Errol Flynn - Hollywood Superstar Enigma
Errol's Slow Slide Downhill
Errol Flynn,at the peak of his fame in the 1940s, was nothing short of a cinematic god. Even now, half a century later his name rests securely amongst the greatest performers who made the classic age of Hollywood what it was.
He has become a Hollwood legend as a swashbuckling, dynamic movie hero of rousing adventure movies -- swashbucklers -- who was famous for his boundless energy and devil-may-care attitude.
His real-life persona with its drama and intrigue and a succession of female conquests was not much different. For a time he lived a life which was ever man's dream, full of beautiful women, challenges and adventures. But it did not last. At soon as his success was assured, at the very moment that he could realise his ambitions, Errol Flynn began a slow but sure slide through failure towards ultimately, death. Errol Flynn self-destructed.
What a difference time makes
(helped by whisky, heroin and cocaine)In 25 years
takes heroic dedication. Errol Flynn was a focused man.
Born in Hobart, Tasmania, Errol was taken to Sydney, Australia as a child, where he attended Sydney Church of England Grammar School from which he was expelled for fighting and, allegedly, having sex with the daughter of the school laundress. He was also expelled from the next school he attended. Shortly afterwards, he moved to New Guinea where he bought a tobacco plantation, a business which failed. A copper mining venture in the hills near the Laloki Valley behind the present national capital Port Moresby also failed.
In 1933, after starring in the Australian-made film In The Wake Of The Bounty, Flynn left for Britain and, in 1933, got an acting job with Northampton Repertory Company, where he worked for six months. He was discovered by a Warner Bros. executive, signed to a contract and shipped to America as a contract actor.
By 1935 Flynn's main claim to fame was that he had married the French actress Lili Damita ("Tiger Lil," as he called her), a major film star of the day, and a friend of Anne Warner, Jack's Wife. Also, during his first months in America he had just two bit parts in "B" pictures.
Flynn and his first wife, Lili Damita
Then, in an astonishing piece of luck, the unknown Flynn was tested and given the lead in the lavish new production of Rafael Sabatini's pirate epic "Captain Blood" (1935). It - and Errol - were an overnight sensation, and to his amazement the young Tasmanian found himself instantly catapulted to the top of the Hollywood heap.
Flynn went on to become the talking pictures' leading portrayer of heroes in epics including "The Charge of the Light Brigade," "The Adventures of Robin Hood," "The Dawn Patrol," "Dodge City," "The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex," "The Sea Hawk," "Santa Fe Trail," "They Died With Their Boots On," "Gentleman Jim," "The Adventures of Don Juan," and several World War II dramas, most notably "Objective, Burma!"
He had become the 'King of the Swashbucklers'.
Flynn now had the power and financial resources to indulge almost his every whim, and, as his film career blossomed, so did two of his other loves, adventure and writing. In 1937 he briefly visited Spain during the civil war there, and he published - to moderate critical praise - a semi-autobiographical novel, Beam Ends (1937; to be followed by a second, less successful effort, Showdown, in 1946). In 1942 he was divorced from the tempestuous Lili Damita.
To this rich, successful bachelor,it seemed as if the world was at his feet but things were about to dramatically change.
Flynn Wives and Offspring
Flynn and his first wife Lili Damita had a son, Sean, born in 1941, who became a handsome lookalike of his father. After appearing in a few minor films, Sean became an adventuresome photographer-correspondent.
Tragically, at the age of 29 he disappeared while covering a war in Southeast Asia in 1970 and was presumed captured or dead.
Flynn and Nora Eddington
Flynn and his second wife, Nora Eddington, had two daughters, Deirdre and Rory, who both became models.
Flynn and Patrice Wymore
Flynn and his third wife, Patrice Wymore, had a daughter, Arnella, who became a model as well, but died young, at the age of 45 in 1998.
Flynn is also survived by grandsons
Sean, Luke and Rio.
With virtually no warning, in late 1942 Errol was indicted by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office on three charges of "statutory rape" - sex with girls under the age of eighteen. Two underage girls, Betty Hansen and Peggy LaRue Satterlee, claimed they had been seduced by him. If convicted, he could have spent the next twenty-five years in prison. While eventually acquitted of the trumped-up charges, he was seared by the experience, and those who knew him said he never fully recovered from the embarrassment and sniggering jokes that went with being tried for "rape."
