Thomas Albert Ecke Van Dekker (December 20, 1905 – May 5, 1968) was an American character actor and politician best known for his roles in Dr. Cyclops, The Killers (1946), Kiss Me Deadly, and The Wild Bunch.
Early life and career
Dekker was born in Brooklyn, New York City, the only child of Thomas and Grace Ecke Van Dekker. He attended Richmond Hill High School, where he appeared in stage productions. He then attended Bowdoin College, where he majored in pre-med with plans to become a doctor. On the advice of a friend, he decided to pursue acting as a career instead. He made his professional acting debut with a Cincinnati stock company in 1927. Within a few months, Dekker was featured in the Broadway production of Eugene O’Neill’s play Marco Millions.
After a decade of theatrical appearances, Dekker transferred to Hollywood in 1937 and made his first film, 1937’s The Great Garrick. He spent most of the rest of his acting career in the cinema but also returned to the stage from time to time.
He replaced Lee J. Cobb as Willy Loman in the original production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, and during a five-year stint back on Broadway in the early 1960s, he played the Duke of Norfolk in Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons.
Dekker appeared in some seventy films from the 1930s to the 1960s, but his four most famous screen roles were as a mad scientist in the 1940 horror film Dr. Cyclops, as a criminal mastermind in 1946’s The Killers, as a dangerous dealer in atomic fuel in the 1955 film noir Kiss Me Deadly, and as an unscrupulous railroad detective in Sam Peckinpah’s Western The Wild Bunch, released in 1969. In 1959 he played a convincing Texas Ranger, Captain Rucker, in The Wonderful Country. He was rarely cast in romantic roles, but in the film Seven Sinners, featuring a romance between Marlene Dietrich and John Wayne, Dietrich sails off with Dekker’s character at the end of the film. Dekker was an often memorable guest star – usually a villain – in numerous TV series from the 50s through to 1968, such as Rawhide, The Man From UNCLE, Mission: Impossible, Climax!, Bonanza, and I Spy. Dekker’s role as Pat Harrigan in The Wild Bunch was his last screen appearance; he died over a year before it was released.
On April 4, 1929, Dekker married former actress Esther Guerini. The couple had two sons, John and Benjamin, and a daughter, Jan, before divorcing in 1964.
In April 1957, Dekker’s 16-year-old son, John, shot himself with a .22 rifle at the family’s home in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. He had reportedly been working on a silencer for the rifle for a year. His death was ruled accidental.
In his book-length account of the production of The Wild Bunch, writer W.K. Stratton describes Dekker as “completely nuts,” and possibly the most troubled person on a set filled with eccentrics. According to actor R.G. Armstrong, Dekker showed up to the remote Mexican shooting location of that film in 1968 with a thirteen-year-old girl he described as his wife, telling people (falsely) that he was a medical doctor, and that after filming he would retire from acting to help impoverished Africans.
Dekker’s off-screen interest in politics led to his winning a seat in the California State Assembly for the 57th Assembly District in 1944. Dekker served as a Democratic member of the Assembly until 1946.
During the McCarthy era he was an outspoken critic of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s tactics. As a result, Dekker was blacklisted in Hollywood and spent most of the blacklist period working on Broadway rather than Hollywood.
On May 5, 1968, Dekker was found dead in his Hollywood home by his fiancée, fashion model and future Love Boat creator Jeraldine Saunders. He was naked, kneeling in the bathtub, with a noose tightly wrapped around his neck and looped around the shower curtain rod. He was blindfolded, his wrists were handcuffed, there was a ball gag in his mouth, and two hypodermic needles were inserted in one arm. His body was covered in explicit words and drawings in red lipstick.
Money and camera equipment were missing, but there was no sign of forced entry. Police originally said it was suicide but the deputy coroner found no evidence of foul play nor any indication that he planned to take his life and ruled his death accidental, the result of autoerotic asphyxiation. Dekker was cremated, and his remains interred at the Garden State Crematory in North Bergen, New Jersey.
Dekker has a star, in the motion picture category, on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6620 Hollywood Boulevard.
