Losing His Head

In which a collector of celebrity skulls is undone by his completist ambitions.

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him . . .
—William Shakespeare

To the outside world Jerry Farelli appeared to have everything life could offer: good looks, excellent health, and substantial wealth (albeit derived from a number of dubious enterprises).

Yet happiness still eluded him, because his prized collection of celebrity skulls lacked the cranium of his favorite actor—Telly Savalas.

While he did own, at considerable expense, a lollipop once licked by the thespian during an early episode of “Kojak,” without the mandible that had held it in place, it only served as a bitter reminder of the significant hole in his cache of trophies and thus in his life.

Ultimately, he regarded it as an orphaned artifact, referring to it as “pop-prop” during bouts of gloom over his failure to crown his extensive trove of noggins.

Surrounding the felt-lined space he had set aside (in vain) for the Savalas skull were the domes of several other television luminaries, which were the envy of many collectors.

Looking at the orbs of stars from one-time shows such as “Hollywood Squares,” “Fantasy Island,” “Three’s Company,” and a dozen others, helped ease his melancholy to some degree, and the head of champion yodeler Gaston Plantiff, the 2019 winner of “American Idolatry,” who had died of a drug overdose a week after his amazing ascent to world fame, really ramped up his spirits.

But his joy was short-lived when his eyes fell on the hollow reserved for Savalas.

From an early age, Jerry had been a great admirer of the bald actor, watching endless reruns of his popular detective show on the Felony Channel, and downloading the actor’s movies. Among his favorite Savalas film roles were Archer Maggott in “The Dirty Dozen” and Sergeant Tibbs in “McKenna’s Gold.”

He had watched both movies countless times, and they had greatly fanned his desire to acquire the actor’s head. Yet this had seemed an impossible dream to Jerry until, one day, a dealer informed him that the skull had been placed on the market by the actor’s estate.

Its sudden availability surprised Jerry, since his frequent inquiries about it over the years had always led nowhere, but his excitement about its possible acquisition overrode his wariness.

He was well aware of the black market in celebrity skulls, and had used it for other things, but when it came to his special collection of bones he had intentionally avoided illegal purchases — though he had been tempted on more than one occasion.

As much as he had wanted the Savalas skull, he had steered clear of underground head hawkers as a matter of principle. His collection was the one area in his life that he insisted on total legitimacy and integrity.

Now a familiar vendor of solid reputation had offered the skull to Jerry and his mood was quickly transformed by the prospect of finally adding it to his already formidable holdings. It represented the diamond in the tiara of his beloved display, and he was already planning a party to commemorate its installation.

By the time the news about the Savalas skull made its way to the Celebrity Memorabilia Channel, Jerry had purchased it for a sum that even he momentarily balked at.

Yet he had to have it, at any cost, and now it would be his.

* * * * *

He made arrangements to have it delivered to his house in Bel Air the next day, then spent the remainder of the afternoon and evening twitting and skekking his friends about the banner acquisition, and talking with the caterer about the food and drink for the celebration two days hence.

His girlfriend was still away in the Honduras on a spelunking vacation with her women’s group, so she would miss the gala event, which Jerry did not want to delay until her return.

That night the excitement over the Savalas head kept him awake until sunrise, at which point he arose and sat before the space that would soon be occupied by one of his greatest television and film heroes.

The time moved slowly until the hour the dealer was expected arrived and then passed. Jerry waited 15 minutes before texting the dealer but there was no response.

After three more text messages the dealer responded, informing Jerry that he had decided against selling the Savalas skull until he felt the seller was getting the most he could for it.

“Selling it now may be a bit premature, and I have an obligation to the sellers to get the most for them. I hope you understand,” he explained to Jerry, who was not having any of it.

He immediately doubled his already exorbitant offer but it was to no avail; he felt duped, it incensed him, and he threatened legal action against the dealer, who reminded him that no contract had been signed and no money had exchanged hands.

Jerry’s mood darkened as he contemplated the embarrassment of having to call off the party after having declared to everyone that he possessed the coveted skull — a singular triumph in his exclusive circle of aficionados.

The longer he thought about his situation, the more angry and distraught he became. It was in this overwrought state that Jerry decided to take action into his own hands.

He made a call to a certain someone — an expert in problem resolution, is how Jerry thought of him.

He would have the dealer beheaded and the fleshy member dipped in an acid bath to remove everything from the skeleton. He would then place the skull in the space reserved for Savalas in time for the gathering. That way he would save face, even though the dealer would lose his, chuckled Jerry, musing that the dealer even looked like the actor.

