Swashbuckler. Seducer. Rogue. Icon. All of these words can be used to describe Errol Flynn. Most of us probably know a bit about Errol Flynn; we've at least heard a couple of the many rumours that have been circulating for the past fifty years. I don't know if I can shed any more light on this screen legend, but I'd like to try. Forgive me if I zoom past his youth...there's so much to get to!
In like Flynn? Let's hope not.
Born in Tasmania in 1909, his father was a marine biologist and his mother a descendant of a midshipman on the HMS Bounty. He apparently fell in love with adventure at an early age, getting kicked out of almost every school he attended. He moved around quite a bit in his early adulthood, trying to find a business that would suit him...and finally landed in New Guinea.
By the time he was twenty-three, he was offered a part in the Australian documentary IN THE WAKE OF THE BOUNTY. Well, he must have thought acting was not a bad little deal, because he then took off for England and joined the Northampton Repertory Company, and wouldn't you know it? Warner Brothers discovered this new, dashing talent and quickly signed him on.
Two years later, Errol Flynn was starring in CAPTAIN BLOOD. A swashbuckling, adventure-loving, debonair hero
was officially born. Movies like THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE and THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER soon followed, but in 1938, along came THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD. If he wasn't already a star (and he was), this did it for him!
Don't you worry, never fear! Robin Hood will soon be here!
I have to admit that my first introduction to Flynn was from an old Bugs Bunny cartoon, called "Rabbit Hood," where a dim-witted Little John would always say "Don't you worry, never fear! Robin Hood will soon be here!" And sure enough...at the end of the cartoon, Errol Flynn came swinging on as Robin Hood, coming to save the day!
During this time, he had met and married Lili Damita, a French actress and a friend of Jack Warner's wife. A son was born in 1941 (who, sadly, is thought to have been killed by the early 1970s while working in Cambodia as a photojournalist). He and Lili divorced that same year.
But rougher times were ahead...1942 was a big year for Errol. Sure, he was working a lot, but all of that took a back seat to his personal life, which soon graced all the magazines and tabloids. Ever heard the expression "In like Flynn?" Of course you have. We still use it to this day. Unfortunately, while it's an amusing phrase, its origins are not quite as funny. In 1942 he was charged with two
counts of statutory rape--seducing and having sex with two underage girls. "I like my whiskey old and my women young," is what you would have heard Errol Flynn saying around this time and although he was acquitted of the charges, he was always known to have been a ladies' man.
His one true love...the sea.
Oddly enough, during the trial he met 18-year-old Nora Eddington (who worked at the courthouse)...they married in 1943 and had two daughters in the course of their five-year marriage. Though the matinee idol was still working, he wasn't happy with the roles he was offered. He started drinking heavily and was still trying to prove his sexual prowess, though he wasn't necessarily successful at it. This took a toll on his marriage, as you might imagine, and they divorced in 1948.
He wouldn't be alone for long...in 1950, there was a third Mrs. Flynn--Patrice Wymore-- and soon after, another daughter. The 1950s were not as productive professionally, perhaps due to his movie star looks going downhill with drugs and alcohol. He seemed to have finally settled down personally, using his yacht as a home base for several years with Patrice and his daughter.
In October 1959, Errol Flynn suffered a heart attack while up in Vancouver. Some people say his last
words were, "I shall return." Others, "I've had a hell of a lot of fun and I've enjoyed every minute of it."
Errol Flynn, Swashbuckler.
Unfortunately for Errol Flynn and his family, another big controversy was still to come. In 1980, Charles Higham published a sensationalist book called "Errol Flynn: The Untold Story." In it, Higham claims that Flynn was a fascist, and was a Nazi spy during World War II. Most of his book was found to be false, but it still added to the rumours and controversy surrounding Flynn's life.
Errol Flynn led the adventurous life he had always longed for and in 1997, he was named one of Entertainment Weekly's "100 Greatest Stars of All Time." He left us many great films to remember him by: THE ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN, THE PRIVATE LIVES OF ELIZABETH AND ESSEX, and THE SUN ALSO RISES to name just a few. He worked with some of the greatest actresses of Hollywood's golden era: Bette Davis, Olivia d'Havilland, Maureen O'Hara... but he was never recognized by his peers. Even today, many of his fans are awaiting a posthumous award in recognition of his body of work.
In THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON, Errol Flynn's character (General Custer) is asked where he is going. He replies, "To hell or glory. It depends upon your point of view."
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