In September of 1943, witnesses saw David Bacon drive his sports car off a California highway and into a bean field. As would-be rescuers rushed to his aid, he pleaded for help. Blood soaked the interior of the car. Who had done this to him, they asked the dying man. Bacon didn’t answer then, and the question remains unanswered to this day.
Born in 1914, Bacon came from a privileged Brahmin background. His parents named him Gaspar Griswold Bacon, Jr. His grandfather, Robert Bacon, worked as a partner in J.P. Morgan’s financial empire and took a political turn, serving as U.S. ambassador to France. His father, Gaspar, had entered Massachusetts politics, rising to the rank of Senate president and then lieutenant governor. He peaked in a run for governor against James Michael Curley, the populist mayor of Boston.
Curley caricatured Bacon as an elite Republican. During the campaign Curley hired a Bacon look-alike to drive around and shout at public works employees to “stop leaning on your shovels.”
His parents probably expected David Bacon, born in Barnstable, to rise to prominence, as well. Educated at Deerfield Academy and Harvard, the younger Gaspar Bacon took a different path, however. He wanted to act in movies. Bacon trained to fly planes and hobnobbed with the well-to-do. He was a family friend of the Roosevelts and a visitor to the White House.
Starting out in theater on Cape Cod, Bacon got friendly with Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda, then unknowns. And he would later use these and other connections to struggle up the rungs of success in Hollywood.
But there were hints at a less savory side to Bacon’s playboy life. For a brief time he lived in New York, and he was rumored to be a gigolo. With his acting career failing to take off immediately, Bacon moved to Los Angeles in 1939, just two years after graduating from Harvard.
In Hollywood Bacon got a screen test and a contract with aviation magnate Howard Hughes, who also produced movies. Hughes saw the name Gaspar as a non-starter and gave the young actor the stage name David Bacon.
But Bacon had another problem. He was gay.
For Bacon, the solution was to find a gay woman he could marry: singer and actress Greta Keller. The two married in 1942, and Greta soon got pregnant. Greta’s career would span nearly 50 years. She revealed later in life that they married merely for convenience so that both could pursue their careers.
David Bacon as the Masked Marvel
David Bacon’s acting career slowly got off the ground in 1943. He had small roles in Hughes’ pictures, and Hughes agreed to loan him to Republic Pictures. Republic produced many serials, including a 12-part series about the Masked Marvel. The Masked Marvel was a man in a business suit with a face obscured by an iron mask. His mission was to fight Japanese spies.
Bacon belonged to the four-man team, which included the Masked Marvel, that investigated the spying. He landed the role because four other actors had gotten injured and could not play the part. He joked that the role would probably lead to an injury. Then he was murdered.
Greta had a difficult pregnancy, and in the aftermath of David’s death she lost the baby. Police investigated the case for months. David had been stabbed with a knife with a six-inch blade, but no one ever recovered it. The theories run from the wild to the pedestrian.
Some speculated a hitchhiker killed David Bacon. Greta later told people she believed Howard Hughes had something to do with the murder, that it had to do with a homosexual affair between Hughes and Bacon. Others speculated the murder resulted from a blackmail attempt gone wrong. Police found David’s body in the car with a camera in his car. A roll of film inside contained just one photo, a picture of David standing nude at the beach.
Prosecutors never charged anyone in the murder of Gaspar Bacon, Jr. And no one probably ever will.
David Bacon found the role of the Masked Marvel embarrassing, though people remember him most for it. Oddly, David was not the only member of the cast of the Masked Marvel to be murdered. A fellow actor, Rod Bacon, also was murdered a few years later in 1948.
This story was updated in 2023.