Errol Flynn

“They’ve great respect for the dead in Hollywood, but none for the living.” –Errol Flynn

To movie fans around the globe, Errol Flynn is remembered as one of the top swashbuckling heroes in classic film. Known for his portrayals in Captain Blood (1935) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), in addition to his notorious personal life, much as been discussed, published, and filmed on the subject of Flynn.

Errol Leslie Thomson Flynn was born on June 20, 1909, in Battery Point, Tasmania, Australia, to lecturer Theodore Thomson Flynn and Lily Mary Young. His parents harbored an interest in boating, leading Flynn to develop a fascination with the sea.

Attending school in Hobart, Flynn expressed an early interest in performing. He continued his education at South West London College in London, England, before returning to Australia to attend Sydney church of England Grammar School. He would be expelled from the school and fired from a junior clerk position, leading him to spend the next few years traveling between Papua New Guinea and Sydney, working odd jobs.

Opportunity knocked for Flynn when Australian filmmaker Charles Chauvel was working on In the Wake of the Bounty (1933). While stories differ in terms of how Flynn was cast in the role, his love of boating and distinct features were noted by either Chauvel or a fellow cast member, leading Flynn to secure a leading role. Though the film was not a major success, it prompted Flynn to pursue acting.

Flynn went on to work as part of the Northampton Repertory Company, receiving formal training in acting. After an angry outburst and physical altercation with a stage manager, Flynn was dismissed from the company and returned to London. There, he appeared in the Warner Brothers’ Teddington Studios production of Murder at Monte Carlo (1934). The success of the film led to Flynn being transferred from Warners’ Middlesex branch to Hollywood.

En route to Los Angeles, Flynn met and soon married actress Lili Damita. Her connections within the industry acted in his favor, leading him to carry out small roles in B-level films. Their marriage would end 1942 and would produce son Sean Flynn.

Soon after marrying Damita, Warner Brothers prepared for Captain Blood, a swashbuckler film with a hefty budget, and cast Flynn in the lead role opposite Olivia de Havilland. Their on-screen partnership would total eight films and garner major profits for the studio.

After securing additional leading roles in films like Green Light (1937), Another Dawn (1937), and The Prince and the Pauper (1937), Flynn would appear in his most famous role: Robin Hood. A global success and additional Flynn-de Havilland pairing, the film was the studio’s first big-budget film to utilize the three-strip Technicolor process.

Though The Adventures of Robin Hood proved to be iconic for Flynn, it limited him in terms of the types of roles he was receiving from the studio. With Flynn as a hit swashbuckling star, audiences expected to see him in roles characteristic of the genre. After some box office disappointments in varying roles and genres, Dodge City (1939) proved to be a Western film and another highly-attended 1939 release. Flynn would go on to appear in additional adventure films, Westerns, dramas, romances, and comedies.

In 1942, Flynn became a naturalized American citizen. Though he attempted to enlist in the U.S. military during World War II, a variety of health issues prevented him from being accepted. Among his health concerns were a heart murmur, recurrent malaria, as well as venereal diseases. Gossip magazines of the day purported that Flynn was a draft dodger. However, Warner Brothers did not reveal the real reasons behind why he was rejected, in an effort to maintain his image as a healthy and physically fit star.  

In the same year, Flynn would carry out one of his favorite roles as boxer Gentleman Jim Corbett in Gentleman Jim (1942). Flynn underwent boxing training in preparation for the role and rarely required the use of a stunt double. He would also sign a new contract with the studio to appear in four films per year, with one of them being produced by him via Thomson Productions.

Controversy ensued when two 17-year-old girls accused Flynn of statutory rape in 1942. Though Flynn was acquitted and various fan organizations protested his accusation, the coverage and content of the trial permanently damaged his on-screen image.

In 1943, he married actress and socialite Nora Eddington, with whom he would have two daughters: Deirdre and Rory. The couple divorced in 1949.

After the war, Flynn appeared in moderately successful films but was no longer at his height. He struggled with alcoholism and drank heavily on set, complicating filming past noon. After working with Warner Brothers for many years, he was loaned to MGM to appear in That Forsyte Woman (1949) and again in Kim (1950). He also published Showdown, an adventure novel, in 1946. Flynn would appear in another Warner swashbuckler, The Master of Ballantrae (1953), before Warner Brothers ended their 18-year association with him.

In 1950, Flynn married for the final time to actress Patrice Wymore. They remained married until his passing and had one daughter named Arnella Roma. The couple lived in Port Antonio, Jamaica, in the 1950s, with Flynn even owning the Titchfield Hotel in town.

Relocating to Europe, Flynn continued to appear in and produce films. At the same time, Flynn was ill with hepatitis, leading to liver damage. Draining his finances due to the failed production of The Story of William Tell (1954), Flynn actively sought work to pay his debts, presenting and performing in his television series, The Errol Flynn Theatre.

By 1957, Hollywood came calling again with a role for Flynn in Istanbul (1957). In the same year, Flynn secured a role in the hit film The Sun Also Rises (1957), leading Flynn to carry out several roles in which he played a drunk. In the late 1950s, Flynn traveled to Cuba to film his self-produced Cuban Rebel Girls (1959), which led him to cross paths with Fidel Castro. Flynn wrote heavily during this period, documenting his time in Cuba and with Castro.

Flynn passed away at age 50 on October 14, 1959, after suffering a heart attack, with liver degeneration and cirrhosis being contributing factor. He was buried at Forest Lawn—Glendale.

Today, there are many places that note the legacy of Flynn.

In Australia, Sydney Church of England Grammar School or Shore School stands at Blue St., North Sydney NSW 2060.

His home country also houses the Errol Flynn Reserve, a nature area, located at Marieville Esplanade, Sandy Bay, TAS 7005.

In later years, Flynn would reflect upon Australia, stating:

A beach, Sandy Bay, was not far away and I was often there, swimming from the age of three. The beach was of hard brown sand, the water freezing cold. Mother was a good swimmer, and she took me there very often.

He would never return to Australia; the studio instead maintained that his ancestry was Irish. His birthplace remains unmarked.

The Kentish Hotel housed the TKO Bakery, which included an array of Flynn memorabilia as well as the boom camera from The Adventures of Robin Hood. The Bakery has since closed.

Flynn is also celebrated with a star outside of the State Cinema, located at 375 Elizabeth St, North Hobart TAS 700.

In the United States, Flynn lived at Mulholland Farm on 3100 Torreyson Pl., Los Angeles, California. It was demolished in 1988.

His home at 601 N. Linden Dr in Beverly Hills, California, still stands and remains a private residence.

In 1939, Flynn rode on horseback in Dodge City, Kansas, celebrating Dodge City’s premiere. He is honored with a marker on the Dodge City Trail of Fame, in front of the Dodge Theatre building.

Flynn’s Titchfield Hotel welcomed an assortment of Hollywood stars to Jamaica. Unfortunately, the hotel was destroyed by a fire in 1969. Only its ruins remain.

In Jamaica, Flynn is remembered with the Errol Flynn Marina.

Today, Flynn’s work continues to be enjoyed through his varying filmography, namely his adventurous roles.

About Annette Bochenek

Dr. Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is an avid scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for TCM Backlot, she also writes for Classic Movie Hub, Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco Society Magazine.
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