Errol Leslie Thomson Flynn (October 14, 1959) was an Australian-American film actor. During Hollywood”s golden age of cinema he was known for his leading man, daredevil adventurer and romantic hero roles. Considered the natural successor to Douglas Fairbanks, he had a worldwide fame for the roles played in Hollywood, frequently paired with Olivia de Havilland. He became known as Robin Hood in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), a performance for which he was nominated by The American Film Institute as the 18th hero in American film history. His other famous roles included the eponymous leader in Captain Blood (1935), Major Geoffrey Vickers in The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) or numerous wésterns such as Dodge City (1939), Santa Fe Road (1940) and San Antonio (1945).
He was the son of Irish oceanographer, biologist and anthropologist Theodore Thomson Flynn (1883-1968), a professor at Queen”s University Belfast, and a young woman, Marelle Young, who claimed to be a descendant of the Bounty sailors, which appears not to be true.
At the age of seven his mother already called him a “devil in shorts” and he ran away from home for three days. In his autobiography he wrote: “The main memory I have of my childhood is that of martyred buttocks”. Before his departure to England to study, he managed to be expelled from several Tasmanian schools. His education was, however, excellent, although very chequered by frequent expulsions. Thanks to his father”s reputation as a scientist, he was able to enroll in the most important schools in London and, later, in Paris, in the prestigious Lycée Louis-le-Grand, to conclude his academic years in an eminent educational center in Sydney. He excelled in all sports, but he also acquired a love of theater and a certain skill as a writer that he used occasionally working as a correspondent in his frequent trips and publishing, among other works, a novel, his autobiography and some screenplays.
He also practiced boxing and, in 1926, he won the junior Davis Cup and represented Australia in the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam. But his hyperactive nature led him to leave the island nation. The ambitious young Flynn preferred to travel the world with his friends. To support himself, he worked as a sailor, journalist, fisherman, dishwasher…. He also worked for a long time as a gold prospector in New Guinea (four years), as a mining prospector, slave labor recruiter and dynamiter. When he did not obtain results, he contracted large debts. To pay them off, he worked as a laborer on a coconut plantation in 1928.
In 1929 he tried gold mining again at Eddie Creek, Salamaua Island, at great risk from the island”s hostile aborigines, malaria, dysentery and vermin, only to fail again in his attempt to strike it rich. This time he tried tobacco farming in New Guinea and finally sold his properties in 1933 to try diamond mining, but contracted malaria and had to end these adventures.
On his return to England he decided to become an actor and studied acting, acting in some companies. He traveled to the United States, representing some theatrical pieces, until he was signed by a talent scout of Warner Bros. His undeniable attractiveness and physical attributes, as well as a histrionic and overflowing personality, were an attractive mix on the big screen, so that, after some episodic roles, he had his first important characters in Captain Blood (1935) and The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936). The success with a capital letter came, however, with Robin of the Woods (1938).
In the meantime (1936) he had published his first novel, Beam Ends, and was chosen to work as a correspondent in the Spanish Civil War, and ten years later he published his second work, Sowdown. Ten years later he would publish his second work, Sowdown. Finally, his famous autobiography, Errol Flynn: Adventures of a Vividor (1959) appeared posthumously, in 1959, written by himself, translated into Spanish in 2009, where he shows himself to be a lover of culture and manners, chivalrous, cosmopolitan, very vivid and ironic:
All over the world I was identified as the playboy of the West. That was me: a universal phallic symbol.
This role of seducer repulsed him, although he recognized that it was more than grounded in his own life. To the Hollywood moguls he dedicated these resentful words:
You can put this place where the monkey put the coconuts. I”ve pulled my own chestnuts out of the fire in the hardest places.
And so it was; he himself always filmed the dangerous action scenes to be done by his stuntmen, with whom he preferred to get drunk. He had, however, a strange conception of courage; he thought that it was not a constant quality and that even the strongest natures could falter at some point. He reached every possible limit by trying, as he candidly states in his memoirs, drugs such as opium, marijuana, cocaine and all kinds of aphrodisiacs, and he did not deny his inborn addiction to danger, to sex, exploring bisexuality, and to sustaining innumerable up-skirt affairs. His formal style and appearance, synonymous with personal success, was the seed of a manly fashion among actors and young adults of the 50s.
