In 1943, unincorporated Marina del Rey was still considered part of Venice or Playa Del Rey, CA. The area bordered the vast Westchester, CA land holdings of industrialist and entrepreneur Howard Hughes; today called Playa Vista, CA, who in those days was juggling his very important support of the War effort on the one hand, and producing and directing feature films on the other. In fact, that same year, what is arguably one of his greatest films premiered; The Outlaw, starring Jane Russell; which would one day become a box office hit.
On the entertainment front, Hughes had discovered a talented young actor by the name of David Bacon. Twenty-eight years before, Gaspar “David” Bacon was born in the Cape Cod town of Barnstable, MA. His parents named him after his father, Gaspar G. Bacon. The Bacons were one of the most prominent Brahmin families in all of Massachusetts. Gaspar Bacon the senior was a member of the board of Harvard University, and would eventually be elected lieutenant governor of the state. His father had been a close associate of J.P. Morgan, and later served as Secretary of State under Theodore Roosevelt and Ambassador to France under William Howard Taft.
Hughes signed Bacon to a three-year contract and brought him out to Hollywood. Hughes liked Bacon’s good looks and 6-2 foot height, and wanted the young man to play Billy the Kid in The Outlaw. After a screen test, however, it became clear that a pampered Brahmin from New England was completely inappropriate to play the merciless William Bonney, even though it was a small part compared to the role given to Jane Russell’s immense décolleté. Bacon’s movie career was temporarily put on hold, and he grew increasingly upset at Hughes.
After several mediocre acting jobs, Bacon was cast in the Republic Pictures serial, “The Masked Marvel.” The Masked Marvel was a 1943, 12 chapter serial from Republic, who produced the best known of the serials. In it the Marvel, a hero dressed in a business suit and a face-mask, fights the Japanese saboteur Sakima. The hook of the story is that the audience doesn't know who the hero is until the final reel. The Masked Marvel was a ‘jinx’ role. Bacon got it because four previous actors had injured themselves and were unable to work.
It was a little after 5pm on Sunday, September 12, 1943, when a small maroon English-made Austin sedan weaved erratically down Washington Blvd. near Lincoln Blvd., barely missing a telephone pole before jumping the curb near the corner of Thatcher St. and plowing into a bean field. A man wearing only white swimming trunks, his body covered in blood, staggered from the car and collapsed. Several people observed the "accident" from their homes but it was a Wayne Powell who ran to help. "Please help me, help me," uttered the man before he died.
David Bacon, the star of Republic's 1943 serial The Masked Marvel was dead, killed by a single knife wound that pierced his lower heart. According to an autopsy report, a person could live for 20 minutes with such a wound. The interior of Bacon's car was soaked with blood. It was never clear whether Bacon was stabbed inside or outside the car. The knife was never found, even though the field was thoroughly searched. So many questions remain unanswered.
One of the witnesses claimed to have seen a passenger in the car. Lorraine Smith had claimed to see a man and woman. Donald Roberts of 15 Clubhouse Street, while at a gas station on Washington Blvd. claimed to have seen a man and woman with Bacon. “I saw them pass at 4:30 PM Sunday driving toward the beach and return about 35 minutes later. The man was about five feet four inches and dark complexion.” A heavy blue wool sweater was found in the back of Bacon’s car and later identified as a type given to Venice High School athletes about 6 years previously.
The blade of the knife that killed Bacon was about 6 inches, and with a handle that would make it a foot long. Medical Experts doubted that such a knife could have been used so lethally in the small car. Had Bacon driven his assailants around for as much as twenty minutes while he bled to death?
A camera was found in the backseat. The developed film showed Bacon cavorting on the beach. In some shots he was nude. Rumors spread that he had a lover. Was it a lover’s quarrel? There were some who believed he was going to publish a book in an effort to blackmail Howard Hughes. This theory had it that a warning, gone wrong, was meant to scare Bacon. The case was never solved. Unlike the old serials, in life sometimes the good guy fails. Sometimes the curtain closes on a chapter much too soon, and while the marquis lights are still glowing bright.
And that’s how the story will probably end. Wealthy playboy David Bacon, who along with the Masked Marvel saved America’s war industries from the sabotage of the insidious Dr. Sakima, was killed by a mysterious stranger who committed the perfect murder. Recent requests to the Los Angeles Police Dept. and the FBI have revealed that all files pertaining to this case have been destroyed.