WALTER REED Interview
by Boyd Magers
SR: “Flying Disc Man From Mars” in particular has been called “camp” for lack of a better word. How did you approach your two serials?
SR: After the two serials, did Republic want you to do more?
WR: My mother died while we were making “Government Agents”. It could have screwed up production for Freddie Brannon because they had a schedule and budget to meet. I had two more days to do. I said, “I’ll finish and we’ll have my mother’s funeral then.” Papa Yates came down and thanked me for that. During the last two days we did nearly all my dialogue scenes in the office for all 12 chapters. I did 40 pages of dialogue in those last two days! That’s tough, but I learned how to memorize doing stock back East. I did 186 weeks of stock in New York, Chattanooga and Kenebunkport. Everybody learns lines differently. When you’re younger, it’s easy. You learn your own way of memorizing lines.
(Walter Reed, born in Bainbridge Island, WA, February 10, 1916, died August 20, 2001, in Santa Cruz, CA.)
As a youngster I didn’t know much about “Dick Tracy”. The local paper we subscribed to didn’t run the strip (fortunately it did feature “Tarzan” and “The Lone Ranger”) and my only association with the character was the brief (and cheaply made) early TV series which I recall only liking because the leads wore wrist radios which I thought at the time a terribly nifty concept.
Still, by the time I actually caught up with him on screen and in the “funnies,” the name of Dick Tracy had become bigger than the character itself, a kind of representation of all modern lawmen, particularly federal agents (even though Tracy in the comics was no such thing). I still recall a guy down on our block regularly threatening his three year-old with calling Tracy for help if the kid didn’t clean up his act, a threat which always sent the terrified offspring racing off in tears.
The likable and earnest actor Ralph Byrd, a familiar face in many B films and other cliffhangers, appeared as Tracy in the TV series, but his main association with the character (an association which nearly obscured all his other work) came from both a series of serials and later feature films, the first produced by Republic, the others turned out a few years later by RKO. His only competition for the part was a guy named Morgan Conway who appeared rather ineffectually in the first two Tracy features and who is largely forgotten—or readily dismissed—by most fans of Chester Gould’s creation.
The first Dick Tracy serial, aptly named “Dick Tracy” (‘37) was a popular success and not surprisingly spawned several sequels. The first of these, made only a year later, was “Dick Tracy Returns” with a plot culled from the front pages of a nation enthralled by the gangland antics of such notables as Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll, John Dillinger, “Baby Face” Nelson and “Pretty Boy” Floyd. The specific inspiration was the machine gun toting Ma Barker and her psycho sons who Republic screenwriters turned into Pa Stark and his equally obedient brood of homicidal offspring. Pa is played by the one and only Charles Middleton who, I have to admit from the get go, scared the hell out of me when I first encountered him as Ming the Merciless in the Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon serials. As Pa Stark he is not quite so threatening or diabolical, but with that gaunt face, skeletal frame, deep vibrating delivery of lines and mean mouth he still isn’t someone I’d likely be hiring to baby-sit my kids.
The non-stop action revolves around Tracy and his cronies Gwen (Lynn Roberts), Junior (Jerry Tucker) and Mike McGurk (Lee Ford) out to avenge the death of novice agent Ron Merton, played by the legendary Dave Sharpe.
Running down the Stark gang (in addition to Middleton the group includes John Merton, Jack Ingram and Ned Glass), the perpetrators of the crime, leads the group from one thrilling cliffhanger to another during the course of 15 thrill-packed episodes (even if two of these are “economy chapters” with extensive footage from earlier episodes).Other than being a bit disappointed with the quality of the particular product I purchased—especially as it displayed glaring cuts and crude splicing in certain of the more violent action sequences, as well as finding it a bit disconcerting to hear musical Lone Ranger cues in certain scenes, I had a lot of fun with this serial. It’s a bit on the rickety side, old fashioned compared to some of Republic’s later and slicker products, but all and all, it remains a pleasing and nicely paced serial thanks to the always creative team of directors William Witney and John English. It’s a look back at a world when the good guys were decent and brave and the bad guys just plain bad.
The Masked Marvel Murder Mystery
Based on information researched by Tom Christopher.
It was a little after 5pm on Sunday, September 12, 1943, when a small maroon English-made Austin sedan weaved erratically down Washington Blvd. in Venice, CA, 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 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 unanswered.
But let us go back to the beginning. Gaspar Griswold Bacon Jr. was born March 24, 1914, in Barnstable, MA, the son of a man who'd been Lt. Governor of Massachusetts. Gaspar's grandfather was Secretary of State under President Theodore Roosevelt and Ambassador to France during the Taft administration.
Gaspar was a school friend of Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr. and was a frequent visitor at the White House. Attending Harvard, he graduated in 1937, then joined the University Players in Fallmouth, MA. Changing his name to David Bacon and moving to New York, he served for a time as an emcee at various theatres. During this time he pursued an interest in aviation, eventually moving to L.A. to break into movies which is when and where he first met Howard Hughes in 1942.
Bacon married Austrian opera singer Greta Keller in ‘42 and began to obtain several small film roles, the biggest being Republic’s “Masked Marvel” serial filmed from July 14 to August 18, 1943. About this time Hughes signed Bacon to an exclusive contract, intending to use him as Billy the Kid in “The Outlaw”. However, Hughes later deemed Bacon unsuitable, probably due to his non-western New England upbringing. He was replaced by Jack Beutel.
This is where innuendo comes into play. In interviews after Bacon’s murder, his widow alleged there was a homosecual relationship between Hughes and Bacon and blames her husband’s cancellation from “The Outlaw” on a “lover’s quarrel.” However, Hughes biographies have found no validity to this claim.
Just over three weeks after “The Masked Marvel” had finished filming, Bacon told Greta he was going for a swim at the Santa Monica beach house of friend Geraldine Spreckles. Greta never saw David alive again.
Hollywood gossip buzzed about the Masked Marvel Murder. L. A. detectives determined Bacon never arrived at Spreckles’ home. Next it was discovered Bacon had recently rented a cottage in Laurel Canyon, stating it was for the use of a man who was going to work on their house. The wallet recovered from Bacon's body contained a key to that cottage. The owner of the cottage, Dr. Charles Hendricks, a retired physician, had met Bacon at the cottage in the company of an unidentified man less than 48 hours before his death. Hendricks and Bacon met in order for them to finalize their rental agreement. Hendricks stated, “The friend was rather red in the face and I gathered they had been quarreling before I came in, though Bacon himself was quite calm.” The man was described as about 35 years old, 5' 8", weighing 140 pounds and ‘evidently an Austrian’.”
Detectives also learned Bacon often frequented the Venice Beach area unbeknownst to his wife. Greta also revealed David kept a secret diary written in code...it was never found.
In subsequent interviews, Greta told investigators she believed David and Hughes maintained a relationship and it was Hughes David actually went to see on the night of his murder. Besides his wallet some film was found in Bacon’s car. When developed, it included only a nude picture of him smiling while standing on the beach. Police determined the picture had been taken shortly before Bacon’s death and felt whoever took the nude photo was probably the murderer.
Witnesses to the September car crash claimed to have seen a passenger in the car. Two others claimed to have seen a man and a woman.
Bacon’s wife returned to Europe after the war then returned to the U.S. in the ‘50s where she became a popular cabaret singer. A few years before her death in 1977 her voice was used in the Oscar winning movie “Cabaret” (‘72) singing the song “Heirat”.
Bacon’s killer was never caught, The Masked Marvel Murder Mystery remains unsolved. Today, all files pertaining to the case have been destroyed.