12 November 2016

Imported from the USA: Errol Flynn

Australian born actor Errol Flynn (1909-1959) achieved fame in Hollywood with his suave, debonair, devil-may-care attitude. He was known for his romantic Swashbuckler roles in films like Captain Blood (1935) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), often co-starring with Olivia de Havilland. In 1942, the tall, athletic and exceptionally handsome, Flynn became an American citizen. He developed a reputation for womanising, hard drinking and for a time in the 1940s, narcotics abuse. He was linked romantically with Lupe Vélez, Marlene Dietrich, and Dolores del Río, among many others.

Errol Flynn
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, no. 1301. Photo: Warner Bros.

Errol Flynn
British postcard by Art Photo, no. 92.

Pilfering petty cash

Errol Leslie Thomson Flynn was born in a suburb of Hobart, Tasmania, in 1909. His father, Theodore Flynn, was a lecturer and later professor of biology at the University of Tasmania. His mother was Lily Mary Young. After early schooling in Hobart, from 1923 to 1925 Flynn was educated at the South West London College, a private boarding school in Barnes, London.

In 1926 he returned to Australia to attend Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore School) where he was the classmate of a future Australian prime minister, John Gorton. His formal education ended with his expulsion from Shore for theft. After being dismissed from a job as a junior clerk with a Sydney shipping company for pilfering petty cash, he went to Papua New Guinea at the age of eighteen, seeking his fortune in tobacco planting and metals mining.

Flynn spent the next five years oscillating between the New Guinea frontier territory and Sydney. In early 1933, Flynn appeared as an amateur actor in the low-budget Australian film In the Wake of the Bounty (Charles Chauvel, 1933), in the lead role of Fletcher Christian.

Later that year he returned to Britain to pursue a career in acting, and soon secured a job with the Northampton Repertory Company at the town's Royal Theatre, where he worked and received his training as a professional actor for seven months. In 1934 Flynn was dismissed from Northampton Rep. reportedly after he threw a female stage manager down a stairwell.

He returned to Warner Brothers' Teddington Studios in Middlesex where he had worked as an extra in the film I Adore You (George King, 1933) before going to Northampton. With his new-found acting skills, he was cast as the lead in Murder at Monte Carlo (Ralph Ince, 1935), now considered a lost film. During its filming he was spotted by a talent scout for Warner Bros. and Flynn emigrated to the U.S. as a contract actor.

Errol Flynn
French postcard by Editions Chantal, Rueil-Malmaison, no. 8. Photo: Warner Bros. Publicity still for Another Dawn (William Dieterle, 1937).

Striking Good Looks

In Hollywood, Errol Flynn was first cast in two insignificant films, but then he got his great chance. He could replace Robert Donat in the title role of Captain Blood (Michael Curtiz, 1935). Flynn's natural athletic talent and good looks rocketed him overnight to international stardom.

Over the next six years, he was typecast as a dashing adventurer in The Charge of the Light Brigade (Michael Curtiz, 1936), The Prince and the Pauper (William Keighley, 1937), The Adventures of Robin Hood (Michael Curtiz, William Keighley, 1938; his first Technicolor film), The Dawn Patrol (Edmund Goulding, 1938) with David Niven, Dodge City (Michael Curtiz, 1939), The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (Michael Curtiz, 1939) and The Sea Hawk (Michael Curtiz, 1940).

His striking good looks and screen charisma won him millions of fans. Flynn played an integral role in the re-invention of the action-adventure genre. In collaboration with Hollywood's best fight arrangers, Flynn became noted for fast-paced sword fights. He demonstrated an acting range beyond action-adventure roles in light contemporary social comedies, such as The Perfect Specimen (Michael Curtiz, 1937) and Four's a Crowd (Michael Curtiz, 1938), and melodrama The Sisters (Anatole Litvak, 1938).

During this period Flynn published his first book, Beam Ends (1937), an autobiographical account of his sailing experiences around Australia as a youth. He also travelled to Spain, in 1937, as a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War.

Flynn co-starred with Olivia de Havilland a total of eight times, and together they made the most successful on-screen romantic partnership in Hollywood in the late 1930s-early 1940s in eight films. Flynn's relationship with Bette Davis, his co-star in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (Michael Curtiz, 1939), was quarrelsome. Davis allegedly slapped him across the face far harder than necessary during one scene.

Errol Flynn
Dutch postcard by M.B.&Z., no. 1050. Photo: Warner Bros.

Errol Flynn
German postcard by Edition Cicero, Hamburg, no. 150/10. Photo: Elmer Fryer, 1936 / The Kobal Collection.

Paragon of male physical prowess

In 1940, at the zenith of his career, Erroll Flynn was voted the fourth most popular star in the US. Flynn became a naturalised American citizen in 1942. As the United States had by then entered the Second World War, he attempted to enlist in the armed services, but failed the physical exam due to multiple heart problems and other diseases.

This created an image problem for both Flynn, the supposed paragon of male physical prowess, and for Warner Brothers, which continued to cast him in athletic roles, including such patriotic productions as Dive Bomber (Michael Curtiz, 1941), Desperate Journey (Raoul Walsh, 1942) and Objective, Burma! (Raoul Walsh, 1945).

