Errol Flynn (1909 - 1959)

Biography from Katz's Film Encyclopedia

Satans AngelThe son of a distinguished Australian marine biologist and zoologist, he attended a number of fine schools in Australia and England and was expelled from most. At 15 he began clerking for a Sydney shipping company. At 16 he sailed to New Guinea to enter government service, but his adventurous spirit soon drove him to private enterprise, a search for gold. In 1930 he returned briefly to Sydney, purchased a boat, which he named Sirocco, and sailed back to New Guinea with three friends. He later described the seven-month sea voyage in his first of three books, Beam Ends: 1937. In New Guinea he became manager of a tobacco plantation and dispatched a regular column for the Sydney Bulletin. Back in Australia, he was offered the role of Fletcher Christian in a semidocumentary feature-length film, IN THE WAKE OF THE BOUNTY.

In 1933 he set out for England, where he gained some acting experience with the Northampton Repertory Company. This led to a lead role in a low-budget mystery film produced by Warner's London branch, and this in turn to a Hollywood contract. Flynn arrived in Hollywood in 1935. Before the year ended he was married (to actress Lili Damita) and an established star, following the success of CAPTAIN BLOOD (1935). A last-minute replacement for Robert Donat, Flynn proved to be ideally cast as a dashing swashbuckler. Tall, athletic, and exceptionally good-looking, he had no peer in costume adventure films. In movies like THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE (1936), THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938), and THE SEA HAWK (1940), he made a splendid figure as a fearless fighter for justice and a noble leader of men.

As Jack L. Warner noted in his autobiography, My First Hundred Years in Hollywood, "To the Walter Mittys of the world he was all the heroes in one magnificent, sexy, animal package." Ironically, Flynn was classified 4F and turned down by every branch of the armed services during WWII because of a combination of a heart defect, a recurrent malaria, and a measure of tuberculosis, a fact that hurt his ego considerably.

Flynn, who enjoyed enormous popularity through the early 40s, soon began tiring of the dashing hero image and yearned for roles that would allow him to prove his worth as an actor but rarely rose to the occasion when the opportunity presented itself. Off-screen he was gaining a reputation as a rogue and a Casanova, and gossip columnists delighted in telling of his hedonistic exploits, amorous escapades, and barroom brawls. The semiserious intimations that made him a sort of living phallic symbol in the eyes of the public took a serious turn in 1942 when he was tried (and subsequently acquitted) on charges of statutory rape of two teenage girls aboard his yacht. The publicity resulted in a catch phrase, "In like Flynn," that gained national currency over the years. The same year he divorced Miss Damita. (The marriage had produced a lookalike son, Sean Flynn, b. 1941, who in the 60s starred in a number of European adventure pictures and in 1970, while covering the Southeast Asian war as a photographer-correspondent, disappeared and was presumed captured or dead.)

Flynn's popularity began to wane in the late 40s. Always known as a heavy drinker and smoker, he was now beginning to experiment with drugs, to which he became increasingly addicted. The effect of his hard-driving style of life soon became noticeable in his appearance and screen performances. In 1949 he divorced his second wife (since 1943), Nora Eddington, and in 1950 married actress Patrice Wymore. In 1952 an embittered and debt-ridden Flynn left Hollywood and set out for Europe to resurrect the pieces of his career.

The several films he made in England and on the Continent were failures, and to make things worse, he lost every penny he had on an ill-fated production of WILLIAM TELL (1954), which was never completed. He began spending longer and longer stretches of time aboard his 120-foot ocean-going sailboat, the Zaca, cruising around aimlessly in a futile attempt to escape his troubles.

He returned to Hollywood in 1956 and the following year received good press notices for his performance as a drunken wastrel in THE SUN ALSO RISES. He played drunks in his next two films as well, TOO MUCH, TOO SOON (1958) (as John Barrymore) and THE ROOTS OF HEAVEN (1958). His last picture, CUBAN REBEL GIRLS (1959), was a disastrous semidocumentary tribute to Fidel Castro, which Flynn also wrote, narrated, and co-produced. Flynn, who in 1946 had published an unsuccessful novel, Showdown, began writing his memoirs in 1958 with the help of a ghost-writer.

His autobiography, My Wicked, Wicked Ways, was published posthumously in 1959. Flynn died of a heart attack on October 14, 1959, in Vancouver, Canada, at the age of 50. The autopsy revealed a combination of body-ravaging afflictions, which caused the coroner to believe he was examining the body of a much older man.