When America entered the Second World War in 1941 the public's perception of Errol changed markedly.He had recently become an American citizen and had tried to enlist but a number of physical defects, including a bad heart, tuberculosis, and recurring malaria, mandated his classification as 4-F: "unfit for military duty."
However his lack of active service during the war when real blood was being spilled by men and women injured and dying by the thousands every day, caused public aversion to his lifestyle. It is a mystery why Flynn, who was an intelligent and sensitive man, continued to seemingly revel in his riotous playboy lifestyle when it was plainly destroying his public image."In like Flynn" was now not only an international joke - it was his personal motto. Any other celebrity would have worked hard to dispel the escalating scandals and rumors. But the complex Flynn, for whatever reasons, chose to join in the fun and "go with the flow."
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Dissipation and Early Death
While Flynn's pictures continued to score at the box office, the actor, himself, was declining, both mentally and physically. His drinking and carousing increased, and, although he remained a loyal and good friend to his cronies, the actor's overall behavior became erratic. By the time he starred in The Adventures of Don Juan (1949), Flynn was suffering from short-term memory loss and seemed unsure of himself. He divorced his second wife, Nora Eddington, in 1949 and the following year married actress Patrice Wymore. In 1952, Flynn appeared to have regained his former prowess (but for several injuries during production) in Against All Flags, but the success was short-lived. As his box-office appeal lessened and his debts grew larger, the increasingly bitter Flynn left for Europe to make a few films, including The Master of Ballantrae (1953) and Crossed Swords (1954). The latter was poorly received stateside, something Flynn blamed on the distributor's (United Artists) lack of promotion. The final blow for Flynn came when he lost his entire fortune on an ill-fated, never-completed attempt to film the story of William Tell. To cope with his pain and losses, Flynn took to the sea, sailing about for long periods in his 120-foot ocean-going sailboat, the Zaca.
By the mid 1950s, Flynn had become a parody of himself. Heavy alcohol and drug abuse left him prematurely aged and bloated, but he still won acclaim, ironically, as a drunken ne'er-do-well in The Sun Also Rises (1957). His colourful but somewhat exaggerated autobiography, My Wicked, Wicked Ways, was published just months after his death and contains humorous anecdotes about Hollywood. Flynn wanted to call the book In Like Me, but the publisher refused.
Flynn died of a heart attack on October 14, 1959. He had flown to Vancouver, British Columbia in order to sell his yacht. When he fell ill he was taken to a friend's apartment. A party ensued with Flynn regaling guests with stories and impressions. According to the Vancouver Sun (12/16/2006), "When Errol Flynn came to town in 1959 for a week-long binge that ended with him dying in a West End apartment, his local friends propped him up at the Hotel Georgia lounge so that everyone would see him."
So that's how the Hollywood God ended up - a corpse in a drunken freak show.
Errol Flynn was the forerunner of the movie action heroes like Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson and Arnold Schwarznegger. Before him, in the early years of silent pictures, Douglas Fairbanks held sway as the all action hero, but with the advent of talkies Flynn, with his pleasantly modulated voice, good looks and athletic build, became the man of the moment. He did his own stunts, lived his life to the full and thumbed his nose at the rulebook.
No actor in film history so electrified audiences by climbing a balcony, brandishing a sword, or flinging his defiance in the face of kings, scoundrels, and armies. In the words of film historian David Shipman, "As a personality - in those stereotyped roles - he was unique. More recent actors in tights just aren't in the running; and, in the Talkie period, no actor swashed so blithe a buckle. When Flynn stopped fighting and fencing, costume films became much less fun."
The man and actor who aged and lost his vitality so rapidly from dissipation was someone else.
"When you see a meteor stab the sky, or a bomb explode, or a fire sweep across a dry hillside, the picture is vivid and remains in your mind. So it was with Errol....he was all the heroes in one magnificent, sexy, animal package....he showered an audience with sparks when he laughed, when he fought, or when he loved. I just wish we had someone around today half as good as Flynn."
More Great Hollywood Sites
- Errol Flynn in 'Captain Blood'
The movie which made Errol (and Olivia) a star!
- The Adventures of Robin Hood
Errol Flynn at his swashbuckling best.
- Hollywood Sex Goddesses of Yesteryear
Beautiful ladies with that 'extra' something - from Jean Harlow to Brigitte Bardot and Gina Lollobrigida.
- Liz Taylor - Hollywood Royalty
Known as the 'other Queen Elizabeth' - and with good reason