It all seemed like poetic justice.

By noon the next day the dealer’s skull was duly delivered to Jerry, and he quickly placed it in the awaiting space, inserting the sucker between its jaws. No one would be the wiser, he thought, as he stood back and surveyed the display.

After the party he would make every effort to obtain the actual Savalas skull, and he would do so even if it meant lopping off a few more heads. He would not be denied this prize, whatever it cost, as he could not abide the false skull in his collection for very long.

* * * * *

By 8 p.m. the following evening more than one hundred people, among them some of the foremost collectors in the region, filled Jerry’s skultorium as he unveiled the main attraction to loud applause and cheers.

While the crowd ogled the actor’s would be skull, Jerry’s girlfriend, Jenna, suddenly appeared two days ahead of her scheduled return. This delighted Jerry and he and the crowd redirected their attention to her.

“The trip ended early, and here I am,” she announced and then handed Jerry a box covered in wrapping paper and bows.

“What’s this?” asked Jerry taking the box from her.

“A surprise. Something I know you wanted big time,” she answered, as he torn open the brightly decorated package.

Inside was a skull, which Jerry held in his hand for everyone to see.

“Guess who it is,” asked his girlfriend.

“Well, it’s not Telly Savalas, because he’s over there,” replied Jerry joking and nodding in the direction of the display.

After a long perplexed silence, Jerry’s girlfriend spoke. “Actually, it is Telly Savalas. I bought it for you from the dealer.

“That can’t be. He said he wasn’t selling … ” replied Jerry, catching himself too late and knowing he had let the cat out of the bag — and thus raised the suspicion of his fellow collectors.

“Because I told him I wanted to buy it for you as a belated birthday present. I contacted all the dealers a while back to tell me if the skull became available and he forgot until after he talked to you. Then he called me and we made up the story about his not wanting to sell it,” said Jenna looking at the cranium in the area reserved for the Savalas piece. “So whose skull is that?”

“Yeah, Jerry, what skull is that?’ repeated several people at the gathering.

“You trying to pull something over on us?” chimed others.

“Don’t be ridiculous. There has to be some mistake,” replied Jerry defensively. “Look, let’s call it a night and let me get to the bottom of this.”

When Jerry and his girlfriend were alone, he asked for more details about the purchase, which revealed she had, indeed, acquired the skull from the dealer whose head now graced his display.

“What’s going on?” Jenna asked and Jerry claimed he was as confused as she was.

When they were in bed, she tried to interest Jerry in lovemaking, but he was unresponsive, claiming an upset stomach.

His thoughts were focused on the calamity of the last few hours and he lay awake for several hours until the doorbell rang. Greeting him were several police officers who arrested him on the spot for the murder of the dealer.

His hired hit man had been stopped for driving under the influence and the murder weapons were found in his car. In his inebriated state he had made a full confession.

“That’s crazy!” protested Jerry as he was led away.

“You got that right,’ buddy,” replied the cop escorting him to the waiting cruiser.

* * * * *

The Internet was soon filled with the sordid details of the notorious crime for which Jerry was sentenced to 40 years in the state penitentiary. His infamy grew as speculation about the origins of his other skulls came into question, and the irony was not lost on Jerry since it was the one area of his life he had kept uncorrupted.

He was soon labeled the “Bel Air Decapitator” by the media and NBC’s “Deathline” (formerly “Dateline”) devoted an entire two-hour episode to his case further fanning his notoriety.

Five years into his sentence, Jerry was slain by a fellow inmate and his body was buried in the prison cemetery — though without its head.

By this point the market for skulls of famous criminals had exploded and Jerry’s skull fetched an impressive sum. The prominent collector who purchased it proudly placed it between his skulls of Jeffrey Dalmer and John Wayne Gacy.

The head of Telly Savalas was returned to his estate, which claimed it had never authorized its sale, although given its tremendously increased value it was now considering doing so to fund a planned Las Vegas museum devoted to the renowned performer.

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Michael C. Keith

Michael C. Keith

Michael C. Keith (“Losing His Head,” “Color Bind,” “The Burning Turtle”) is the author of over 20 books on electronic media, as well as a memoir and three books of fiction. Prior to joining Boston College, Keith was Chair of Education at the Museum of Broadcast Communications. He is the recipient of the International Radio Television Society’s Stanton Fellow Award and others.

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