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Jim Thompson (designer)

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James Harrison Wilson "Jim" Thompson (born March 21, 1906 in Greenville, Delaware - unknown) was an American businessman who helped revitalize the Thai silk and textile industry in the 1950s and 1960s. A former U.S. military intelligence officer who once worked for the Office of Strategic Services, Thompson mysteriously disappeared while going for a walk on Easter Sunday, March 26, 1967, in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia. Many hypotheses have been put forward to explain his disappearance, but what actually happened to him remains a mystery.

Education and professional backgroundEdit

Jim Thompson was the youngest of five children of Henry and Mary Thompson, a wealthy Delaware couple. Jim's father was involved in the textile business. Jim was educated at St. Paul's School and Princeton University. Though Thompson studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, he never received his degree and was therefore unable to pass the NY Architecture Board examination. Nevertheless, he practiced in New York City with Holden McLaughlin, designing summer homes and a band shell in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

During the 1930s, he led an active social life and sat on the board of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, all the while becoming more politically active. His increasingly liberal politics alienated him from his wealthy Republican family, and by 1940 he had sought escape from them by military service, first in the Delaware National Guard and then in the Officer Training Corps of the United States Army.

World War II activitiesEdit

During World War II, he was recruited by William Joseph Donovan and served as a commissioned officer in the Office of Strategic Services (which in 1947 was disbanded in place of the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency). Thompson used his fluent French on daring missions behind enemy lines in German-occupied France. After Victory in Europe Day (May 7–8, 1945), Thompson was transferred to Ceylon. He was about to be deployed in Thailand when the Surrender of Japan in August-September of the same year officially ended World War II. Thompson arrived in Thailand several weeks after Victory over Japan Day to take charge of the Bangkok OSS office.

Leaving the US Army in 1946, he returned home to bring his wife back to Thailand. She did not agree to this and divorced him. Thompson returned to Bangkok, embarking on a renovation of the Oriental Hotel with a number of partners. From here he worked with a number of Thai investors to found the Thai Silk Company, in 1947. Although he officially abandoned intelligence activities, many have suspected he was still working under non-official cover for the CIA. During the Vietnam War, his closest friend (and former OSS comrade), General Edwin Black, was in charge of United States Air Force operations over Laos and Thailand.

Return to private industryEdit

A civilian once more, Thompson devoted himself to revitalizing a cottage industry of hand-woven silk, which had for centuries been a household craft in Thailand but was dying out. Thompson located a group of Muslim (Cham) weavers in the Bangkok neighborhood of Bankrua and provided hitherto unavailable color-fast dyes, standardized looms, and technical assistance to those interested in weaving on a piece-work basis.

Besides inventing the bright jewel tones and dramatic color combinations nowadays associated with Thai silk, he raised thousands of Thailand's poorest people out of poverty, making millionaires out of his core group of weavers by giving them shares of the Thai Silk Company. His endeavour showed a profit from its first year of operation. Thompson's determination to keep his company cottage-based was significant for the women who made up the bulk of his work force. By allowing them to work at home, choosing their hours and looking after their children while weaving, they retained their position in the household while becoming breadwinners.

It was only after Thompson's disappearance that the Thai Silk Company relocated its weaving operations to Khorat, a city which serves as a base of operations for the Royal Thai Army. Although the Company abandoned home-based weaving in favor of factories in the early 1970s, the Thai Silk Company's Khorat facility looks more like a beautifully landscaped campus than a factory.

As Thompson was building his company, he also became a major collector of Southeast Asian art, which at the time was not well-known internationally. He built a superb collection of Buddhist and secular art not only from Thailand but from Burma, Cambodia and Laos, frequently travelling to those countries on buying trips.

In 1958 he began what was to be the pinnacle of his architectural achievement, a new home to showcase his art collection. Formed from parts of six antique Thai houses, his home (completed in 1959) sits on a klong (canal) across from Bangkrua, where his weavers were then located. Most of the 19th century houses were dismantled and moved from Ayutthaya, but the largest – a weaver's house (now the living room) – came from Bangkrua. The Jim Thompson House, now a museum, is still one of the most popular tourist attractions in Bangkok. It could be reached by public or private transport. Except for Sundays, it is open to the public from 9am to 4.30pm.

File:Jimthompson.jpg

DisappearanceEdit

Thompson came to the Cameron Highlands with Mrs. Constance (Connie) Mangskau on Friday, March 24, 1967. They stayed at "Moonlight" bungalow with Dr. Ling Tien Gi, a Singaporean-Chinese chemist and Mrs. Helen Ling, his white American-born wife.[1] On Easter Sunday, March 26, they attended the morning services at All Souls' Church. Later that day, he went for a walk but failed to return.[2]

Dr. Ling took it that Thompson left the estate at approximately 3.30pm. In an interview with The Straits Times, he said:

"I heard footsteps pass by my bedroom door about 3.30pm and presumed it was Mr. Thompson taking a stroll."[3][4]

Mrs. Ling, however, felt otherwise: she informed the Eastern Sun that Thompson left her home at 1.30pm. She mentioned that

"Mr. Thompson told her and Mrs. Mangskau at 1.30pm just before going for the walk: 'Good night, sweethearts'.

Asked why the 'good night' bit during noon, Mrs. Ling said:

"It has always been our practice, despite the time of the day or night to say good night whenever we wanted to retire for the night or for a siesta".

The report concluded, "... with the wave of the hand, Mr. Thompson was gone".[5][6]

See alsoEdit

In section Disappearance Mrs. Lings allegation, that Jim Thompson bid her and Connie Mangskau good night before leaving for a walk at 1.30pm can not be correct, according to Warrren, Maya Herman in "The Jade Window " and my conversation with Connie Mangskau in 1972 in Bangkok, after Church the four of them had a picnic in the garden of Moonlight cottage which ended just after 2pm. After which everyone retired to his room, the Lings stayed in one, they heard the footsteps through the open window. Connie ( who was the owner of the Erawan Antique Store in the Erawan Hotel ) told me that she went straight to her room and had a siesta, she heard nothing.

Margrit Deman

ReferencesEdit

Notes Edit

Books Edit

Video Edit

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External linksEdit

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it:Jim Thompson (stilista) ja:ジム・トンプソン fi:Jim Thompson (suunnittelija) th:จิม ทอมป์สัน

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