In Memoriam

A second giant of the Austin arts community has passed, and only hours after the first. Last Thursday, April 9, as the city was still suffering from the news that John Bustin, the Dean of Austin Entertainment, had succumbed to complications from cancer the day before, news came that W. H. "Deacon" Crain, actor, playwright, philanthropist, scholar, gentleman, and unrepentant lover of theatre, had died that day of a heart attack. Few figures in local theatre could claim the half-century of activity and influence in the field that Bustin did, but Crain was one of them. His history with Austin's stages began in 1936, when he enrolled in the University of Texas as a freshman. Although Crain first pursued a degree in English and later one in history, his heart was in the Department of Drama (as it was known then), and after a four-year stint of military service,
he went to it to obtain a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. His field of study was playwriting, and he would go on to obtain an M.F.A. in the subject and, in 1965, the first Ph.D. to be awarded by UT in playwriting studies. Along the way, Crain indulged his love of acting, appearing in numerous productions of the UT Curtain Club, a campus theatrical society that at various times included among its numbers Zachary Scott, John and Nellie Connelly, Rip Torn, Pat Hingle, and Tommy Tune, and, off campus, in productions by the Austin Civic Theatre, the community company from which the Zachary Scott Theatre Center evolved. Upon the completion of his doctorate, Crain joined the Theatre Arts Library as associate curator. In 1970, just as the library was to be moved into the university's new Humanities Research Center, Crain succeeded Dr. Frederick Hunter as curator of the collection. He remained in the position for 24 years.

While Crain's life was certainly bound up in academia, it may be as easily defined by community. "Deacon" Crain will be remembered by many for his seemingly boundless generosity and support of local theatre companies and other performing arts institutions. Crain's name could be found on the boards of a half-dozen companies -- the Paramount Theatre, the New Texas Festival, Austin Lyric Opera, Austin Shakespeare Festival, the Zachary Scott Theatre Center, and the Friends of the Summer Musical -- and on the contributor pages of just about every other producing organization. And you couldn't go see much theatre without occasionally bumping into Dr. Crain. His appetite for the work of the stage was voracious, and it never slackened. It's fitting that the evening before his death, he was in the Paramount watching a performance of the Austin Musical Theatre production of Annie. And it was his second time to see it. When it comes to expressing this man's lifelong passion for theatre, that about says it all.

What deserves repeating, however, is that "Deacon" Crain was a gentleman in the truest sense of the word: refined, kindly, honorable. Oh, he had a wicked sense of humor -- he all but broadcast it in those merry, twinkling eyes -- but his legacy is etched in his gentility, that civil spirit and open heart from which so much was given to so many. His support made a difference in the lives of more Austin artists and arts companies than can be measured. In 1992, Crain was named "Austin Philanthropist of the Year." He could probably have won that title 50 times over. Rest in peace, "Deacon."

Funeral services were held this past Tuesday, April 14, at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Crain's hometown of Victoria.

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