In the late 1930's and early 1940's, as Hollywood's biggest box office attraction, Flynn became almost a god-like figure, more than just a movie star. The public loved his Hollywood image - charismatic, energetic and glamorous - and his actual lifestyle was equally beguiling, full of adventure and always with a beautiful woman on his arm.
But the idyll was not to last and Flynn's life came crashing about his ears. At just the time when his success seemed to be assured Errol Flynn drank too much, overindulged in drugs and began a slow but sure slide to failure, financial ruin and ultimately, death.
BiographyErrol Flynn was born Errol Leslie Thomson Flynn in Hobart, Tasmania on 20 June 1909. His father became Professor of Biology at the University of Tasmania shortly after Flynn was born.
Early YearsFlynn's early schooling was locally, in Hobart, until 1923 when he was sent to the South West London College, a private boarding school in south London, England. After two years he returned to Australia and attended the Shore School, a private, Anglican boarding school in Sydney from which he was expelled for fighting and (by his own account), for alleged sexual misbehaviour with the daughter of the school laundress.
In his late teens Flynn saw himself as an adventurer and entrepreneur. He tried many jobs and businesses in Tasmania, Australia and New Guinea, including gold prospecting, copper mining, ship master, fisherman and sanitation engineer, before he tried acting.
In 1933, he starred as Fletcher Christian in the Australian-made film 'In The Wake Of The Bounty', and then, still restless, he left for Britain and joined the Northampton Repertory Company for six months. His athletic good looks attracted the attention of scouts from Warner Brothers and he was immediately brought to America as a contract actor.
Hollywood Actor 1934During his first year and a half Flynn appeared in three minor pictures, 'Murder at Monte Carlo', in 1934, and 'Don't Bet on Blondes' and 'The Case of the Curious Bride' in 1935. He was still an unknown, untried actor but he had an incredible piece of luck when he was given the lead role in the new production of the pirate epic 'Captain Blood' in 1935, after Robert Donat had turned the part down. The movie and its unknown star were a box-office sensation and Flynn found himself, unexpectedly, the new reigning star of Hollywood adventure movies, the natural successor to Douglas Fairbanks.
Hollywood Star 1935Flynn had found his metier and he went on to become Hollywood's leading swashbuckler, becoming popular in a wide variety of roles, including a British officer in 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' in 1936, a WWI pilot in 'The Dawn Patrol' in 1938, legendary outlaw in 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' in 1938 and ship's captain in 'The Sea Hawk' in 1940. He appeared in a total of 8 movies with Olivia de Havilland whose cool demeanour was an ideal contrast to Flynn's high energy acting style.
By the early 1940's, after starring in the well-received 'Gentleman Jim ' as the boxer, Jim Corbett, Flynn seemed to have the world at his feet. He was rich and famous and a bachelor, having recently divorced his first wife, Lily Damita, but there were storm clouds on the horizon. His reputation for womanising, drinking and fighting was well deserved and well known. He was about to fall foul of his own reputation.
Scandal 1942In November, 1942 Flynn was indicted on three charges of "statutory rape" - sex with girls under the age of eighteen - by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office. The charge was in connection with two girls, Betty Hansen and Peggy LaRue Satterlee, who claimed that Flynn had seduced them, one incident supposedly occurring on his yacht and one at a Hollywood party. The charge was a serious one and Flynn could have received a twenty-five year sentence if found guilty. However, the revelation at the trial that Satterlee had had a previous affair and an abortion, was sufficient to secure acquittal. Nevertheless, the experience affected Flynn deeply and he never completely recovered his old self-assurance.
World War IIThe public's perception of Flynn began to change as a result of the trial and it changed some more when America entered WWII. Flynn was by then an American citizen and he tried to enlist but was refused by the military on the grounds of ill health - he had a bad heart and recurring bouts of malaria. He very publicly continued his playboy lifestyle and caused widespread public distaste at a time when young men and women were being killed by the thousand.
Nevertheless his films continued to do well and during the last years of the war he starred in two patriotic war movies, 'Edge of Darkness' in 1943 and Raoul Walsh's 'Objective, Burma!' in 1945.
DeclineFlynn's hedonistic lifestyle began to gradually take its toll and he began a long physical and mental decline. In 1949 when he starred in 'The Adventures of Don Juan' his short term memory had started to let him down and his normal confident manner was beginning to change. His box-office successes became fewer and his personal financial problems increased.
After the disappointing 'Adventures of Captain Fabian' in 1951 and 'Mara Maru' in 1952 he appeared in the more promising 'Against All Flags' also in 1952 but it was a short-lived improvement. Flynn grew increasingly bitter and frustrated by the lack of serious roles being offered him, as his debts grew larger, and he left for Europe to make 'The Master of Ballantrae' in 1953, which again proved disappointing at the box-office.
The final blow came when he exhausted almost all of his personal fortune on an ill-fated, never-completed attempt to film the story of William Tell, co-starring Bruce Cabot, which he envisioned as his comeback. Only snippets remain of the film.
Flynn took to the sea on his 120-foot ocean-going yacht, the Zaca, sailing about for long periods, still carousing, still drinking. By the mid 1950's he had become old before his time, overweight and almost unrecognisable from his former self. He won good reviews, ironically for his portrayal of a drunk in 'The Sun Also Rises' in 1957, and he wrote a colorful account of his life in his autobiography, 'My Wicked, Wicked Ways' which he had originally wanted to call 'In Like Me' in a reference to the popular catch phrase about him.
PersonalFlynn was married three times. His first wife was Lili Damita, the French actress who was a major star at the time, as well as a friend of Jack Warner's wife, Anne. The couple had a son, Sean, in 1941 and divorced in 1942.
In the same year he met his second wife, Nora Eddington, when she was working at a snack bar in the courthouse where his rape trial was taking place, and whose father was a Captain in the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. They married in August, 1943 and they had two daughters, Deirdre and Rory.
After they divorced in 1949, Flynn was married to actress Patricia Wymore from 1950 until his death and they had one daughter, Arnella Roma.
Flynn's final film was the low-budget 'Cuban Rebel Girls', a semi documentary in which he played himself, along with his final girlfriend, Beverly Aadland, then 17 years old. Their relationship had started when she was 15 and working on the Warner Bros. lot. The movie was poorly received and was a sad end to a glamorous career.
Flynn's physical decline and his drinking continued. He is reputed to have been drinking two litres of vodka each day. He died in Vancouver, British Columbia, on October 14, 1959, of a heart attack brought on after a drunken party. The autopsy showed he had the body of a 75-year-old man. He was 50.
Errol Flynn Academy AwardsNo Nominations:
Errol Flynn Filmography
In the Wake of the Bounty
I Adore You(uncredited)
Murder at Monte Carlo
The Case of the Curious Bride
Don't Bet on Blondes
The Charge of the Light Brigade
The Prince and the Pauper
The Perfect Specimen
The Adventures of Robin Hood
Four's a Crowd
The Dawn Patrol
Essex and Elizabeth
The Sea Hawk
Santa Fe Trail
Footsteps in the Dark
They Died with Their Boots On
Edge of Darkness