At Life magazine, where he began in 1937, Mr. Thompson directed such journalistic projects as coverage of political conventions and following the National Aeronautics and Space Administration astronauts through their training and space flights until they landed on the moon. He dealt with the likes of Harry S. Truman, Winston Churchill and Gen. Douglas MacArthur when Life serialized their memoirs. When Mr. Thompson and MacArthur, by then old and frail, last parted company, the general walked him to the door and took his leave, saying: "I've looked that old devil death in the eye a hundred times. But this time I think he's got me." In retirement, Mr. Thompson wrote his own memoirs, "A Love Affair with Life & Smithsonian." Among other descriptions, it included his dealings with the Duke of Windsor in Life's serialization of the duke's autobiography and editing the copy of Ernest Hemingway.
In the office, both at Life and at the Smithsonian, Mr. Thompson was known for his incomprehensible mumbling. "He mumbles so badly that I literally lived through a couple of weeks without being sure he had hired me," Edwards Park wrote in a Smithsonian article on the 10th anniversary of the magazine's founding. But Mr. Thompson's written memos to his staff were unmistakable.
Mr. Thompson was born in St. Thomas, N.D. He sold his first photograph to Boys Life magazine for $1 when he was 13. It was a picture of a bear eating garbage at Yellowstone National Park. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of North Dakota and worked for the Fargo (N.D.) Forum and the Milwaukee Journal before joining Life. Retiring from Life in the late 1960s, Mr. Thompson moved to Washington, where he worked briefly for the State Department before being recruited for the Smithsonian magazine by William Warner, then an assistant secretary of the institution and later the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book "Beautiful Swimmers."
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