the teacher. Yet it was teaching that was his great joy.
For me, it was his skill as an actor, that was his great strength. It coloured all his other work, including his famous course, “Actorphobia-The Six Day Cure” for film directors, who are often hung up on fancy shots and forget that the basis of any story is the performance. The story, any story, begins with the protagonists, and these are the actors-human or animal.
He always wanted to work in a community of actors, to be one among many. But often, his dynamism made him stand out. Now people with that dynamism, are swept away as stars. But when George started, he was one among many. Many actors who did everything, the costumes, the posters, the scenery and occasionally, the scripts.
For me, his best performance was as John Proctor- a flawed man, but one who redeemed himself in the end.
To quote John Proctor:
“Because it IS my name!
Because I cannot have another in my life!
How may I live without my name?
……..I have given you my soul; Leave me my name!”
That sums up George. He didn’t set out to be a star but to give voice to what Australians really are.
To make plain how we live, what our values are, and to give to young Australian artists, both First Australians and those who came after, an understanding of their own values and how to mirror these for their audience.