Versatile art director Henry Bumstead was an adroit master of outdoor set design, at his best and most prolific under Alfred Hitchcock (4 films), George Roy Hill (8 films) and Clint Eastwood (13 films). The son of a sporting goods store manager and a schoolteacher, Henry inherited both strong athletic and artistic inclinations. Captain of his high school football team, he joined the University of Southern California on a four-year football scholarship. However, plans for sporting stardom were scuttled after he sustained a back injury during a match, which was to plague him for the rest of his life. It forced him to dramatically re-evaluate his career options and concentrate on his arts degree. Because of his excellent grades in drawing and architecture at USC, he was hired in 1935 by John W. Harkrider at RKO as an apprentice draughtsman for $35 a week.
After two years learning the basics of his trade, he was engaged by Paramount as a sketch artist, model maker and assistant art director on the same salary. He gained valuable experience under the tutelage of Hans Dreier, one of Hollywood's foremost experts in production design. After serving with the U.S. Navy during World War II, 'Bummy', as he came to be known, graduated to full art director, beginning with the motion picture Saigon (1948). Until the end of his contract with Paramount in 1960, his name often appeared behind that of supervising art directors Dreier and/or his successor, Hal Pereira, in the credits, though neither had a great deal to do with the picture. This was notably the case with his early work for Hitchcock, which served as the foundation for his subsequent career.
The story goes, that Hitch's trusted cinematographer, Robert Burks, recommended Bummy to work on the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). His keen sense for authentic detail (as exemplified by the Marrakesh restaurant) was duly appreciated and led to his subsequent work on the iconic thriller Vertigo (1958). His exquisitely textured and evocative outdoor design encompassed more than fifty individual sets, including the interior of the Spanish mission bell tower, the cemetery and the eerily quiet art gallery - all of which impart an indelible feeling for the story before even a single line is uttered. Hitch himself was so taken with Bummy's opulent 19th century-styled interior for Tom Helmore's office, that he tasked the art director with redesigning his own office.
A year after leaving Paramount in 1960, Bumstead joined Universal on a long-term contract. For the remainder of the decade, he worked on a number of prestigious assignments, recreating small-town Alabama for To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), a vivid 11th century landscape of Druids, knights and magic for The War Lord (1965), and the sun-drenched North African battlegrounds of Tobruk (1967) during World War II. For George Roy Hill, he created meticulous studio sets of depression-era Chicago for The Sting(1973), effectively contrasting the affluent with the seedy and impoverished. It was also down to his suggestion to use browns and sepias to evoke a 1920's or 30's look. Bummy's long association with Eastwood began with Joe Kidd (1972) and ended withLetters from Iwo Jima (2006). He memorably juxtaposed sparse frontier architecture forHigh Plains Drifter (1973) and Unforgiven (1992) with the harsh and vast western landscape surrounding it; and helped set the tone for Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997) with his sumptuous, decadent exteriors and interiors of Savannah high society.
During his later years, Bummy taught production design at the American Film Institute. Still working at the age of 90, he remained consistently self-effacing and was most proud of the fact that he had never been fired, laid off or forced to look for work. He was inducted into the Art Directors Hall of Fame in 2007.