With his 7-year-old son, Phillip, perched in a trailer behind his all-terrain vehicle and his dog Morgan, a Rhodesian Ridge-back, loping alongside, John James steers through a forested swath of his 230-acre Cambridge, N.Y., farm. Stopping atop a hill, he gestures down at an enviable spread: a white Colonial built in 1815, a stable housing his three Morgan show horses and two Shetland ponies, a pool, and basketball and tennis courts. “This is why I left Hollywood,” says James. “If I could have found this in L.A., I wouldn’t have left. But where are you going to find this kind of beauty in L.A.?”
Not that James, 43, has too many complaints about his big-city days. As sexy young oil scion Jeff Colby on Dynasty and spinoff The Colbys, the blue-eyed brunet sparked his share of the ’80s nighttime soaps’ signature catfights. Offscreen, he party-hopped alongside glamorous costars such as Joan Collins. “It was really a fabulous time in a lot of ways,” he says.
But when the decade of greed and its flagship drama folded, James bid the glitz goodbye. During Dynasty’s next-to-last season in 1988, he met wife Denise, now 44, a former model and Miss Australia, at a party. “I saw her and had visions of family, of kids, of living on a farm somewhere,” he says. After marrying in 1989, they packed up for pastoral Cambridge, near New York’s Vermont border. Now, James says, his life revolves around children Laura, 8, and Phillip, and he proudly shows off hands battered from fence-building. His Dynasty loot foots the bills. Still, “I miss that drug of being famous,” says James, who appeared last year on Touched by an Angel and Love Boat: The Next Wave and hopes to land a regular series role now that his kids are school-age. “You walk into a restaurant and people turn and whisper. There’s a great rush.”
His Dynasty days were heady indeed. The New Canaan, Conn.-reared actor (his father, Herb Oscar Anderson, was a disc jockey at New York City pop station WABC-AM) studied at Manhattan’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts. James had spent nearly three years on the soap Search for Tomorrow when, at 23, he was snapped up for ABC’s Dynasty. Premiering in 1981, the series soon ruled the Nielsens—and its stars lived nearly as fabulously as the show’s fictional Carringtons and Colbys. “Any party that anyone had, they invited us,” says James. “I got invited to this party in Rome once. I asked the producers if I could have time off to go. They wanted to know who it was for. I said, ‘The Fendis.’ They were like, ‘Do you know who the Fendis [Italian fashion magnates] are?’ I had no idea. I was just going. I lived like that for an entire decade.”
Still, “John kept his head about him,” says Dynasty patriarch John Forsythe, praising James as “a perfect leading man.” Pal Joan Collins visited James last year to cohost a benefit for his church’s school. “I used to hang out over at her house,” he says. “There was always something going on there. A few times, Elton John would pop over and sit down at the piano.” In 1985, James departed for The Colbys, then returned to Dynasty when the spinoff sputtered after two seasons.
After Dynasty ended, James and his bride headed for the hills. Denise initially had misgivings: “I don’t like the cold, and here I am, it’s winter, I’m pregnant, I’m having morning sickness, and the house wasn’t renovated yet,” she recalls. “But I adapted…. I don’t think I would ever leave here now.”
The family has put down roots: James works with a local theater group and hangs out with neighbor Kenny Lohr, a buffalo rancher. “He’s no stuffed shirt,” says Lohr. “We go down to the diner, shoot the breeze.” Nevertheless, James itches for a second shot at the spotlight. “Maybe it’s good I went away,” he says. “Maybe now I’m so far out that I’m in.”
Bob Meadows in Cambridge