Jon Tuska (1942-2016)
Not having met Bob Nolan when he was alive, there is little I can tell you about him that you surely do not already know, except what others had to say about him. I am certain that you know he was a regular at the tavern at the bottom of the drive leading to Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch and that Gene would regularly stop in there in the mornings for an eye-opener. Some days he would find Bob Nolan jovial and friendly, and interested in writing a new song for him. Other days he was sullen, kept to himself, and hostile to everybody. Gene Autry said that he never knew quite what to make of Bob Nolan, while conceding that he did compose some extraordinary songs, especially “Cool Water” and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”. I would concur with that impression, and it seems to have been generally the same impression Bob Nolan made on people who worked with him. I do not particularly like Country & Western music, but those two Nolan songs are sufficiently attractive for me to have recordings of them. (letter to EDM, January 15, 2007)
The Sons of the Pioneers sang "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" over the credits to "The Durango Kid" (Columbia 1940). The Durango Kid is a transition picture. It still bears the stamp of the Starrett Westerns of the 30s and yet embodies the essential elements of the later Durango Kid series. The singing by the Sons of the Pioneers is not only less intrusive than was frequently the case at Columbia after 1940, but the group is simply more competent than most that worked in later films. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the film, in retrospect, is given Bob Nolan's physical resemblance to George O'Brien, why no one ever attempted to capitalize on it and build him into a star in his own right which had long been Nolan's ambition [Wrong. Bob absolutely refused the offer.] Starrett, for his own part, never begrudged Nolan the opportunity - itself rather an unusual posture among Western players. (p. 404 "Filming of the West" 1976)
JON TUSKA and VICKI PIEKARSKI are co-founders of the Golden West Literary Agency as well as authors or editors of numerous works on the American West, including the "Encyclopedia of Frontier and Western Fiction", "Westward the Women" (1988), and "Billy the Kid" (1994). Jon was also the respected author of "The Filming of the West" (1976), the illustrated authoritative history of Western movies. He was revising and enlarging this massive work when he died.
Although, as he admitted, he knew comparatively little about Bob Nolan, Jon did have an amazing knowledge of the Hollywood Bob lived and worked in. He was instrumental in directing us to the cutting continuity of the Republic film, Sons of the Pioneers, when we were (and still are) searching for an uncut print containing Bob Nolan's "Things are Never What They Seem". Thanks to Jon, we now have the lyric.
John Tuska was born in Pennsylvania and raised in New York. As a teen, he attended the High School of Music and Art in New York before enlisting in the Navy. When he came back from the service, he studied at Alfred University and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1960. He continued his education at the New York State College of Ceramics and earned his M.F.A. there.
After finishing his education, Tuska came to the University of Kentucky where he taught ceramics for 30 years. During his time at the University, Tuska released four major works of art, one of which was a commission from Vanderbilt University.
Throughout his lifetime of teaching and creating he received recognition for outstanding work in diverse media, including poetry, sculpture, collage, paper, graphite, and pastels.
Previously, he has had exhibits in almost 20 different states, and his work can also be found in Japan, Italy, Russia, Africa and France. To this day, his one man and group shows are still displayed virtually nationwide.
In addition, the University of Kentucky has honored Tuska’s achievements by undertaking an extensive study of his writings, sketches and overall body of work. Housing sketchbooks, diaries and notes; appointment books; printed materials; teaching materials; photographic prints; slides; and video tapes, the Tuska Collection covers just short of 70 years of work. Also, his last work, Illumine, was made into a permanent display. Both of these act as tributes to Tuska’s amazing and lasting artistic achievements.
Jon Tuska, 73, died on January 18, 2016, at his home in Portland, Oregon.