His womanising lifestyle caught up with him in 1942 when two under-age girls, Betty Hansen and Peggy Satterlee, accused him of statutory rape at the Bel Air home of Flynn's friend Frederick McEvoy, and on board Flynn's yacht, respectively. The scandal received immense press attention. Many of Flynn's fans, assuming that his screen persona was a reflection of his actual personality, refused to accept that the charges were true. Flynn was acquitted, but the trial's widespread coverage and lurid overtones permanently damaged his carefully cultivated screen image as an idealised romantic leading player.

In 1946, Flynn published an adventure novel, Showdown, and earned a reported $184,000. In 1947 he signed a 15-year contract with Warner Bros. for $225,000 per film. After the Second World War, the taste of the American film going audience changed from European-themed material and the English history-based escapist epics in which Flynn excelled, to more gritty, urban realism and Film Noir, reflecting modern American life.

Flynn tried unsuccessfully to make the transition in Uncertain Glory (Raoul Walsh, 1944) with Paul Lukas, and Cry Wolf (Peter Godfrey, 1947) with Barbara Stanwyck, and then increasingly passé Westerns such as Silver River (Raoul Walsh, 1948) and Montana (Ray Enright, 1950). Flynn's behaviour became increasingly disruptive during filming; he was released from his contract in 1950 by Jack L. Warner as part of a stable-clearing of 1930s glamour-generation stars. His Hollywood career over at the age of 41, Flynn entered a steep financial and physical decline.

Errol Flynn
French postcard by Éditions P.I., Paris, no. 213. Photo: Warner Bros.

A parody of himself

In the 1950s, Errol Flynn became a parody of himself. He lost his savings from the Hollywood years in a series of financial disasters, including The Story of William Tell (Jack Cardiff, 1954) with Waltraut Haas. Aimlessly he sailed around the Western Mediterranean aboard his yacht Zaca. Heavy alcohol abuse left him prematurely aged and overweight.

He staved off financial ruin with roles in forgettable productions such as Hello God (William Marshall, 1951), Il maestro di Don Giovanni/Crossed Swords (Milton Krims, 1954) opposite Gina Lollobrigida, and King's Rhapsody (Herbert Wilcox, 1955) with Anna Neagle.

He performed in such also-ran Hollywood films as Mara Maru (Gordon Douglas, 1952) and Istanbul (Joseph Pevney, 1957) with Cornell Borchers, and made occasional television appearances. As early as 1952 he had been seriously ill with hepatitis resulting in liver damage. In 1956 he presented and sometimes performed in the television anthology series The Errol Flynn Theatre that was filmed in Britain.

He enjoyed a brief revival of popularity with The Sun Also Rises (Henry King, 1957), The Big Boodle (Richard Wilson, 1957), filmed in Cuba; Too Much, Too Soon (Art Napoleon, 1958), and The Roots of Heaven (John Huston, 1958) with Juliette Gréco. In these films he played drunks and washed out bums, and brought a poignancy to his performances that had not been there during his glamorous heydays.

He met with Stanley Kubrick to discuss a role in Lolita, but nothing came of it. Flynn went to Cuba in late 1958 to film the self-produced B film Cuban Rebel Girls (Barry Mahon, 1959), where he met Fidel Castro and was initially an enthusiastic supporter of the Cuban Revolution. He wrote a series of newspaper and magazine articles for the New York Journal American and other publications documenting his time in Cuba with Castro. Many of these pieces were lost until 2009, when they were rediscovered in a collection at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for American History. He narrated a short film titled Cuban Story: The Truth About Fidel Castro Revolution (1959), his last known work as an actor.

He published his autobiography, My Wicked Wicked Ways. In 1959, Errol Flynn died of a heart attack in Vancouver, Canada. Flynn was married three times. His first wife was actress Lily Damita (1935-1942). They had one son, actor and war correspondent Sean Flynn (1941-1971). Sean and his colleague Dana Stone disappeared in Cambodia in 1970, during the Vietnam War, while both were working as freelance photojournalists for Time magazine. It is generally assumed that they were killed by Khmer Rouge guerrillas.

Errol was married a second time to Nora Eddington from 1943 till 1949. They had two daughters, Deirdre (1945) and Rory (1947). His third wife was actress Patrice Wymore from 1950 until his death. They had one daughter, Arnella Roma (1953–1998). In 1980, author Charles Higham published a controversial biography, Errol Flynn: The Untold Story, in which he alleged that Flynn was a fascist sympathiser who spied for the Nazis before and during the Second World War, and that he was bisexual and had multiple gay affairs. Later Flynn biographers were critical of Higham's allegations, and found no evidence to corroborate them.

Original Trailer Captain Blood (1935). Source: TheTrailerGal (YouTube).

Trailer The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). Source: Trailers, Sci, and/or Fi (YouTube).

Trailer The Roots of Heaven (1958). Source: saxondog2001 (YouTube).

Sources: Charles Culbertson (IMDb), Wikipedia and IMDb.

No comments: