George Coulam: Where is the TRF Founder Now?

HBO’s documentary series ‘Ren Faire’ chronicles the twilight years of George Coulam, the founder of the Texas Renaissance Festival, the largest renaissance festival in the country with half a million attendees. As he awaits death, George deals with the need to select a successor to run the festival in the future. In reality, as the festival counts down days to celebrate its 50th anniversary, George remains a king in the Texan city of Todd Mission, which was incorporated by the efforts of the former. Even though the show’s premiere opens a window into his current life, there’s much more to unravel about him!

Becoming the King

George Coulam was born into a Mormon family in Salt Lake City, Utah. He entered the world of art while attending the San Fernando Valley State College, which is presently known as California State University in Northridge, California. As an English major, he dived into art and art history classes, mastering stained glass and woodworking. While he was in California, George attended several Renaissance fairs, which fascinated him. Upon returning to Salt Lake City, he tried to set up a festival in the region, but the Mormon church didn’t encourage him, which led him to Todd Mission, Texas.

Despite his initial failures, George was hell-bent on starting a festival that would bring back the glory of his favorite historical period. “The Renaissance was a great and meaningful period, a time unequaled in science, art, and education. […] We need to go back and rejuvenate the enjoyment of beauty, the glorification of our surroundings. That’s why I created this festival here,” George told David Kushner, the author of ‘Masters of Disruption: How the Gamer Generation Built the Future.’ He was also inspired by Walt Disney. “Everything I got, I copied from Walt Disney. I got it right from that book [Bernice Selden’s ‘The Story of Walt Disney: Maker of Magical Worlds’],” he told Texas Monthly.

George founded the Texas Renaissance Festival, widely known as the TRF, in 1974 on a fifteen-acre land. The region at the time was an abandoned strip mining site. The festival’s humble beginning, with only three stages and a group of merchants, attracted a crowd of 33,000. Gradually, the TRF grew, along with George and Todd Mission. On July 9, 1982, George and fifteen others filed an application to incorporate Todd Mission as a city. When the application passed, the festival founder became the city’s first and only mayor. He bought several acres of land surrounding the festival grounds, where several of the festival employees live even now.

In 1999, George was married to Susie, who was from Thailand. Further details concerning her have been kept private. George built a captivating palace in Todd Mission that matched his royalty. The estate is named Stargate Manor, which reportedly sits on a 200-acre land that also includes a lake and an arboretum.

George Coulam Remains the “King” of the TRF

With the 50th anniversary of the Texas Renaissance Festival on the horizon, George Coulam is committed to his creation as the self-appointed head of the company. He is still the mayor of Todd Mission, but he has a team working with him at the city council so that he can remain dedicated to his festival, arboretum, and art. He continues to live in his spectacular manor, which is located not far away from the festival grounds in Todd Mission. George even built a mausoleum in the grounds for his eternal rest. The HBO series reveals that he is ready to accept death after around nine years.

Lance Oppenheim’s show also adds that George is suffering from squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer. Currently, he is trying to find his successor so that he can peacefully lie buried in his mausoleum after his death. “I used to play the king, but now I’m a horny old man. I want to find someone that can take care of the festival,” George told Oppenheim, as per the latter’s interview with Variety. As of now, the succession processes haven’t reached anywhere. In January 2023, it was announced that he had put an end to considering offers for the sale of the festival.

“George has received many offers throughout the years to purchase our beloved festival. […] Our goodly octogenarian regent does intend to retire and has hopes of creating a legacy that will ensure the continuation of TRF. To the great relief and joy of all in the Kingdom, our Patron, after much deliberation, has decided not to actively pursue the sale of TRF. It is his hope that a coalition of employees, vendors, artists, and entertainers can take up the mantle of leadership and ensure the continuation of TRF well into the future,” the festival announced last year.

George Coulam’s Legal Battles

Lately, George has become a highly polarizing figure. While there is a community of people who celebrate him as a king, there is another group who describes him as nothing short of a condemnable man. His twilight years are filled with legal conflicts, which began in 2018. In a lawsuit, former TRF employee Eileen Pena claimed that George tasked her with “several unwelcome, sexually offensive and inappropriate personal tasks such as finding him women to date and managing others tasked with finding him women.” Pena went on to add that she was fired after she informed her boss that his behavior was inappropriate.

Pena’s lawsuit against TRF’s George was eventually dismissed by both parties. In 2020, Toni Ewton, who was hired as a full-time personal assistant, sued George for harassing her while she was asked to manage his online dating profiles. As per the lawsuit, Ewton had to set up dating profiles on various platforms, including one that is described as “The King of All Sugar Daddy Dating Sites.” According to the former employee, George’s “constant sexual comments” and “sexually-charged criticisms” of the women on the dating websites made her uncomfortable. Ewton further claimed that she was fired when he wasn’t “happy with the number and quality of prospective women” he encountered on the aforementioned sites.

George has not commented on the allegations himself. “There’s always disgruntled employees. I’m not really privy to all the information about those suits, but George, he’s trusting and loving to a fault,” Jeffrey “Jeff” Baldwin, the entertainment director of the TRF, said about George to David Kushner. In 2021, the TRF settled Ewton’s case with an undisclosed financial compensation. Since then, George has stayed away from social media platforms. His most recent Facebook updates date back to the same year. Meanwhile, his Instagram account disappeared.

We can expect George to be at the forefront of the 50th Texas Renaissance Festival from October 12 through December 1 and Thanksgiving Friday of 2024. If death visits him in the coming years, he has already made arrangements for his estate to be open to the public.

Read More: Ren Faire: True Stories Behind the HBO Show