"...no man is useless while he has a friend..."
                     Robert Louis Stevenson


Gossipy Kate’s
Unscripted Endings…

….and the strange death
“Dr. Cyclops”!

If you are squeamish, stop here! This tale is not for the faint of heart. The death of distinguished character actor Albert Dekker was weird and unorthodox even by Hollywood standards and it would be rated “R” if they could ever put it on the screen.
The morning of May 5th, 1968 was quiet in a city that never sleeps. At the apartment on 1731 North Normandie Albert Dekker wasn’t answering his door and his fiancée, fashion model Geraldine Saunders was becoming concerned. She hadn’t heard from him since their theater date on Thursday evening and he didn’t call or show up for their Friday date.  Outside the apartment door, Geraldine added her note to others left by friends who had also called and got no response. When she returned that evening to find things just the same, she begged the apartment manager to open the door. It was locked but not bolted but there was no one inside. They found the bathroom door chained from the inside and had to break it open. What they found inside was so bizarre and grotesque that Geraldine collapsed on the floor and it took several minutes before the apartment manager could steady himself enough to call police.  


Dekker was born Albert Van Ecke in Brooklyn, New York on December 20th, 1905.Both parents were of Dutch ancestry and  Albert took his mother’s surname as his stage name sometimes using Van Dekker but later keeping the shorter version. He went to Bowdoin College in Maine intending to become a psychologist when the acting bug bit him. An alumnus at the college gave him a letter of introduction to Alfred Lunt and Dekker made his stage debut in the 1928 Broadway production “Marco Millions” (Lunt played Marco Polo while Dekker divided his performance between 3 characters!).

On Broadway in "Fly Away Home" with
            Thomas  Mitchell. (1934)
            The boy in the striped shirt is Montgomery Clift

"The Killers" 1946

In 1929 Albert met and married actress Esther Guernini and they had three children (2 sons and a daughter) before the marriage ended in divorce. Dekker loved New York and the theater. He became well-known to Broadway in the ten years before Hollywood beckoned. And he returned periodically to renew his spirit….most notably in 1949 as Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman” and in 1961 as the Duke of Norfolk in “A Man For All Seasons”.  He often said “New York is a small town. Everyone on the street stops an actor to say hello.”

Dekker made his screen debut in the 1937 film “The Great Garrick” but some of his most memorable work came in the 1940s with the role of the mad scientist Dr. Morkel in “Dr. Cyclops” (1940) and Big Jim Colfax, the vicious hitman in “The Killers” (1946). The decade also marked his entry into politics when he was elected by a landslide victory to a term in the California legislature from 1944 to 1946.
The 1950s brought television and Dekker extended his career on the small screen here and in England. Then suddenly fate backhanded him. Because of his public denouncement of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) Dekker found himself “persona non grata” at many studios and often had to turn to lectures on the college circuit to make a living.
He was also the victim of death threats.

With director Robert Aldrich and Gaby Rodgers
            on the set of "Kiss Me Deadly" (1955)

In 1967, just when things were looking up again, fate dealt another blow. Dekker was about to start a new picture for Warner Bros., another of his most memorable roles as Pat Harrigan in Sam Peckinpah’s classic  “The Wild Bunch” when word came that his son had been killed.  Sixteen-year-old Jan was trying to develop a new rifle silencer when apparently the gun accidentally discharged.

On Thursday evening May 2nd, 1968 Albert Dekker took his fiancée to the opening of Zero Mostel’s new show at the Huntington Hartford Theater, Their wedding date was less than a month away and Albert had been living in the apartment for about a week while they closed a deal on a new home in Encino Hills. That night they were celebrating his return from filming on location in Mexico. They enjoyed the show so much they planned to see it again the following night. But that date never happened.

What they found in the bathroom:

Albert Dekker was kneeling in the bathtub, nude and very, very dead.  There was a noose around his neck and a scarf tied over his eyes. A strange bit-like device made from a rubber ball and wire was in his mouth and two leather belts, one around his neck and the other circling his chest, were held in place with leather straps. A third strap was around his waist and tied to a rope binding his ankles. Both wrists were clamped singly with handcuffs. There were obscenities written in lipstick on his chest, stomach and buttocks. A dirty hypodermic needle was hanging from each arm and another one from his right buttock.

"Bonanza..The Bottle Fighter" 1968 (Dekker died 7  days before this episode aired)

After a brief investigation, the detectives on the case ruled out murder (no signs of forced entry or struggle) and decided Dekker had committed suicide. The coroner disagreed and ruled it “accidental asphyxiation while attempting autoerotic asphyxia”.  After all, this was Hollywood and weird was the name of the game.
But no one ever considered that it might have been murder by someone he  recognized or who was already in the apartment when he got home?….someone who wanted the actor to suffer humiliation before and after death?


What was never explained…

. How a 62 year old man, 6’3” and 240 pounds, was able to gag and tie himself up (either before or after injecting himself with drugs)…and write legible words on his own buttocks with lipstick…. without even smearing it? (Toxicology could never detect what drugs because Dekker had been dead at least 3 days).

. What happened to the $70,000 in cash (money from the work in Mexico and two television roles) that he had in the apartment to close the deal on the Encino house? Or the expensive camera equipment and the tape recorder he was using to prepare for a forthcoming stage role.

Geraldine believes he knew his killer or killers and that he was drugged or unconscious before he was tied up in the bathtub. That would mean there was more than one assailant. She concurred with Dekker’s legion of friends (including Paul Lukas,and his castmates from “The Wild Bunch” Sam Peckinpah, Bill Holden, Ernie Borgnine and Robert Ryan)  that suicide or unorthodox behavior was not consistent with what they knew of the distinguished actor. Even one of the detectives admitted that “Dekker was slickered”. But despite Geraldine’s protest the case was closed and the accidental death decision still stands.




What do you think?