Steamboat People: Dave Thomson
G. David Thomson
March 31, 1946 - July 3, 2021
George David Thomson Jr. graduated from the California Institute of the Arts, CalArts, in 1968, then worked at Disney Studios in Burbank for twenty years. He ran the scene planning department for many years and worked with the animators on many Disney classics like Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. Following his time with Disney, he worked for Warner Brothers, Hanna-Barbera, and Hyperion Studios. All told he was in the cameraman's union, the International Cinematographers Guild, for thirty years.
After retiring in 2000, Dave threw himself into Mark Twain and paddlewheel steamboat history. He was a prolific collector of vintage steamboat photos, oil paintings, model boats, and other steamboat artifacts and paraphernalia. In January 2002 he contacted Nori Muster, webmaster of Steamboats.com, and began to send her images and information to post at her website.
The Dave Thomson Collection is comprised of 240 pages displaying 2,990 steamboat images. It is the largest collection of steamboat photos on the Internet.
Over his twenty years as the primary contributor and historian for Steamboats.com, Dave answered hundreds of questions for people about their ancestry or a particular boat or captain they were researching. In addition, hundreds of people contacted the museum for permission to use Dave's images for book covers, museum exhibits, magazine articles, and other commercial use.
Dave wrote all the captions for the steamboat jpgs he sent for the museum, and his writings now serve as a valuable bank of information. Losing Dave to medical complications is a loss for the entire steamboat community. He was one of the elders, and took an encyclopedia of history with him when he left. Sadly, it is a history that was already disappearing.
Dave grew up in Palos Verdes, in Los Angeles County, California, and is survived by his brother and sister-in-law, Darryl and Jerri Thomson. They will spread his ashes in San Pedro, nearby Palos Verdes where Dave and Darryl used to walk along the breakwater as kids.
One final note from Nori Muster: In 2015, Dave and I had a telephone conversation about the museum and wandered into the subject of our spiritual beliefs. Neither of us were ultra-religious, but we both felt a connection to the numinous through steamboats. He said:
"Worshiper of steamboats perhaps? I think we're onto the key to a positive afterlife where steamboats are our reward and compensation for rough times we experienced on planet earth."
Visit the Dave Thomson Museum:
Dave's favorite songs:
Dixie Lily, by Elton John (from the 1974 Caribou Album)
Robert E. Lee, by Neil Diamond (from the 1980 motion picture soundtrack The Jazz Singer)
Dave Thomson in his river room with fellow steamboat enthusiast, Goldie Cat.
Dave Thomson's Celebration of Life
June 18, 2022
Introduction (Jerri Thomson):
I'm Jerri Thomson, wife of Darryl, Dave's brother. Welcome to Dave's "Celebration of Life". Many of you came from long distances to be here. We are so grateful for your support. You have been viewing a slide show that highlights Dave and Darryl's childhood. Darryl has prepared a tribute to Dave which he would like to share with you now.
Eulogy (Darryl Thomson):
Dave and I grew up in the Linda Vista area of Pasadena until 1957. In 1958, we moved to the South Bay to be closer to our father's job. I was 7 and Dave was 12. Our dad, George, was the Director of Industrial Security for North American Aviation in El Segundo. Later it became Rockwell International. After Dad graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in 1940, he joined the FBI and was a special agent for ten years. He ran the Los Angeles office for several years and reported directly to J. Edgar Hoover.
Dad bought a beautiful English style home on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in 1958. We had a swimming pool and we spent many happy hours there. Our mom, Kay, negotiated a bargain price from the seller. She was a great lady. Mom graduated from Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti in 1940. She taught elementary school in Flint, Michigan for a year before marrying our dad in June of 1941. Mom endured a lot of hardship growing up in the Great Depression. Her one escape was to go to the movies every Sunday afternoon. For a dime, she could sit through a double feature twice. Mom took Dave and me to lots of great movies including "Lawrence of Arabia", "How the West Was Won", and "Some Like it Hot". Going to the movies became a lifelong passion for us all. Dave especially loved old horror movies such as "Dracula", "Frankenstein", and "The Wolf Man". He did such a great impersonation of Bela Lugosi's Dracula that he was once a guest on the Steve Allen Show while he was in high school.
Dave helped me with my homework many times. In the sixth grade, he made a wonderful diorama of the Battle of Quebec in the French and Indian War. This was for my Social Studies class. Dave did 100% of the work and I got 100% of the credit. He also edited and sometimes typed my term papers in high school and college. Dave added much needed humor to my dry academic endeavors.
