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Errol Flynn c.1940
|Born||Errol Leslie Thomson Flynn
20 June 1909(1909-06-20)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
|Died||14 October 1959 (aged 50)
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
|Occupation||actor, screenwriter, producer, singer, director|
|Years active||1932 – 1959|
|Spouse(s)||Lili Damita (1935-1942)
Nora Eddington (1943-1948)
Patrice Wymore (1950-1959)
Background and early life
Errol Flynn was born on 20 June 1909 in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, where his father, Theodore Thomson Flynn was a lecturer (1909), and professor (1911) of biology at the University of Tasmania (UTAS). His mother was born Lily Mary Young, however she dropped the first names ‘Lily Mary’ shortly after she was married, and changed her name to ‘Marelle’ instead. There is no documentary evidence that she was related to any of the Bounty mutineers. Flynn described his mother’s family as "seafaring folk," and this appears to be where his life-long interest in ships and the sea originated. Both of his parents were native-born Australians of Irish and British descent, who had been married at St John’s Church of England, Balmain North, Sydney, on 23 January 1909. 
Flynn went to Sydney, New South Wales, as a child where he attended Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore School), where he was a class mate of a future Australian Prime Minister, John Gorton. He was expelled for fighting and, allegedly, having sex with a school laundress. He was also expelled from several other schools he attended. At the age of 20, 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 the early 1930s, Flynn left for the United Kingdom and, in 1933, snagged an acting job with the Northampton Repertory Company, where he worked for seven months. According to Gerry Connelly’s book, Errol Flynn in Northampton, he also performed at the 1934 Malvern Festival as well as in Glasgow and London’s West End.
In 1933, he starred in the Australian film, In the Wake of the Bounty, directed by Charles Chauvel, and in 1934 appeared in, Murder at Monte Carlo, produced at the Warner Bros. Teddington Studios, UK. This latter film is now considered a lost film. During the filming of Murder at Monte Carlo, Flynn was discovered by a Warner Brothers executive, signed to a contract, and shipped to America as a contract actor. In 1942, Flynn became a naturalized citizen of the United States.
Flynn became an overnight sensation with his first starring role in Captain Blood (1935). He was quickly typecast as a swashbuckler in films such as The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), The Dawn Patrol (1938) with his close friend David Niven, Dodge City (1939), The Sea Hawk (1940) and Adventures of Don Juan (1948).
Many of the acting roles that Flynn received involved swashbuckling swordplay. Trained by Swordmaster Bob Anderson, as featured in the film Reclaiming The Blade, Errol Flynn became noted for his fast-paced sword fights as seen in The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood.
Flynn co-starred with Olivia de Havilland in eight films;
- Captain Blood (1935)
- The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936)
- The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
- Four’s a Crowd (1938)
- Dodge City
- The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
- Santa Fe Trail (1940), and
- They Died with Their Boots On (1941)
While Flynn acknowledged his attraction to her, film historian Rudy Behlmer’s assertions that they were romantically involved during the filming of Robin Hood (see the Special Edition of Robin Hood on DVD, 2003), have been disputed by de Havilland. In an interview for Turner Classic Movies, she said that their relationship was platonic, mostly because Flynn was already married to Lili Damita. The Adventures of Robin Hood was Flynn’s first film in Technicolor.
During the shooting of The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), Flynn and co-star Bette Davis quarrelled off-screen, causing Davis to allegedly strike him harder than necessary while filming a scene. Although their relationship was always strained, Warner Bros. teamed them twice. Their off-screen relationship was later resolved. A contract was even presented to lend them out as Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind but the teaming failed to materialize.
Flynn was a member of Hollywood Cricket Club, along with David Niven. His suave, debonair, and devil-may-care attitude toward both ladies and life has been immortalized in the English language by author Benjamin S. Johnson as, "Errolesque," in his treatise on the subject, An Errolesque Philosophy on Life.
After America entered World War II Flynn was often criticised for his failure to enlist while continuing to play war heroes in films. Flynn, in fact, had attempted to join every branch of the armed services but was rejected for health reasons. The studios’ failure to counter the criticism was due to a desire to hide the state of Flynn’s health. Not only did he have an enlarged heart, which had already resulted in at least one heart attack, but he also suffered from tuberculosis, a painful back (for which he self-medicated with morphine and later, with heroin), and recurrent bouts of malaria which he had contracted in New Guinea.
By the 1950s, Flynn had become a parody of himself. Heavy alcohol and drug abuse left him prematurely aged and bloated, but he won acclaim as a drunken ne’er-do-well in The Sun Also Rises (1957), and as his idol John Barrymore in Too Much Too Soon (1958). His autobiography, My Wicked, Wicked Ways, was published just months after his death and contains humorous anecdotes about Hollywood. According to one literary critic, the book "remains one of the most compelling and appalling autobiographies written by a Hollywood star, or anyone else for that matter". Flynn wanted to call the book In Like Me, but the publisher refused. In 1984, CBS produced a television film based on Flynn’s autobiography, starring Duncan Regehr as Flynn.
