David G.G. Bacon, far right, in “The Masked Marvel,” courtesy of Steven Bibb.
So far, the David G.G. Bacon killing is relatively pristine, at least compared to the Black Dahlia case; the killing doesn’t appear in “Hollywood Babylon” or any other similar junk, and no one has come forward — yet — to accuse their father of the killing. Even so, it has not entirely escaped the genre of crappy biographies. Really, books like “Hollywood Babylon” and Scotty Bowers’ “Full Service” are nothing but soft-core porn using the names of conveniently dead people.
I hadn’t planned to shoot holes in another “tell-all” book after the Ted Healy/Wallace Beery project, but I couldn’t pass up touching at least briefly on Darwin Porter’s purported biography from 2005, “Howard Hughes: Hell’s Angel,” which was followed by “The Encyclopedia of Unsolved Crimes” by Michael Newton, the co-author, with Janice Knowlton, of “Daddy Was the (you guessed it) Black Dahlia Killer.”
From the first glance, I knew the Porter “biography” was going to be low-hanging fruit for a researcher because “Howard Hughes: Hell’s Angel” repeats the old — and thoroughly discredited — urban legend about Hughes designing a bra for Jane Russell (d. 2011), who denied the story many times.
Porter claims to have gotten information from two conveniently dead people, and I already have a headache. One purported informant is onetime publicist Russell Birdwell, who died in December 1977 in Oxnard, Calif.; another is Bacon’s widow, singer Greta Keller, who died in 1977 in Vienna. Notice that she died in Vienna. This will be important.
Nov. 6, 1977: Greta Keller dies in Vienna, according to the Associated Press via the Eugene Register-Guard.
The fact that Keller died in Vienna is most interesting because Porter credits her in the Hughes biography as follows: “Greta Keller the continental chanteuse, my housemate, who provided revelations about her murdered husband, David Bacon.”
Which poses the interesting question of how Porter found Birdwell (living in Oxnard, Calif.) “a marvelous source about how ‘The Outlaw’ was really made” while supposedly sharing a house with Keller — presumably in Vienna.
But wait — it gets worse.
David G.G. Bacon meets Howard Hughes, as told in Darwin Porter’s “Howard Hughes: Hell’s Angel,” Page 512.
How much would you like to bet that this never happened?
The first question is when was “The Outlaw” being cast? We see from this Edwin Schallert column that Walter Huston was the first to be cast in the film. And what’s the date? Nov. 18, 1940. This will be important later.
And here we have Schallert’s Nov. 25, 1940, column announcing the casting of Jane Russell and Jack Beutel.
“Howard Hughes: Hell’s Angel” has a lot of lurid details about Hughes, Bacon and “The Outlaw,” but I’m not going to bother with any of it.
And why not? Because it didn’t happen.
How can we be so sure?
Here’s a clipping from Schallert’s column for March 11, 1942. That’s more than a year after casting for “The Outlaw.”
Notice that filming has apparently been completed on “Ten Gentlemen From West Point.” Other Times clips show that “Ten Gentlemen From West Point” was cast in late 1941 and early 1942.
And who can tell me why this is important?
Bacon left Los Angeles after being arrested in 1939 and didn’t return until filming for “Ten Gentlemen From West Point” in early 1942. And when was “The Outlaw” cast? Late 1940.
In other words, Bacon was not “looking sad” at the bar of the “Cock & Bull.”
Bacon was not in Hollywood.
Bacon was not in Los Angeles.
Bacon was not even in California (at least he wasn’t supposed to be, although a 1944 article raises a question about whether he was living in Santa Barbara).
Checkmate. Game over.
There are many more holes to be punched in “Howard Hughes: Hell’s Angel,” but I will leave those for some industrious individuals who have more time than I do. Trust me, the book is a fact-checker’s shooting gallery. Naturally, the story about Hughes and Bacon turns up in Wikipedia – but you knew to expect that, right?
As for Newton’s Encyclopedia, it merely picks up a lot of nonsense from “Howard Hughes: Hell’s Angel.” Once again, it’s a fact-checker’s shooting gallery.