However, he never complained about any of his marriages as much as the one he had with Lili Damita, whose divorce practically ruined him and made him move to a boat to avoid creditors. All this irrepressible life ended up aging his body and he would die prematurely.
Flynn was also a great lover of sailing, and came to own several ocean-going yachts, such as the Makai, the Flamingo, the Barbary, the Sirocco and the elegant Zaca (his last boat), with which he visited Mallorca in the 1950s, a visit that served Roser Amills as the plot for her novel The Equator of Ulysses.
His consecration came with his typecasting in roles of adventurer, gallant and romantic and idealistic hero, whose manliness always attracted and bewitched the beautiful lady in need of help and protection. And to fiction he corresponded in reality, starring in many backstage brawls due to his indomitable, recalcitrant, challenging and overflowing personality that overcame that of other actors. He was the target of much male envy and apprehension because of his remarkable and proven ability to conquer women, to such an extent that many of his acquaintances avoided introducing him to their girlfriends or wives, especially when his fabulous ability to play the piano with an envied non-manual limb (and they were not his feet) at the parties he organized was well known.
Thus many criticisms and rumors were raised against him, mainly after his death: that he was a pro-Nazi and had had homosexual affairs with his friends Tyrone Power and Truman Capote. Only an extramarital affair with a young man during the last two years of his life has been proven. As for the accusation of fascism, it is an entirely false hoax. He even supported the Spanish Republic during the Civil War and Fidel Castro, whom he considered his friend, directing documentaries in favor of the Cuban Revolution. It is true that in the thirties Errol Flynn became friends with Hermann Erben, an Austrian doctor who worked for the Abwehr, something he did not know. It was in the company of this shady character that Errol Flynn had his most deranged adventures. And so he left for Spain in 1937 with him as a war correspondent in the Republican Army during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).
Among all his great successes were those directed by Michael Curtiz, previously married to his French wife, the actress Lili Damita, with whom he collaborated in eleven feature films, and by Raoul Walsh, for whom he worked in seven films. Olivia de Havilland became, since she worked with him in 1935, his ideal film partner, since the actress”s serenity neutralized Errol Flynn”s insolence and brashness. He was also a close friend of tycoon Howard Hughes, with whom he shared many of the private parties he organized.
In 1942 Flynn paid for the funeral of his friend John Barrymore, but Raoul Walsh stole the body of the deceased in the middle of the wake to go to Errol”s house to have a few drinks. That same year he separated from his then wife Lili Damita and was tried for the rape of a minor aboard a yacht, a charge of which he was acquitted in 1940. He also gave his favorite performance, that of a boxer in Gentleman Jim, which reminded him of his time as a pugilist between the twelve ropes.
His personal life was very dissipated and turbulent: a jumble of scandals, skirt affairs, lawsuits, denunciations, binges, debts and bankruptcy proceedings. He married three times: first with the aforementioned Lili Damita (but a famous freelance reporter and photojournalist who died during the Cambodian war). The divorce meant Errol”s financial bankruptcy. For the second time he married Nora Eddington (1943-1949), from whom Deirdre (1945) and Rory (1947) were born, and finally Patrice Wymore, from 1950 until his own death in 1959. From her he had Arnella Roma (1953-1998). His grandson Sean Flynn (real name: Sean Rio Amir, b. 1989), son of Rory, not to be confused with the eponymous son of Lili Damita, is also an actor.
He showed his facet as a producer and pseudo-reporter when he made the documentary The Truth About Fidel Castro Revolution and a film on the same subject, Cuban Story, of little film value.
Decline and end
His decline began after the end of World War II, in which he could not participate because he was not considered fit by the army, something that disturbed him. The reason for the rejection was the ravages due to his excesses with drugs and alcohol. These ravages were accentuated in the early 1950s, when he began his relationship with the only one of his three wives who loved him and truly idolized him, Patrice Wymore. In 1952 he went to Europe to make films in that cinematic plaza. In one of them, The dark avenger, shot in 1955, he wounded Christopher Lee in the hand. He would return to Hollywood in 1956 totally alcoholized, leaving the film William Tell unfinished, only making roles that were at his height in Henry King”s Fiesta, with Tyrone Power, Mel Ferrer and Ava Gardner; Too Much, Too Soon, in the role of his friend John Barrymore; and John Huston”s The Roots of Heaven.
Film director Irving Rapper said of him, “He had the whole world in the palm of his hands and failed to take advantage of it.”
