Carl Voss was a born leader — when he left the Army after World War I, he went on to command Maori warriors, Roman footsoldiers, and revolutionary Americans.

Voss was leader of the “Military Picture Players,” a group of up to 2,112 former servicemen who fought one another in Hollywood battle scenes. He drilled his soldiers as infantry, cavalry, and artillerymen and ensured that their appearance was authentic whether they were playing Germans, Hessians, Chinese, Senegalese, Czechs, or Crusaders. And he was good at it: Between The Big Parade (1925) and Four Sons (1940), Voss’s troops clashed in 232 engagements without a serious casualty.

So it was ironic that red tape finally killed them. The Screen Actors Guild ruled that Voss was essentially an extra and could not direct its members — a curious judgment, as by that time he’d become arguably one of the most versatile commanders in screen history.