|1937||The Great Garrick||M. LeBrun||Credited as Albert Van Dekker|
|1937||She Married an Artist||Whitney Holton|
|1938||Extortion||Jeffrey Thompson||Credited as Albert Van Dekker|
|1938||The Lone Wolf in Paris||Marquis Louis de Meyerson|
|1938||Marie Antoinette||Comte de Provence||Credited as Albert Van Dekker|
|1938||The Last Warning||Higgs the Butler|
|1939||Paris Honeymoon||Amorous Drunk||Uncredited|
|1939||Never Say Die||Kidley’s Second||Uncredited|
|1939||The Man in the Iron Mask||Louis XIII|
|1939||Beau Geste||Legionnaire Schwartz|
|1939||The Great Commandment||Longinus|
|1940||Strange Cargo||Moll||With Clark Gable and Joan Crawford|
|1940||Dr. Cyclops||Dr. Thorkel|
|1940||Rangers of Fortune||George Bird|
|1940||Seven Sinners||Dr. Martin||With John Wayne. Alternative title: Cafe of the Seven Sinners|
|1941||Blonde Inspiration||Phil Hendricks|
|1941||You’re the One||Luke Laramie|
|1941||Reaching for the Sun||Herman|
|1941||Honky Tonk||Brazos Hearn||With Clark Gable and Lana Turner|
|1941||Buy Me That Town||Louie Lanzer|
|1941||Among the Living||John Raden / Paul Raden|
|1942||The Lady Has Plans||Baron Von Kemp|
|1942||Star Spangled Rhythm||Himself||Uncredited|
|1942||Yokel Boy||‘Buggsy’ Malone|
|1942||In Old California||Britt Dawson||With John Wayne|
|1942||Night in New Orleans||Police Lieutenant William Richards|
|1942||Wake Island||Shad McClosky|
|1942||The Forest Rangers||Twig Dawson|
|1942||Once Upon a Honeymoon||Gaston Le Blanc|
|1943||Buckskin Frontier||Gideon Skene|
|1943||The Kansan||Steve Barat|
|1943||In Old Oklahoma||Jim “Hunk” Gardner||With John Wayne. Alternative title: War of the Wildcats|
|1943||The Woman of the Town||Bat Masterson||With Claire Trevor as Dora Hand|
|1944||The Hitler Gang||Narrator||Uncredited|
|1944||Experiment Perilous||‘Clag’ Claghorne|
|1945||Salome Where She Danced||Von Bohlen|
|1945||Incendiary Blonde||Joe Cadden|
|1945||Hold That Blonde||Police Inspector Callahan|
|1946||The French Key||Johnny Fletcher|
|1946||The Killers||Big Jim Colfax||Alternative title: A Man Alone|
|1946||Two Years Before the Mast||Brown|
|1947||The Pretender||Kenneth Holden|
|1947||Cass Timberlane||Boone Havock|
|1947||The Fabulous Texan||Gibson Hart|
|1947||Gentleman’s Agreement||John Minify||with Gregory Peck and Celeste Holm|
|1948||Fury at Furnace Creek||Edward Leverett|
|1948||Lulu Belle||Mark Brady|
|1949||Tarzan’s Magic Fountain||Mr. Trask|
|1949||Bride of Vengeance||Vanetti|
|1949||Search for Danger||Kirk|
|1950||The Kid from Texas||Alexander Kain|
|1950||The Furies||Mr. Reynolds|
|1951||As Young as You Feel||Louis McKinley|
|1952||Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie||Lloyd Slocum|
|1954||The Silver Chalice||Kester|
|1955||East of Eden||Will Hamilton||with James Dean|
|1955||Kiss Me Deadly||Dr. G.E. Soberin|
|1957||She Devil||Dr. Richard Bach|
|1958||Machete||Don Luis Montoya|
|1959||The Sound and the Fury||Earl Snopes|
|1959||These Thousand Hills||Marshal Conrad|
|1959||Middle of the Night||Walter Lockman||with Fredric March and Kim Novak|
|1959||The Wonderful Country||Texas Ranger Capt. Rucker|
|1959||Suddenly, Last Summer||Dr. Lawrence J. Hockstader|
|1965||Once Upon a Tractor||Colonel||Short|
|1966||Gammera, the Invincible||Secretary of Defense|
|1967||Come Spy with Me||Walter Ludeker|
|1969||The Wild Bunch||Pat Harrigan||(final film role)|
|1951||Pulitzer Prize Playhouse||George Washington||Episode: “Valley Forge”|
|1952||Studio One||Billy Bones||Episode: “Treasure Island”|
|1955||Goodyear Television Playhouse||Episode: “The Chivington Raid”|
|1956||Climax!||Brewster||Episode: “Fear Is the Hunter”|
|1959||Decoy||Otto Flagler||Episode: “High Swing”|
|1960||The Witness||Jimmy Hines||Episode: “Jimmy Hines”|
|1961||Route 66||Frank Ivy||Episode: “The Newborn”|
|1964||Kraft Suspense Theatre||Karl Hesse||Episode: “The World I Want”|
|1965||Seaway||Captain Marland||Episode: “The 34th Man”|
|1965||Rawhide||Josh Breeden & Jonas Bolt||Episodes: Josh & Crossing at White Feather|
|1965||The Trials of O’Brien||George Brewer||Episode: “Bargain Day on the Street of Regret”|
|1966||Mission: Impossible||Colonel Shtemenko||Episode: “The Short Tail Spy”|
|1966||Death of a Salesman||Uncle Ben||CBS-TV production|
|1967||The Man from U.N.C.L.E.||Harry Beldon||Episode: “The Summit-Five Affair”|
|1968||Run for Your Life||Sir Harry Hiller||Episode: “A Dangerous Proposal”|
|1968||Bonanza||Barney Sturgess||Episode: “The Bottle Fighter”|
|1968||I Spy||Indris||Episode: “Shana”|
Actor Albert Dekker – Wikipedia