After the premiere of the documentary Cuban Rebels Girls, in which he was co-producer, screenwriter and narrator, Flynn traveled on October 9, 1959 to Vancouver to sell his yacht Zaca to tycoon George Caldough, due to financial problems that were very serious. On October 14, while Caldough was driving Flynn and 17-year-old actress Beverly Aadland, who accompanied him on the trip, to the airport to catch a flight to Los Angeles, California, Flynn began complaining of severe pain in his back and legs. Caldough took him to the home of a physician, Grant Gould, who noticed that Flynn was having difficulty climbing the stairs of the building. Gould, assuming the pain was due to intervertebral disc degeneration with spinal osteoarthritis, gave him 50 mgs of intravenous demerol. The discomfort subsided and “largely recalling his past experiences” to those present, he refused a drink when offered. He lay down on a couch.
Gould massaged his legs in the bedroom of the apartment and advised Flynn to rest before setting out on the trip. He said he felt much better and, twenty minutes later, Aadland checked his pulse and discovered that he had no pulse. Despite being given emergency treatment by Gould and immediately taken by ambulance to the emergency room of Vancouver General Hospital, he did not regain consciousness and was pronounced dead in the evening. The coroner”s report and death certificate listed his cause of death as myocardial infarction due to coronary thrombosis and arteriosclerosis, with hepatic steatosis and significant cirrhosis of the liver as possible concurrent factors. Aged only 50, the coroners stated that his body was so deteriorated by alcohol and drugs that it represented that of a 70-year-old man. His parents survived him by nine years.
Errol Flynn was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California, a place he once claimed to hate, along with six bottles of his favorite whiskey.
In the early 1930s, Flynn left for the United Kingdom. In 1933, he was hired to act in the Northampton Repertory Co. company, where he worked for a period of seven months. According to Gerry Connelly”s book, Errol Flynn in Northampton, the following year the actor participated in the Malvern Festival (Worcestershire) as well as in West End theaters in Glasgow and London.
In 1933, he starred in the Australian film In the Wake of the Bounty by director Charles Chauvel, which marked his film debut. Filmed in Sydney, Australia and the island of Tahiti, the film was produced by Expeditionary Films Studios and told the story of the sailing ship that carried some of her ancestors and their famous mutiny.
Later that same year, she made a brief appearance in I Adore You, which would be discredited after its release. Curiously, it became a “lost film”. In 1935, he appeared in Murder at Monte Carlo, produced at Warner Bros. Teddington Studios in England. Never released in U.S. theaters, and like I Adore You, Murder at Monte Carlo is also considered a lost film. It should be added that during its filming, a Warner executive “discovered” it, hiring it to film in the United States. Thus, in 1942 he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. During the boat trip to the United States he met the actress Lili Damita, whom he would marry as soon as he set foot on American soil.
In 1935, after acting in Murder at Monte Carlo, Flynn participated in three other films (The Case of the Curious Bride, Don”t Bet on Blondes and Captain Blood) where he shared credits with actors such as Warren William, Margaret Lindsay, Allen Jenkins, Guy Kibbee, Olivia de Havilland, Lionel Atwill and Basil Rathbone. In the first, directed by Michael Curtiz, he played a minor character who does not speak (named Gregory Moxley), becoming the first film of his career to be screened in the United States. On the other hand, in Robert Florey”s Don”t Bet on Blondes, he played a supporting role. However, his starring role in Captain Blood (also directed by Curtiz, with the musical contribution of Erich Wolfgang Korngold) earned him critical acclaim, giving him an image of heroic character that would accompany him for the rest of his life. His character, Peter Blood, is based in part on the legendary pirate Henry Morgan. The role was originally intended for Robert Donat, who turned it down because he did not want to look like Douglas Fairbanks, but Flynn was not affected by the comparisons. In 1936 he appeared, along with his then wife Lili Damita, in the MGM short film Pirate Party on Catalina Isle, also participating in The Charge of the Light Brigade, filmed on location in Lone Pine, California; its story is based on the narrative poem of the same name written by Alfred Tennyson, which in turn deals with the famous charge of the Light Brigade, a disaster that occurred during the Crimean War. In the film, Flynn plays Geoffrey Vickers, a British army officer on a mission in India in the mid-19th century.
