My Wicked, Wicked Ways
Born on June 20th, 1909 in Battery Point, Tasmania, Errol Leslie Thomson Flynn became one of cinema’s greatest movie stars who achieved everlasting fame during the Golden Age of Hollywood with numerous roles in swashbuckling adventure films that still endure today as the benchmarks for the genre.
Never one for taking himself too seriously he also enjoyed a reputation for womanising and a hedonistic personal life that, to be honest, would be the envy of any red-blooded male !
In 1933 he managed to snare the role of Fletcher Christian in the film In The Wake Of The Bounty which quickly got the attention of Hollywood where he featured in a couple of minor roles but his big break came in 1935 with the release of Captain Blood. Originally to star Robert Donat, who turned the role down due to ill-health, so Warner Bros cast Flynn, after a number of highly impressive screen tests. The film was a huge success and launched the careers of two stars – Flynn and his frequent co-star Olivia de Havilland.
A few films passed until in 1938 when Flynn starred in most famous, and beloved role, as Robin Hood in the magnificent The Adventures Of Robin Hood.
84 years later this is still the gold-standard benchmark for adventure films where Flynn’s bravado and charisma shines throughout.
He was ably assisted by a terrific supporting cast with Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marion, Claude Rains as Prince John and Basil Rathbone as the villainous Sir Guy of Gisbourne. The climatic sword fight between Robin and Sir Guy has never been bettered.
Many years later de Havilland recounted in an interview: “And so we had one kissing scene, which I looked forward to with great delight. I remember I blew every take, at least six in a row, maybe seven, maybe eight, and we had to kiss all over again. And Errol Flynn got really rather uncomfortable, and he had, if I may say so, a little trouble with his tights.”
Flynn’s movie career was at its apex with such films as The Dawn Patrol, Dodge City, The Private Lives Of Elizabeth And Essex, The Sea Hawk and Gentleman Jim.
He had another monster hit portraying General George Armstrong Custer in the highly fictionalised They Died With Their Boots On which still entertains today but not as a recounting of history.
Then in 1942, Flynn was accused of statutory rape by two 17-year-old girls and although he was eventually acquitted, the trial’s widespread and lurid details permanently damaged his screen image as a romantic idealised leading star.
He attempted to enlist but failed the physical exam and was pilloried by the press as a “draft dodger” which was not helped by his studio refusing to admit that Flynn, promoted for his romanticism and athleticism, had been rejected due to health issues.
His great swashbuckling adventure roles were now behind him but he arguably gave his best acting performance in 1949’s That Forsyte Woman as the cold-hearted Soames Forsyte. Although the film is rather dull, Flynn was terrific in a role that was the antithesis of what he usually did and showed there was a real acting talent behind the facade of his public persona.
In 1959, he died of myocardial infarction as due to coronary thrombosis and coronary atherosclerosis and portal cirrhosis of the liver – in other words he drank and screwed himself to death ! He was aged just 50.
He was buried with six bottles of his favourite whiskey.
A posthumous autobiography was released My Wicked, Wicked Ways in which Flynn detailed with honesty a self-portrait of his lurid escapades and life.
There hasn’t been a movie star quite like Errol Flynn and I doubt we will ever see one ever again to rival him.
WW Movie Clips