Last Looks: Luster Bayless

By Anna Wyckoff | June 13, 2022

Last Looks: Luster Bayless

Luster Bayless had a warm southern affect, but was fearless. He lived his life in hyperbole, from playing a championship football game directly after appendix surgery, to hitchhiking cross country on the promise of a job in Hollywood. On a John Wayne picture in Mexico, he braved a bull fighting ring with no experience and lived. In the Philippines during Apocalypse Now, while escaping a typhoon by boat, he was thrown into the water and avoided being killed by the propeller, but contracted typhoid fever and parasites. He jumped onto a helicopter and left everything behind.

Bayless loved all historical costumes, but became most closely associated with Westerns. The genre established Hollywood, capturing the imagination of a generation. In the center of those classic films, one often found Luster. “I did five years with Walt Disney, when Walt was alive, we did Mary Poppins, Robinson Crusoe, and when Walt passed away, I went back into the independent field. The first one that grabbed me was John Wayne. I worked with him on McClintock! before ’62 or ’63 then Duke wanted me to do all of his movies. So, I did until the day he died. I worked with John Ford, Hogs Hathaway, Francis Ford Coppola, and did films for Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, and Jimmy (James) Caan.”

In 1977, while designing The Sacketts starring Sam Elliott, Bayless took on yet another venture, opening his own costume shop, United American Costume Company. It began in a garage, but kept expanding to fill two commercial buildings. Focusing on the American look, Bayless liked to say he stocked everything from George Washington to present day. His legacy is closely tended by his daughters, particularly Diana Foster, who runs the company.

Luster got his nickname as a baby, when someone observed that it was almost like he had a shine. That distinction followed him his whole life. He excelled in his career, and the life-long personal relationships which are his true legacy. John Wayne said to him, “You can count your friends on your hand, include me on that hand.”

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