by Thomas Givens
I'm preparing to go down to Ruleville (Mississippi) High School class of 1955's 50th reunion. It is going to be held on the estate of Luster Bayless. Although Luster graduated in 1956, he's a gracious person and opened his home for this occasion. I've known Luster most of my life, and we have been friends for all that time. To say we went different ways is an understatement.
Neither of us was to the manor born. His father was a sharecropper east of Ruleville and my dad was a renter, farming land belonging to the the Thomas Edmonson estate overseen by Son Beck. The irony of this will be seen later.
We lived in the Linn School community, right on the Bolivar/Sunflower county line, and I of course attended school at Linn. Luster went to Ruleville High.
Luster was an outstanding athlete, excelling in basketball and football. He was offered a scholarship to one of our major universities, but turned it down. You'll have to ask him why. I got to know Luster because I was always in Ruleville. Linn and Ruleville back then always had a close relationship. We played them in football and always got beat. The best we ever did was a tie. I got to know Luster hanging out at Pete Bowden's pool hall. Both of us were pretty good shooting pool, but he beat me most of the time.
After I graduated from Linn, concern about the draft led some of us to enlist in the National Guard or Reserves as we wanted to try to get an education. Luster and I wound up in the Naval Reserve in Greenwood, Mississippi. We both went to boot camp in Bainbridge, Maryland. Luster came back and finished his senior year in high school and went off to two years in the Navy. I wound up in the Naval Air Reserve in Millington, Tennessee, while matriculating at Delta State.
Luster came by to see me in my dorm room at Delta State one night, and he told me about his experiences in the Navy serving mostly in the Mediterranean. Told me a phrase that would come in handy if I ever got over there. It was "Voulez vous ah cache avec moi." Pointer Sisters had a hit with that phrase in it. Figure it out. He also said he was heading to California.
Luster took off, and left the Delta in his dust. How he did it, I'll never know, and he can't tell me. His success took hard work and dedication for one thing. He did have connections with some people in Ruleville who were in the costume business in Hollywood and first went to work for Western Costume in Hollywood, the main wardrober there. He got his Costumers union card, then left to freelance. That was it.
Luster wound up with his own costume company and was John Wayne's personal costumer and wardrobe person. Any John Wayne movie from the early '70s on will have his name in the credits. And he has provided the wardrobe for many movies and TV shows for which he has not gotten credit. Lonesome Dove, for one. Others were Cheyenne Autumn, Comes a Horseman, and the list goes on and on. Not bad for an ole Delta boy.
My wife and I went out to LA in the early '90s and made a point of going to see Luster. I had no idea what he had out there. I was amazed when he showed us around. He had costumes for every period, and the warehouse covered at least an acre. He had a full-time staff of seamtresses and fitters. Quite a jump from the Ruleville days.
Luster is now basically retired. His daughter is running the business in Hollywood. He returned to Ruleville and bought what is known locally as the "Wiley Place." This was all tied into the the Becks, Wileys, who were in turn part and parcel of the Thomas Edmonson estate, with whom my family was associated for many years.
Luster said he would walk by that Victorian mansion when he was a sharecropper's son and wonder what it would be like to live there. Well, now he's bought it -- and not only has he restored the home, he has made it and the grounds surrounding it a beautiful place.
And he's still my friend.
Do a search at Google.com to learn more about Luster Bayless. Fascinating story!
Judge Tom Givens is a native Mississippi Deltan who now hangs his hat in
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