Whitcomb Rummel Jr. has lived many places in his life, but when people ask him where he’s from, he always says “Waterville, Maine.”

For Rummel, a screenwriter who lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Waterville holds fond and strong memories that are part of his everyday life.

“I have a connection to Waterville that goes so far, and roots,” he says. “I think my family goes back to the 1700s — the early founders. It’s part of my blood.”

Rummel grew up in Waterville in the 1950s and ’60s with his older brother, Merrill, and their parents, Ann and Whitcomb Rummel Sr., who owned Rummel’s Ice Cream on Silver Street and the Silent Woman restaurant on Kennedy Memorial Drive.

It was a rich childhood in many ways. He and his brother had great imaginations. They would ride across the bridge from Winslow to Waterville, look at the Lockwood Mill building closest to the bridge and refer to it as the prison. When in high school, Rummel hung out at the Devil’s Chair, a large gouge cut in the stone off Quarry Road. His parents worked all the time, but once a year their mother took the boys to Boothbay Harbor for clams and lobsters and one of their favorite places to stop was the retail store of the former Maine State Prison at Thomaston. The store was run by inmates and stocked items they made in the prison workshop.

All of these memories are now cast in Rummel’s screenplay “Secret Boy,” set in Waterville in the 1960s. Rummel is in negotiations with a producer, and a director is lined up to make the film. Written in 2004 and updated over time, the screenplay won a prestigious Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting Award in 2004 from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.


“It’s amazing what a history it’s had,” Rummel said of the screenplay. “It almost gets made and something happens. Of all the scripts I’ve written, it has the largest history.”

The screenplay features 15-year-old Gene Thayer, a loner who lives in a Victorian house in the fictional town of Kennebec Falls. His new next door neighbor is Evie, 14, whose mother moved the two from another state after landing a job as a corrections officer at the local prison. After a turbulent start Evie and Gene become friends, and he takes her to his local haunts, including the Devil’s Chair. At one point in the story, she goes to the local prison store, where she has a frightening encounter.

The screenplay, with a surprise ending, is both comedic and dark, tender and wistful, with a plot revolving around family secrets.

“I identify with Gene a lot because I was kind of a loner,” Rummel said last week in a phone interview from his North Carolina home. “I was not that popular in school — didn’t want to be — and I look up to Gene a lot. I kind of idolize him because he marches to the beat of his own drum and doesn’t care what people think. He’s really true to himself. I like him just for being so different.”

After leaving Waterville following high school, Rummel attended Tulane University in New Orleans, where he got a degree in sociology and English/creative writing, served in the U.S. Marine Corps two years, lived with his mother about six months after his father died suddenly and later enrolled in graduate school at Boston University and earned a master’s degree in film.

He started Witcom, a Boston filming and video company that worked with Fortune 500 companies to create training and promotional videos. After 15 years, he sold the company, moved south and went into what would be the lucrative business of directing videos and films for companies, earning more in a week than he had earned in a year while serving in the Marine Corps. But he got sick of the corporate world, left, started writing for film — his true love — and never turned back.


If the name of the character Gene Thayer in “Secret Boy” sounds familiar, it should. Rummel is the grandson of former Waterville Mayor Lorenzo Eugene Thayer, the first city mayor to die in office in 1934 at age 51. Thayer has been in the news of late since a bronze plaque bearing his name surfaced in a junk pile two years ago after having been stolen from the bridge over the Messalonskee Stream. The city restored the plaque, returned it to the bridge in a special ceremony in 2015 and invited Thayer family members, city officials and the public.

Rummel attended with his son, also Whitcomb, now 27, and their relative Henry Dillenbeck, of Winslow, Thayer’s nephew, with whom the Rummels stay on China Lake when they come to visit Maine about every three summers.

Rummel is happy to have such exciting reasons to come to Maine and keep the connection to home alive. He’s thinking of coming up for the annual Maine International Film Festival in July, another good reason to visit his roots. And my theory is that one day “Secret Boy” will be shown there.

When Rummel returns to Waterville, he drives around with his son, pointing out the familiar places of his youth and telling stories.

“Waterville’s not only where I’m from, but it’s where I’m proud to be from,” he said. “My son knows these stories as well as I do now.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 29 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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