Bustin's Place in History

When John Bustin died last April following a battle with cancer, the friends and colleagues of this longtime arts writer and critic made much of the astonishing span of his career. Stretching across a half-century, it took Bustin from writing about jazz and the big bands in the post-war pages of The Daily Texan and The Texas Ranger to covering Hollywood during the Golden Age of Junkets and, closer to home, the birth of the community arts scene in his own column for the Austin American-Statesman to reviewing Seventies stage sensations on radio to a little bit of everything -- reportage, criticism, advocacy -- for an assortment of local magazines and community newspapers over the last 20 years. It was Bustin's longevity on the beat -- with his ever-present conviviality and unflagging enthusiasm -- that earned him the fondly bestowed title of "Dean of Austin Entertainment," and, as more than one admirer noted in Bustin's memorial salutes, it was the stuff of history. That sentiment became more than a colloquialism last week when the Center for American History at UT Austin held a reception in honor of Bustin and the donation of his papers to the center. Bustin's widow Rosalyn, son Greg, and daughter Laura assembled the releases, drafts of reviews, photos, and clippings that Bustin accumulated over the past 50+ years and gave them a permanent home there.

The reception was held in a gallery of the center's Research and Collections Division last Thursday, April 8, the anniversary of Bustin's passing. The Bustin family was joined by a few dozen intimates of the late writer, who circulated through the room swapping stories about their old friend -- a pithy comment he made upon exiting some less-than-stellar local production, the role he played in helping some local arts organization get off the ground, the legendary clutter on and around his desk -- and hovered over two exhibition cases that center historians had filled with samples from the Bustin Papers. There was an open copy of the Ranger from 1947, with a young Bustin waxing enthusiastically about Stan Kenton. There were publicity photos of the twentysomething Bustin from his Tinseltown travels, shots of the reporter with a Fifties-era Dennis Hopper, Paul Newman, Zsa Zsa Gabor. There were pages of radio copy for the short, sweet reviews he recorded for early-morning broadcasts on KLBJ-AM. There was a list created by a high-school age Bustin: Bands I Have Seen, with the names of some 15 big bands on it. If you hadn't thought before of the breadth of Bustin's career and its value to historians, this snippet of items from his collection was enough to make you think of it.

That was the theme of center director Don Carleton when he welcomed the attendees and spoke about the acquisition of the Bustin Papers. This is the kind of history no one thinks is important, he told the crowd, that disappears the most quickly. Ephemera, he called it. Having 50 years' worth of records about local cultural institutions, about trends in popular music and the artists who created them, about Hollywood and the careers of its artists, helps fill in what is typically a huge gap in the record of our cultural and commercial life. And this is a full 50 years worth, he noted; the two cases are "the tip of the iceberg," he said -- and having seen Bustin's home office for myself, I believe it. The death of John Bustin was a tremendous loss, but it is no small comfort to know that his contributions to this community go on, in the form of history.

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John Bustin, Rosalyn Bustin, Greg Bustin, Laura Bustin, Center For American History, Don Carleton, Klbj-am, Daily Texan

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