Sunday, February 16, 2020

Hollywood camoufleur | Shotgun wedding in reverse

Poster for Tummell's award-winning film (1933)
William F. Tummell (1892-1977) was an award-winning Hollywood film director, who served as a camouflage artist during World War I.

Born in Kansas City MO, he grew up there, and in Muskogee OK. He attended Muskogee Central High School, where one of his classmates was Viola Kobler. Around 1913, they eloped and were married without her parents’ consent in Wagoner OK.

When they returned to Muskogee, they were confronted by the bride’s father, who “took the bride home with him and made her stay there and warned the youthful husband away with a shotgun.” Following unsuccessful “attempts at reconciliation,” the parents sent their daughter to Iowa.

In the fall of 1913, unable to locate the bride, Tummell filed a lawsuit in Superior Court for $20,000 in damages against her parents. When he learned her whereabouts, he “went after her and finally brought her home with him.” The following year, Tummell (apparently without his wife) moved to Los Angeles to work as a technical director for film companies. Whatever the circumstances, their marriage ended in divorce in 1917.

Earlier, while living in Missouri, Tummell had been a member of the Missouri National Guard. In 1917, he joined Company F of the 24th Engineers, an army camouflage unit. He passed through Kansas City on November 27, on his way to training at Camp American University in Washington DC. According to an article in the Muskogee Times-Democrat on the following day—

The company will be composed entirely of men recruited from the motion picture industry and its business will be to render [American] batteries, billets and other war instruments invisible to [enemy eyes]. After three months of intensive training in Washington [DC] the movie fighters will embark for the war zone.

Following the war, Tummell returned to his film career in Hollywood. Between 1925 and 1977, he contributed to 59 films. In 1933, he received an Academy Award as Best Assistant Director for his work on Cavalcade. He died in Los Angeles in 1977 at age 85.

While looking for information about William Tummell, we discovered that the US Army photograph that we used on the cover (below) of False Colors: Art, Design and Modern Camouflage (2002) is that of a camouflaged soldier from Tummell's unit, Company F of the 24th Engineers, taken at Camp American University in November 1917.