Private life, family and death
Flynn was notorious for his drinking, womanizing, and brawling. His freewheeling, hedonistic lifestyle caught up with him in November 1942 when two under-age girls, Betty Hansen and Peggy Satterlee, accused him of statutory rape. A group was organized to support Flynn, named the American Boys’ Club for the Defense of Errol Flynn (ABCDEF); its members included William F. Buckley, Jr. The trial took place in January and February 1943, and Flynn was cleared of the charges. The incident served to increase his reputation as a ladies’ man, which led to the popular phrase "in like Flynn", the phrase being later parodied in the James Coburn spy spoof In Like Flint.
Marriages and family
Flynn was married three times: to actress Lili Damita (who was five years his senior) from 1935 until 1942 (one son, Sean Flynn, born 1941, died Cambodia, 1971); to Nora Eddington from 1943 until 1949 (two daughters, Deirdre born 1945 and Rory born 1947); and to actress Patrice Wymore from 1950 until his death (one daughter, former model Arnella Roma, 1953-1998). In Hollywood he tended to refer to himself as Irish rather than Australian (his father Theodore Thomson Flynn had been a biologist and a professor at the Queen’s University of Belfast in Northern Ireland during the latter part of his career). Flynn lived with Wymore in Port Antonio, Jamaica in the 1950s. He was largely responsible for developing tourism to this area, and for a while owned the Titchfield Hotel which was decorated by the artist Olga Lehmann. He also popularised trips down rivers on bamboo rafts.
In the late 1950s Flynn met and courted the 15-year-old Beverly Aadland at the Hollywood Professional School, casting her in his final film, Cuban Rebel Girls (1959). According to Aadland, he planned to marry her and move to their new house in Jamaica, but during a trip together to Vancouver, British Columbia, he died of a heart attack.
His only son, Sean, an actor and later a noted war correspondent, disappeared in Cambodia in 1970 during the Vietnam War while working as a freelance photojournalist for Time magazine; he was presumed killed in mid-1971 by the Khmer Rouge. Although officially declared dead in 1984, his remains have never been discovered. Sean’s life was recounted in Inherited Risk by Jeffrey Meyers (Simon & Schuster) and he is also mentioned on page 194 in the Colleagues section of "Dispatches" by Michael Herr. Flynn’s daughter Rory, has one son, Sean Rio Flynn, named after her half-brother. Young Flynn is an actor. Rory Flynn has written a book about her father entitled The Baron of Mulholland.
Flynn flew with Aadland to Vancouver on 9 October 1959, to lease his yacht Zaca to millionaire George Caldough. On 14 October, Caldough was driving Flynn to the airport when Flynn felt ill. He was taken to the apartment of Caldough’s friend, Dr. Grant Gould, uncle of noted pianist Glenn Gould. A party ensued, with Flynn regaling guests with stories and impressions. Feeling ill again, he announced "I shall return" and retired to a bedroom to rest. A half hour later Aadland checked in on him and discovered him unconscious. Flynn had suffered a massive heart attack. According to the Vancouver Sun (16 December 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." The story is a myth; following Flynn’s death, his body was turned over to a coroner who performed an autopsy, and released his body to his next of kin.
Errol Flynn is interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, in Glendale, California. He shares coffin space with six bottles of whiskey, a parting gift from his drinking buddies. Both his parents survived him.
In 1961, mother Florence Aadland, wrote The Big Love, a book detailing Flynn’s sexual relationship with her 15-year-old daughter, Beverly. It was later made into a play starring Tracey Ullman.
In 1980, author Charles Higham published a controversial biography, Errol Flynn: The Untold Story, in which he alleged that Flynn was a fascist sympathizer who spied for the Nazis before and during World War II. The book also alleged he was bisexual, and had affairs with several men including Tyrone Power, Howard Hughes, and Truman Capote. That Flynn was bisexual was also claimed by David Bret in Errol Flynn: Satan’s Angel, although Bret denounced the Nazi claims.
He was previously accused of sympathising with Hitler based on his association with Dr Hermann Erben, an Austrian who served in the German military intelligence. Declassified files held by the CIA show that, in an intercepted letter in September 1933, Flynn wrote to Erben: "A slimy Jew is trying to cheat me . . . I do wish we could bring Hitler over here to teach these Isaacs a thing or two. The bastards have absolutely no business probity or honour whatsoever."