Every year we put on a Halloween show at our house in Palos Verdes. In one skit, Dave's best friend, John Dickey, played an evil wizard who conjured my brother to life. If we're lucky maybe we can persuade John to recite his evil spell here today. In this production, Dave would attack and strangle me. I would fall dead to the floor twenty times per night. It was great fun.
Dave attended Palos Verdes High School, graduating in 1964. He was active in the Speech and Drama Departments where he frequently played villains like Injun Joe in the play "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer". Dave did his own make-up for Injun Joe creating a long nasty scar on his face. It was very realistic. I overheard a mother in the audience say "I think it's terrible that they gave that poor boy the part of Injun Joe just because he has that terrible scar on his face."
After high school, Dave attended Chouinard Art Institute (Cal Arts) graduating in 1968 with a Bachelor's Degree in Film Arts. In 1967, Dave made a short student film based on Edgar Allen Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher". It was shot mostly in the catacombs of Riverside's Mission Inn. Larry Huber, who unfortunately couldn't attend today, was one of the stars in the film. Mike Grout and John Dickey also worked on the technical aspects of the film and they are here today. (Take a bow).
In August 1968, Dave began working at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. He started in the mail room making $100 a week. He spent most of his 23 year career at Disney working in the Scene Planning Department working on camera mechanics for animated features and special format projects for the Walt Disney theme parks. He worked on many films including "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast". He worked for the legendary Ruthie Thompson (no relation) who was one of the first women to join the Cameraman's Union. She passed away last October at the ripe old age of 110. Dave ran the department for many years after Ruthie's retirement in 1975. After 23 years working in Disney Studios, Dave left to pursue other opportunities at Hanna Barbera, Warner Brothers, Turner Animation and Hyperion Studios.
Dave was a very creative and talented guy. In 1973, he played the role of Dracula in the Walt Disney T.V. movie "The Mystery of Dracula's Castle." This currently can be viewed on You Tube. Dave is Dracula in the first five minutes of the film. It is a small but memorable role. Around 1971, Dave narrated a short animated film called "The Hodad". That film was created and produced by Larry Huber, a former classmate at Cal Arts. It tells the story of a mythical creature similar to the Tasmanian devil.
Dave was a very handsome man in his youth. He was the model for a beautiful western painting by Andy Gaskill who is here today. (Hold up small rendition of painting to crowd). Dave is here portraying a cavalry officer in Monument Valley. Dave was the model for book covers for Western pulp fiction (Hold up books) often portraying gunfighters in the Old West.
Dave was an award winning photographer. We brought some of his work today which we want to raffle off to those that are interested.
In 1978 Dave married Bette Isis Baker, an animator at Disney Studios. A year later they traveled to Hong Kong to visit Bette's brother, Peter, an international banker. They moved to Sun Valley CA in 1980 and were married for ten years. They maintained a cordial relationship after they divorced n 1989. Bette remarried in 1990 and moved to Oakhurst CA (near Yosemite). She passed away a few years ago from Alzheimer's disease. Dave had a life-long passion for Mark Twain and his hometown of Hannibal, Missouri. He collected over 1,000 books on and by Mark Twain along with hundreds of prints, paintings, photos and other memorabilia on the subject. He designed book jackets for several books written by local Hannibal MO authors. About twenty years ago, Dave published a book called "Salt River Tom", a tall tale about a giant catfish, written by Goldena Howad, a prominent Missouri storyteller.
To honor Dave's legacy, my wife Jerri and I are donating Dave's extensive Mark Twain collection to the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Foundation in Hannibal, Missouri. Thanks to Henry Sweets, curator of the Foundation, for helping select items to donate to the museum.
Dave was also a steamboat historian who posted thousands of photos from his collection on Steamboats.com for others to enjoy. Nori Muster, the webmaster for this website, is here today and she has helped us arrange his collections to get them ready for donation. Dave's lovely steamboat collection is made up of 500 plus books, thousands of photos, antique postcards, waybills and other memorabilia and four beautiful steamboat models. These items will be donated to the University of Wisconsin, Murphy Library, La Crosse located on the Mississippi River. Thanks to David Mindel, curator of the library, for all of his help.
Dave and I were very close growing up. He was my confidant and closest ally. We took many wonderful trips together including those to Disney World in Orlando, Florida in 1973, to New Orleans in 1989 and to Hannibal, Missouri in 2003.
Dave was a great brother. He had a wicked sense of humor. I miss him every day.