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His only foray into cinema was an early 1930s film short entitled "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century". He directed the production and starred as Doctor Huer.
Childhood and career in illustration
Tarbell was born in the Illinois town of Delavan, but spent his childhood in Groveland. Tarbell created cartoons for a newspaper in Morton when he was 12 years old. It was at this time that Tarbell received one of his earliest introductions to professional magic, when he hiked five miles along the railroad tracks to watch magician Harry August Jansen, aka Dante, perform at the Morton Town Hall.
In 1911, Tarbell moved to Chicago in order to pursue a professional career in illustration. His efforts attracted the attention of the magic company Read and Covert, which hired Tarbell to work on their Illustrated Catalogue of Superior Magical Apparatus. Tarbell continued to produce illustrations for Read and Covert until 1941.
During World War I, Tarbell served with the 24th Air Company in France, working with the medical department. He found time during his service to illustrate a military atlas and study with French impressionist Claude Monet.
Tarbell lived in Elmhurst for the last 34 years of his life. He suffered a fatal cardiac arrest on June 16, 1960, dying at the age of 70.