Errol Leslie Thomson Flynn was born on June 20, 1909 in Hobart, Tasmania. His daughter, Rory Flynn wants him to be remembered as “the grand-daddy of action heroes who came in with talking pictures, ushering in an era of action-adventure movies, was loved by film buffs throughout the 20th century and who defined the swashbuckling heroic type invented in that era”.
But before Rory was a twinkle in her father’s eye, Errol Flynn was attracting all the wrong attention as a rambunctious child who spent relatively short stints in many schools and didn’t last long in any of them. As a teenager, his free-wheeling lifestyle led him from one relatively short-lived job to another and eventually he dashed off to England, some say to escape the wrath of the husbands whose wives he had wooed, or the tax-man and law enforcement officers!
He enjoyed an adventurous, seafaring lifestyle, which almost made his movie characters mild mannered by comparison. There’s a good chance he inherited this lively behaviour from his mother whose family was described as ‘seafaring folk’, and descended from a midshipman on the notorious HMS Bounty! Flynn’s acting career was launched with his role of Fletcher Christian in an Australian documentary, ‘In the Wake of the Bounty’, in 1933. His role in this and his good looks, natural athleticism and devil-may-care charisma attracted the attention of Warner Bros, and he was signed up as a contract actor, moving to the US shortly after.
When English actor Robert Donat bowed out of ‘Captain Blood’ because of illness, the newcomer Flynn was cast in the part of the adventurous Peter Blood. This catapulted Flynn into instant superstardom. He was the envy of his peers in a time when normal practice for actors was to play bit parts and supporting roles for years before hoping to became a star.
Almost overnight he owned the persona of the swashbuckling, Casanovic, man of action from his movie roles in ‘Captain Blood ‘(1935), ‘The Charge of the Lightbrigade’ (1936), ‘The Prince and the Pauper’ (1937), and most particularly in ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ (1938). He then went on to appear in ‘The Dawn Patrol ‘(1938), ‘Dodge City’ (1939), ‘The Sea Hawk’ (1940) and ‘Adventures of Don Juan’ (1948).
During this time he was voted 4th Most Popular Star in the US, according to Variety (1940).
Another title Errol became synonymous with was the tag ‘In Like Flynn’. Far from being identified with his innocuous charm, this term apparently arose out of a statutory rape charge of two minors in 1942, of which he was, however, later acquitted.
Errol Flynn was an entertaining character both in front of and behind the scenes. The following amusing anecdote was regaled by Dean Stockwell as a child-actor playing the lead role in the movie ‘Kim’, based on Rudyard Kipling’s novel.
“Flynn was a maniac practical joker. I had a horror looming up, one of those crying scenes – a real toughy – with Paul Lukas. He’s a dying lama. The scene is a master shot inside a tent in India and I’m there with the lama and Flynn comes through the tent flaps and gives me food for the lama in a rice bowl, and I’m supposed to be – as the character Kim – on the job and I can’t let the lama eat maggots. So I check the bowl. Flynn has a line and leaves. Then I have this big crying scene with the lama.
So we rehearse and do a take. I’m talking to the lama and in comes Flynn and hands me the bowl, piled high with fresh camel dung, still steaming. Now I’m supposed to look at it and say, “Is this okay for the lama to eat?” And he’s supposed to say, “Yes, of course. I promise it’s good.”
I looked at the mess and said my line and he backed out. I played the rest of the scene and it cost Flynn five hundred dollars. He had bet everyone on the crew that he would break me up.”
Errol Flynn once said: “I’ve lived twice and I’ve had a marvelous life.”
Indeed you have, Errol.
He died October 14, 1959, age 50.
Images are all public domain and sourced from Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons – flickr twm1340, flickr Iberia Airlines, , Donan Raven author of Schooner image