Subsequent biographies — notably Tony Thomas’ Errol Flynn: The Spy Who Never Was (Citadel, 1990) and Buster Wiles’ My Days With Errol Flynn: The Autobiography of a Stuntman (Roundtable, 1988) — have rejected Higham’s claims as pure fabrication. Flynn’s political leanings, say these biographies, appear to have been leftist: he was a supporter of Scottish Nationalism and the Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War and of the Cuban Revolution, even narrating a documentary titled Cuban Story shortly before his death.[Need quotation on talk to verify] Flynn defended his visit to Cuba in an appearance on a Canadian Broadcasting Company television game show early in 1959. According to his autobiography, he considered Castro a close personal friend and drinking partner.
- Duncan Regehr portrayed Flynn in a 1985 American TV movie My Wicked, Wicked Ways, loosely based on Flynn’s autobiography of the same name.
- Guy Pearce played Errol Flynn in the 1996 Australian film Flynn.
- Flynn was portrayed by Jude Law in Martin Scorsese’s 2004 film The Aviator.
- The character of film star Neville Sinclair, played by Timothy Dalton in the 1991 film The Rocketeer, was thought by many film critics to be loosely based on Flynn.
- The character of Alan Swann, portrayed by Peter O’Toole in the 1982 film My Favorite Year, was based on Flynn.
Books by Flynn
Flynn wrote the following books:
- Beam Ends (1937)
- Showdown (1946)
- My Wicked, Wicked Ways, ghost-written by Earl Conrad (1959)
Posthumous cultural references
- ^ Flynn always calls her ‘Marelle’ in his autobiography.
- ^ Flynn, My Wicked, Wicked Ways, p.33. She was a descendant of Midshipman Edward (or Ned) Young.
- ^ Flynn, My Wicked, Wicked Ways, p.33.
- ^ Flynn, My Wicked, Wicked Ways, p.25.
- ^ "Flynn, Errol Leslie (1909 – 1959)". Australian Dictionary of Biography Online. http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A080725b.htm. Retrieved on 2008-06-07.
- ^ "Biography for Errol Flynn". imdb.com. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001224/bio. Retrieved on 2008-12-24.
- ^ New York Times, 22 May 2002
- ^ a b My Wicked, Wicked Ways (essay)
- ^ TheOneRing.net, TORn exclusive with ‘Reclaiming The Blade,’ Director, May 15th, 2009 by MrCere
- ^ Thomas, Tony. Errol Flynn: The Spy Who Never Was
- ^ Caterson, Simon, "Genius for living driven by lust for death", Australian Literary Review, 3 June 2009, retrieved 6/6/09 http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25542210-25132,00.html
- ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0050015/
- ^ http://www.reuters.com/article/entertainmentNews/idUSN0527616820070905
- ^ Statutory Rape Charges
- ^ Valenti, Peter. Errol Flynn: A Bio-Bibliography
- ^ Quinion, Michael (2000-12-09). "World Wide Words: In like Flynn". http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-inl1.htm. Retrieved on 2007-12-04.
- ^ The History of Jamaica – Captivated by Jamaica (Dr. Rebecca Tortello)
- ^ The search for Sean Flynn continues: Magazine: mensvogue.com
- ^ Sean Rio Flynn
- ^ Smith, Jack (1985-12-30). "A few more literary favorites among the best of the firsts and the best of the lasts". Los Angeles Times.
- ^ Aadland, Florence; Tedd Thomey (1986). The Big Love (reprint ed.). Grand Central Pub.. ISBN 0446301590.
- ^ Richards, David (1991-04-14). "Secret Sharers: Solo Acts in a Confessional Age". New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D0CE2D81E39F937A25757C0A967958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all. Retrieved on 2009-02-15.
- ^ Simon, John (1991-03-18). "Two from the Heart, Two from Hunger". New York Magazine. pp. 76-77. http://books.google.com/books?id=DukCAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA76&dq=%22florence+aadland%22+%22the+big+love%22#PPA76,M1. Retrieved on 2009-02-15.
- ^ a b Higham, Charles (1980). Errol Flynn: The Untold Story. Doubleday. ISBN 0385134959.
- ^ Bamber, David (2001-06-19). "Errol Flynn ’spied for Allies, not the Nazis’". Telegraph.co.uk. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1379907/Errol-Flynn-spied-for-Allies-not-the-Nazis.html. Retrieved on 2009-05-25.
- ^ The Truth About Fidel Castro Revolution (IMDB)
- ^ p.19 Film British Federation of Film Societies 1984
- ^ The complete review’s Review
- ^ "Errol Flynn Centenary". Errol Flynn Society of Tasmania Inc. June 2009. http://www.flynncentenarycelebration.com.au. Retrieved on 2009-06-19. Be ‘in like Flynn’ to 10 days of events!
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