Known for his swashbuckling exploits in the Hollywood movies during the 30s, 40s and 50s, Errol Leslie Flynn’s life was as adventurous off screen as it was on. He lived life hard, fast and scandalously to the extent that some of his off-screen escapades made his on screen adventures pale by comparison.
Born a Gemini on the 20th June 1909 to Theodore Thompson Flynn, a Marine biologist and teacher and Mary Lily Flynn, nee Young, in Hobart, Tasmania. His mother deserted her family when he was around 11 years old and as a consequence, Errol had what he describes as a distant relationship with her. She is said to have once described him as a “nasty little boy.‘ He soon began to develop the character of a lovable rogue, becoming sexually active from a very early age and at one point he was expelled from school for having sex with the school’s laundry mistress.
Trouble of one kind or another was never far away. After expulsion from school, at 17 years old he found himself working in a series of menial jobs and around that time, he left Tasmania to seek his fortune in the Papua New Guinea gold rush. He didn‘t find gold but worked instead as a pearl-diver, diamond smuggler, bird-catcher, captain of a charter boat and a gigolo. However, true to his nature, he was able to find trouble with the law and manage to provoked the wrath of a series of enraged husbands.
In 1935 when he was 24 years old, his 6’2” frame and handsome good looks caught the eye of an Australian movie producer, who at the time was planning to make the movie ‘In the wake of the Bounty,’ a sequel to ’Mutiny on the Bounty’, in which he was commissioned to play Fletcher Christian. Thereafter he began to travel visiting Asia, China and India, then Europe to France and finally on to England, where he found worked in the London theatres. In 1933, he was cast in the British film ‘Murder in Monte Carlo,’ which was seen by Warner Brothers studio who invited him to Hollywood. On the transatlantic journey, he met Lili Damita, who he eventually married and would become the first of his three wives. They eventually had a son Sean, the first of his four children by different wives.
Soon after his arrival in the US, he began filming ‘Captain Blood‘ directed by Michael Curtiz, in which he starred opposite Olivia de Havilland. So potent was the on-screen chemistry between Flynn and de Havilland that they would go on to make seven more successful films directed by Curtiz. When Captain Blood was released in 1935, it became an immediate box office success, particularly with the ladies. This began a love affair between him and American movie goers that would last for many years and make him a very rich man. Flynn went on to star opposite many of the leading ladies in Hollywood at the time, including Maureen O’Hara, Ava Gardner and Bette Davis, who had an intense dislike of him. The role he played so well and for which he became famous was that of the dashing young hero who loved freedom, rebelled against injustice and who always won the heart of the beautiful damsel in distress, a role rivaled only by the legendary Douglas Fairbanks.
His good looks was easy on the eye, which made him the darling of the ‘Golden Hollywood Age.’ With his newly found fame and considerible wealth, his life soon began to spin out of control with wild parties, drug taking and rumors about affairs, allegedly with both sexes began to surface. His antics and good looks drew the comment from the likes of Joan Crawford who dubbed him “The most beautiful man alive” whilst Marlene Dietrich called him ‘Satan’s Angel.’
In 1942, he became embroiled in a statutory rape scandal with two under-aged teenage girls, Betty Hansen and Peggy Saterlee and had he lost the case, he would have been sent to jail for a very long time. His popularity faltered as a result, but rebounded after some time. In 1943, when he was 34 years old he married for the second time, an 18 year old woman named Nora Eddington who was an aspiring Hollywood actress. At the time of their meeting, she was working as a court clerk during his rape trial. They had two daughters, but by the time the second child was born the marriage was already on the rocks.
Errol’s career yielded several successful films; however by the 1950s, his trademark good looks were fading fast and his career was winding down, despite efforts to revive it. With mounting debt he decided to spend much of his time sailing around the world with16 year old Partice Wymore who would eventually become his third wife. His adventures on the high seas were ostensibly to avoid creditors and the law.
Errol Flynn lived his life with gay abandon, drinking, partying and womanizing, all of which eventually took a heavy toll on his body. On 14th October 1959 at just age fifty, whilst traveling to Vancouver, Canada to sell his boat for a much needed cash injection, he suffered a massive heart attack and died. When the medical examiners had completed their postmortem, they concluded that due to years of substance abuse, his body presented as that of a 75 year old man. Flynn made no apologies for the way he lived his life. His most memorable quotes which perfectly sum up the character of the man includes:-
* Women won’t let me stay single and I won’t let myself stay married
* I like my whisky old and my women young
* I have had a hell of a lot of fun and I have enjoyed every minute of it.