Born in New York City, R. Eric Gustafson is now residing in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Until his move to “The Land of Enchantment,” in 2006, he was Founding Director of Apollo Muses Center for the Arts in central New Jersey. His arts festival flourished for 22 years under Mr. Gustafson’s guidance, producing more than 200 classical music concerts as well as diverse cultural events.
Simultaneously, he wrote travel articles for the 17 newspapers owned by Recorder Publishing in New Jersey from 2000 to the present. In 1998, his autobiography Cinderella Is a Man, A picaresque passage to serenity was published. This took the author on the road internationally to promote the book. Reluctantly, he had to give up his column, “Classical Notes” with Gannett newspapers appearing weekly since 1995 in order to fulfill his road appearances.
Always a balletomane, R. Eric Gustafson made guest appearances in character roles with the New Jersey Ballet during the 1980’s. His mime role as the King in “Sleeping Beauty” was performed in Bermuda as well as around New Jersey. It was as Mother Ginger in “The Nutcracker” that a dance critic dubbed him “Carol Channing on Acid.”
After being graduated with a BFA from Queens College and going on to Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon) in Pittsburgh for his MFA in Theater Directing, Gustafson began a peripatetic journey of sampling life in Europe’s capitals, North Africa, Central and South America. They afforded him a networking of extraordinary people and a vastly expanded view of the world.
Having majored in Theater and English, he managed to be invited to appear in three different films as well as several stage and TV productions despite his protestations at not being an actor, and was a Wednesday matinee stage hand at London’s Royal Court Theater starring Sir Lawrence Olivier in “The Entertainer” during part of 1957.
In June 2010, Mr. Gustafson played the leading role of Mr. Charles in the Santa Fe Playhouse production of The New Century.
Settling down in New York during the Kennedy years, Gustafson became affiliated with the prestigious auction house of Parke-Bernet, soon to become absorbed by Sotheby’s. He devised a plan to assist an out-of-town client in securing art during an auction by being on the telephone with him for the entire sale. It was the first time in American art history that someone took bids via long distance telephone from one client for an entire sale. It has become now an ordinary event.
Entering into the art gallery business was to follow. He realized that one of the last of the collectibles in the art market was theater designs. "I knew that the practical size of these original costume and scenic inventions would fit well into contemporary homes. The price of these works was affordable and the sentiment involved seemed irresistible to the buyer. Yet no one in America thought to exhibit them for sale on an on-going basis."
“Maestro Gian-Carlo Menotti invited me to try out a gallery devoted to this art media in the summer of 1967 at this Spoleto Festival in Italy. Returning to New York successful, I opened the first center for theater design. Then, I went on to do museum collection acquisitions and curated 17 exhibitions, including “Designs for a Prima Donna: Dame Joan Sutherland” at Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts in 1980, “The Stage Is Set: International Theater Design” at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in 1978, and “New York collects New York” at Pace College that same year, and “Theater Design” in conjunction with the opening of the rebuilt Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico (1968).”
However, in the milieu of stellar personalities such as Joan Crawford, Leonard Bernstein, Elizabeth Taylor, Greta Garbo, Georgia O’Keeffe, Andy Warhol, Rudolf Nureyev, Dame Joan Sutherland, European royalty including a ruling king, and even Pope John XXIII, his life took on nightmarish aspects. Eric Gustafson was living a fairy tale supported by alcohol to cover his crippling shyness and insecurities in such an elevated environment.
Written over a period of several years, Cinderella Is a Man was finally published at Thanksgiving of 1998. The admonition of Elizabeth Taylor, “get your ass over to Betty Ford’s” and the same week after William Hurt received his Academy Award for “Kiss of the Spider Woman”, he told Eric to do what he did: Get Help!
“I lived out a peripatetic, desperate clutching-at-straws existence: wandering from one city to another, making a feeble effort to work on a book, staying afloat with celebratory drinks and reunited friends. “Gaily Lit Boulevards” * germinated within me during that nadir of my existence. The bleak piece was written in one sitting, without changing a word, while brooding in Montrose (my family’s home in Westchester) during a particularly low moment. There were lots of those moments when I was at wit’s end. Thoughts of suicide were frequent. I decided to kill myself by escalating my drinking, living more flamboyantly, ending with a glamorous, alcohol-induced flourish. I glorified those tormented writers and artistic souls who had died of drink. I spent more than another decade in an increasing blur, with more intense desperation than ever, after exhilarating moments of devil-may-care “bedaucheries.”
"There is no winner in this marathon block party.
Is the badge of inconspicuously worn
By the least of the losers."
“Now that I perceive that I am on a lifelong road to recovery and constant challenge, I pray for guidance and courage in the struggle. My intent is to travel the open road of what is spiritually beautiful. My goal is to live in harmony with the world, even with the universe, so that my sense of being may be attuned to the Music of the Spheres.
“Life is no longer for me a fairy tale full of make-believe and illusion. For decades my existence was spent in pursuit of grandiose fantasy, motivated by alcohol. Today, I have exchanged the extravagant for the abundant. How much more comfortable I now feel, functioning as a sober, responsible individual in the world. Gone is the sensation of looking in at a feast in progress, as did the poor little match girl. I strive to take responsibility as an active participant in the world around me.
“It has been wisely stated that it isn’t over until the fat lady sings. Those are terrific words of encouragement, not to give up but to persist. Thanks to my spirituality and growing sobriety, my hope is supported by faith. I know that I must be out in life available for the many unexpected possibilities and miracles that happen. I am prepared to stroll along the Boulevard of Enchantment, not as in a fairy tale but anchored in the reality of sober living.”