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Alone in life, Yvette Vickers is somewhat less alone in death

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If she hadn't starred in the 1950s cult horror films "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman" and "Attack of the Giant Leeches," if she hadn't posed nude for Playboy, few would have asked how 82-year-old Yvette Vickers could have died in her Benedict Canyon home and remained there undiscovered for nearly a year.

But Vickers did that and more. The voluptuous blond with bedroom eyes appeared on television and Broadway and in minor movie roles until her career petered out in the 1970s.

And so when her mummified body was discovered by a neighbor in April in a home overgrown with ivy and littered with clothes, junk mail and letters, it rated a couple of newspaper stories and an obituary that listed no immediate survivors.

Authorities eventually found one: half brother Perry Palmer, 85. On Friday, he offered a eulogy — an attempt at explanation, really — for Vickers' lonely death during a brief memorial at All Saints' Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills.

"I thought there might be more people here," Palmer said to the 29 who attended — mostly his family, Vickers' neighbors and a few friends who had lost touch with her. "I'll unload my whole thing on you anyway."

It's a story right out of Hollywood. Palmer and Vickers shared a father, Chuck, a saxophone player with a wandering eye for the ladies.

Chuck Vickers and Palmer's mother, Ruth, divorced. Chuck went on to marry a woman who suspected, correctly Palmer says, that her husband still loved his first wife.

"It was a 50-year love affair that lived only in the hearts of Ruth and Chuck," Palmer said.

As a child, Palmer didn't know his real father or his sister Yvette; his mother remarried a level-headed insurance salesman and Palmer's last name was legally changed. It was only when he was about to enter the military that his mother shared her secret: He had a sister.

Palmer got to know Yvette and admired her success.

Vickers was a Playboy playmate of the month in 1959 and "proved to have the perfect look for 1950s drive-in films, along with episodic television," film historian Alan K. Rode told The Times. The low-budget "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman" gave Vickers her first leading film role, a movie that The Times once described as "one of the best bad movies ever made."

She also appeared on Broadway and was a regular on TV in westerns and other fare. For a time she was best known for her 15-year relationship with actor Jim Hutton and her affair with Cary Grant, according to her All Movie biography.

"She was an effervescent, beautiful woman," Palmer said.

But because of their divergent upbringings, they were never close. Eventually they drifted apart again.

"We'd send her letter after letter. No response. We'd send Christmas gifts. No response," Palmer said in an interview before the memorial. "The only address we had for her was a post office box."

Palmer said his sister suffered from macular degeneration, a condition that robbed Vickers of all but her peripheral vision.

The last time the two spoke was in 1995, when their father died at the age of 91.

"I asked her, 'You going to have a memorial?' " Palmer said. "And she said, 'No, all of his buddies have died. I don't think anyone will come.' "

He didn't want the same for his sister, Palmer said.

"I just thought she deserved some recognition given that she was lying there for so many months undetected," he said. "She was a recluse."

Why, exactly? He couldn't say. And after a half-hour, the memorial ended with Palmer having been the only speaker save the priest.

It wasn't Yvette Vickers' whole story. But it would have to do.

mike.anton@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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