Tompkins, Peter 1919-2007

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Tompkins, Peter 1919-2007


See index for CA sketch: Born April 29, 1919, in Athens, GA; died January 24, 2007, in Sheperdstown, WV. Journalist, spy, producer, and author. Tompkins was famous as a spy working for the Allies in Italy during World War II, and he later wrote books and produced documentaries about the war. Though born in the United States, his artist parents took him abroad and he attended schools in Italy, France, Switzerland, and England. One of his teachers at the Stowe School in England was T.H. White, whom he would say would serve as an inspiration for his writing. When he reached college age, Tompkins attended Harvard briefly but left to work as a correspondent in Italy. He contributed stories to the New York Herald Tribune, Sunday Times, and Times of India, as well as to the Mutual Broadcasting System. While he was in Athens in 1941, the Nazis invaded Greece. Tompkins had to flee to Africa, Singapore, and finally to America. Here he was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services—the forerunner of the CIA—and by 1943 he was in Italy again, this time as a spy. He established himself as an Italian aristocrat and even managed to live in his family's former home in Rome. Here he gathered intelligence on the Italians and Germans and covertly broadcast them back to the Allies. When the war ended, he moved to Berlin briefly as an OSS officer, but resigned in 1946. Tompkins returned to journalism as a freelancer, but also started writing for the film industry, writing a screenplay, Voice of Silence (1953), for director Georg Wilhelm Pabst. The writer sometimes even acted in minor movie parts. Moving to New York City in 1954, he wrote for CBS television and began publishing books, including the memoir A Spy in Rome (1962). His first books, however, were editing works. He edited To a Young Actress: The Letters of Bernard Shaw to Molly Tompkins (1960) and Shaw and Molly Tompkins in Their Own Words (1961). Molly Tompkins was his mother, and her son would rather scandalously claim that she and Shaw had an affair while Tompkins was a young boy. The books were not meant to slander anyone, as Tompkins had been very fond of Shaw, who was very kind to him. Tompkins also raised eyebrows with A Spy in Rome, in which he declared that Winston Churchill had orchestrated the murder of Mussolini in order to prevent certain embarrassing papers from being found. Tompkins related that Churchill had been negotiating peace terms with Italy in direct contradiction to agreements with the United States. He also wrote the war books The Murder of Admiral Darlan: A Study in Conspiracy (1965) and Italy Betrayed (1966). Tompkins, in an effort to honor his fallen war comrades, also embarked on work as a documentary filmmaker, which he made with his wife for the Italian broadcasting company RAI. He was better known in the United States, though, for his interesting books on plants and ancient ruins. Among these titles are Secrets of the Great Pyramid (1971), The Secret Life of Plants (1973), The Magic of Obelisks (1981), and Secrets of the Soil (1989).



Tompkins, Peter, A Spy in Rome, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1962.


Times (London, England), February 24, 2007, p. 78.