Donald C. Thompson found being a photographer exciting work, and one gets the sense that he thoroughly enjoyed the deception he often used to film the scenes he wanted. He was an American in Europe before the entry of the United States, and he came amazingly close to the action.
Thompson was born in Topeka on January 19, 1885.* Biographer David Mould wrote that he was intelligent not in the academic sense, but as a man of the streets. He did freelance work for a Topeka newspaper, showing a sense of the newsworthy.
It seemed he could go anywhere. When war broke out in Europe, he went over with help from the Canadian military. He was able to move about on instinct, being able to access the battlefield regardless of the British, the French and the Germans. He often lied about his identity, a useful device that also got him into trouble whether at war or peace.
For a full account of his life, David Mould’s article in the Autumn 1982 issue of Kansas History is a great account of Thompson’s life. Additional information about him has been found and can also be found online.
At the time Mould wrote his article, Thompson seemed to have been last tracked to Ethiopia in 1936. We know he did come home, and never really left the business . The 1940 census lists him as a producer; he passed away in Los Angeles on July 8, 1947.
Clips of his surviving films can be found on YouTube. Here is one of them, a three-minute, sixteen second clip from “War as It Really Is.” If you have a problem in viewing skeletal remains, be forewarned that you will see them almost immediately in this clip:
*There is a question about the actual date of Thompson’s birth. There is enough information to suggest the 1885 date is correct, although 1884 also comes up, and even one source says 1886. Another source also a a completely different date, May 12, 1884.
There does not seem to be the same confusion over his death date, which is registered on the California Death Index.