By 1937, his film career was in full swing; still with Captain Blood and The Charge of the Light Brigade in commercial exploitation, Warner auditioned him to appear in an adaptation of Lloyd C. Douglas” bestseller, The Green Light, directed by Frank Borzage. After being cast, he played Dr. Newell Page, a young surgeon who refuses to reveal the name of the culprit of a failed operation because he considers him the mentor of his career. Although this film is no longer available for sale, it is regularly broadcast on TNT television channels, internationally, and TCM, in the U.S. The success of the previous films, as well as his excellent status in the industry, caused the producers of The Prince and the Pauper to pay him in advance to have him in the project. The Prince and the Pauper tells the story of a beggar boy, who is invited by a young prince to play in his castle. After this, both exchange their respective places, becoming involved in completely different lives. It was directed by William Keighley and is based on the novel of the same name by Mark Twain. Other films of the same year in which he participated were Another Dawn, by William Dieterle (where he played Captain Denny Roark) and The Perfect Specimen, directed by Curtiz. In the latter, he played Gerald Wickes, an individual who has grown up under strict supervision at his grandmother”s estate. One day, he meets a young woman named Mona Carter, with whom he decides to take part in an amusing adventure. Meanwhile, an intense nationwide search for Wickes” alleged kidnappers is unleashed. During the filming, the actress with whom he co-starred in the movie, Joan Blondell, complained to the director, Michael Curtiz, that Errol was harassing her. In this year, a rumor spread that the actor had died in Spain due to drinking and fighting, something that proved to be false.
His next starring role came with the production of Robin of the Woods (1938) in which he played Robin Hood and which has been commonly referred to as one of the greatest films of all time. Originally, actor James Cagney had been chosen to take the starring role, but he resigned from his contract with Warner Studios, and the production was postponed for a period of three years. Likewise, Robin of the Woods is considered one of the first to be filmed with the Technicolor technique, created with the purpose of replacing black and white filming with color scenes. Another detail is that its production turned out to be extravagant, since Warner had been characterized by investing in low-budget films about gangsters. However, given the success achieved by Flynn”s adventure films, the studios opted to make this project official. During the shooting, the actor complained about the wig that had been designed for him to Jack Warner himself, owner of the production company, and he also separated from Damita, which led to an even closer relationship between Haviland and Errol. Shortly after, he appeared in the romantic comedy Four”s a Crowd.
For the role of George Armstrong Custer in the film They Died With Their Boots On (1941), Errol played him without a moustache and with huge tooth caps to get the best out of his character, who appears in the film as a reckless, ambitious, brazen, undisciplined and shameless military man, but endowed with great command, charisma and courage. In 1945 he starred in the classic war film Objective Burma, one of director Raoul Walsh”s masterpieces, whose narrative virtues prevail over fidelity to historical truth (Burma was conquered by British, not American, troops).
He began filming The Adventures of Don Juan (1948) under the direction of Raoul Walsh, but due to a strike the project was suspended and only resumed by director Vincent Sherman in 1947. Filming went through numerous difficulties due to Flynn”s repeated absences (motivated by his increasingly pronounced alcoholism), but after its release it received generally good reviews. Variety wrote: “Many cloak-and-dagger films have recently hit the screens, and The Adventures of Don Juan ranks among the best. “
In 1952 Flynn closed the doors to Warners. “I”m going to Italy to shoot my own films; I”ll make a fortune and show those guys that I didn”t need them or their studio.” However, things didn”t go as well as expected and, broke, he left his William Tell unfinished. Too Much, Too Soon (1958), an adaptation of the autobiography of Diana Barrymore (daughter of his actor friend John Barrymore) allowed him to address the issue of alcoholism that was undermining, along with drug use, his health, aging him prematurely, playing his father and friend, although the public could still enjoy films like The Sun Also Rises (1957). In 1958 Errol Flynn made his last great film: The Roots of Heaven, based on the novel by Romain Gary. His meeting with director John Huston was full of incidents: at a party they came to blows to the point of hospitalization, after which they became good friends. Filming in French equatorial Africa was a challenge: Flynn got drunk every night and had to get back on his feet the next day to shoot while overcoming a hangover. With temperatures of 50° in the shade, epidemics of amoebic dysentery and malaria decimated the crew, except for Flynn and Huston, the only ones whose alcoholism freed them from undrinkable water, as had happened with Humphrey Bogart and Huston in The Queen of Africa (1951).