Monday, April 4, 2011
RIP Claude Stanush
He also was creative force behind two Hollywood movies.
By Steve Bennett
Claude Stanush, a writer of profound grace and astonishing agility, died quietly in his bed at his San Antonio home Saturday.
“He took a nap and didn't wake up,” daughter Michele Stanush said of her 92-year-old father, a correspondent for Life magazine during its heyday in the 1940s and '50s.
One of his Life stories inspired the 1952 Robert Mitchum film “The Lusty Men.”
An intensely spiritual man with a wry sense of humor — he once loosed an armadillo in the Life offices just to see what might happen — Stanush returned to his native San Antonio from New York in 1962. He told the San Antonio Express-News in 2007 that he returned home because he came to view working at Life as “making sausages. He wanted to pursue other kinds of thoughtful writing,” recalled his wife, Barbara Stanush. “For one year, he did nothing but read. He reread the Bible, the Greek philosophers. But he started writing short stories, and that's what he wanted to do.” He found the peace to pursue writing projects at Maverick Hill on the Northwest Side, once part of the old Maverick Ranch, where the Stanushes moved in 1965 and lived for 35 years, raising three daughters.
Stanush's latest book was 2007's “Sometimes It's New York,” a collection of short stories that ran the stylistic gamut from slow and meditative to absurdly humorous. His other books include “The Balanced Rock and Other Stories” and “The Newton Boys: Portrait of an Outlaw Gang.” Honors included a creative writing award from the National Endowment for the Arts as well as the J. Frank Dobie Award and a Dobie Fellowship.
At Life magazine, he was recognized by the World Council of Churches for his work on the series, “The World's Great Religions,” and by the American Association for the Advancement of Science for his essay, “The Geography of the Universe.”
Stanush also co-wrote the screenplay for the 1998 film “The Newton Boys,” shot in San Antonio and starring Ethan Hawke and Matthew McConaughey.
His 1980s columns for the Express-News, running the gamut from the state of arts in America to modern bathroom design, are collected in “The World in My Head.”
Stanush kept busy over the last few years, despite health problems, including hip surgery. His novel “A Piece of Cheese,” co-written with Michele Stanush, was nearing completion, and he had been wrestling with an essay collection on the subject of good and evil for several years. Stanush also had a sort of metaphysical memoir in the works called “A Life in Time and Eternity.”
“Claude was undoubtedly the most truly humble intellectual I've ever met,” San Antonio writer and publisher Bryce Milligan said. “I never tired of talking to him. He was quite brilliant, and intensely curious about virtually everything. But there were some things that he simply could not understand — greed and human cruelty were simply beyond him. Both the man and his writing were exemplars of compassion and good humor.”
Born June 18, 1918, into a Polish family whose South Texas roots stretch back to the 1850s, Stanush graduated from Central Catholic High School at age 15 in 1933 and graduated summa cum laude with an English degree from St. Mary’s University in 1939.
After college, Stanush went to work for the San Antonio Light, and recalled in the 2007 interview an early assignment to cover a woman threatening suicide. It was near Christmas, and Stanush got her telling stories.
“During the telling, she forgot about killing herself,” he said.
He got the itch for New York, however, and eventually landed a job at what then was one of the country's premier magazines by basically camping out in the editor's office day after day.
“After a week or so,” Stanush recalled in 2007, “he finally called me in. He said, ‘What are your qualifications?' And I said, ‘Perseverance.'”
“Claude lived a great life,” said a longtime friend, writer Robert Flynn. “He gave up his career at Life magazine to come home and write his stories. He did write his stories, and they are his gift to us.”
Stanush was a firm believer in community activism. He was co-founder and president of the Artists Alliance of San Antonio and was chairman of San Antonio's Fine Arts Commission for six years. He also presided over the American Issues Forum, a program funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities to encourage community dialogue. And he was a writer and consultant for the Rockefeller Foundation about persistent poverty in the United States.
“He was a precious friend to everyone who knew him,” said poet Naomi Shihab Nye, “and a writer of infinite grace, modesty and wisdom.”
Oh, and that armadillo? After a trip back home to South Texas, where he grew up “a Polish cowboy” during the Depression, Stanush released the creature in the Life offices late one night. Next morning, the floor was littered with papers and photographs. Secretaries stood on chairs. Bosses frowned.
“I had to give him to the Bronx zoo,” Stanush said in 2007 in his gravelly voice, “and they didn't like him because he slept all day, being nocturnal and all.”
Besides his wife, Stanush is survived by daughters Michele, Pamela and Julie and three grandchildren.
STANUSH, Claude Ignatius
Born: 6/18/1918, San Antonio, Texas, U.S.A.
Died: 4/3/2011, San Antonio, Texas, U.S.A.
Claude Stanush's westerns - writer, screenwriter:
The Lusty Men - 1952 [writer]
The Newton Boy - 1998 [writer, screenwriter]