Nationality: American. Born: Errol Leslie Thomson Flynn in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, 20 June 1909; became U.S. citizen, 1942. Education: Attended Sydney Church of England Grammar School; Northshire School, Sydney; South London College at Barnes (expelled). Family: Married 1) the actress Lili Damita, 1935 (divorced 1942); 2) Nora Eddington, 1943 (divorced 1949); 3) the actress Patrice Wymore, 1950 (separated 1957), children: Sean, Deirdre, Rory, and Annella Roma. Career: 1926—clerk for Sydney shipping company; 1927—government cadet in New Guinea; worked on copra plantation; gold miner in New Guinea, and guide for documentary filmmakers in New Guinea (film released 1932 as Dr. H. Erben's New Guinea Expedition ); 1930—bought schooner Sirocco , wrote articles for Sydney Bulletin ; 1933—first film role in Australian semi—documentary In the Wake of the Bounty ; studied acting in England, joined Northampton Repertory Co.; 1934—given contract by Warners, moved to Hollywood; 1935—became star for Warners in Captain Blood ; 1951—produced The Bargain ; 1952—broke Warners contract; 1954—formed Errol Flynn Enterprises production company; 1956—TV debut in Playhouse 90 ; 1957–58—host of TV series The Errol Flynn Theater ( Goodyear Theater ); 1958—in play The Master of Thornfield in Detroit and Cincinnati. Died: 14 October 1959.
In the Wake of the Bounty (Chauvel) (as Fletcher Christian)
Murder at Monte Carlo (Ince) (as Dyter, newspaper reporter); The Case of the Curious Bride (Curtiz) (as Moxley); Don't Bet on Blondes (Florey) (as David Van Dusen); Captain Blood (Curtiz) (as Peter Blood)
The Charge of the Light Brigade (Curtiz) (as Maj. Geoffrey Vickers); Pirate Party on Catalina Island (short)
The Green Light (Borzage) (as Dr. Newell Paige); The Prince and the Pauper (Keighley) (as Miles Hendon); Another Dawn (Dieterle) (as Capt. Denny Roark); The Perfect Specimen (Curtiz) (as Gerald Beresford Wicks)
The Adventures of Robin Hood (Curtiz and Keighley) (title role); Four's a Crowd (Curtiz); The Sisters (Litvak) (as Frank Medlin); The Dawn Patrol (Goulding) (as Courtney)
Dodge City (Curtiz) (as Wade Hatton); The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (Curtiz) (as Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex)
Virginia City (Curtiz) (as Kerry Bradford); The Sea Hawk (Curtiz) (as Capt. Geoffrey Thorpe); Santa Fe Trail (Curtiz) (as Jeb Stuart)
Footsteps in the Dark (Lloyd Bacon) (as Francis Warren); Dive Bomber (Curtiz) (as Lt. Doug Lee); They Died with Their Boots On (Walsh) (as Gen. George Armstrong Custer)
Desperate Journey (Walsh) (as Flight Lt. Terrence Forbes); Gentleman Jim (Walsh) (as James J. Corbett)
Edge of Darkness (Milestone) (as Gunnar Brogge); Thank Your Lucky Stars (David Butler); Northern Pursuit (Walsh) (as Steve Wagner)
Uncertain Glory (Walsh) (as Jean Picard)
Objective, Burma! (Walsh) (as Maj. Nelson); San Antonio (David Butler) (as Clay Hardin); Peeks at Hollywood (Applebaum—short) (appearance)
Never Say Goodbye (Kern) (as Phil Gayley)
Cry Wolf (Godfrey) (as Mark Caldwell); Escape Me Never (Godfrey) (as Sebastian Dubrok); Always Together (de Cordova) (as guest)
Silver River (Walsh) (as Capt. Mike McCombs)
The Adventures of Don Juan (Sherman) (title role); That Forsyte Woman ( The Forsyte Saga ) (Bennett) (as Soames Forsyte); It's a Great Feeling (David Butler) (as Jerry Bushfinkle)
Montana (Enright) (as Morgan Lane); Rocky Mountain (Keighley) (as Lafe Barstow); Kim (Saville) (as Mahub Ali)
The Adventures of Captain Fabian (William Marshall) (title role)
Mara Maru (Gordon Douglas) (as Gregory Mason); Against All Flags (Sherman) (as Brian Hawke)
The Master of Ballantrae (Keighley) (as James Durrisdeer); Il maestro di Don Giovanni ( Crossed Swords ) (Krims) (as Renzo)
Lilacs in the Spring ( Let's Make Up ) (Wilcox) (as John Beaumont); The Dark Avenger ( The Warriors ) (Levin) (as Prince Edward); King's Rhapsody (Wilcox) (as King Richard of Laurentic)
The Big Boodle ( Night in Havana ) (Wilson) (as Ned Sherwood); Istanbul (Pevney) (as Jim Brennan); The Sun Also Rises (Henry King) (as Mike Campbell)
Too Much, Too Soon (Napoleon) (as John Barrymore); The Roots of Heaven (Huston) (as Major Forsythe); Hello God (William Marshall—produced in 1951) (as man on Anzio beach)
Cuban Rebel Girls ( Assualt of the Rebel Girls ) (Mahon) (as himself/narrator, + sc, co-pr)
Cruise of the Zaca (short) (+ appearance); Deep Sea Fishing (short) (+ appearance)
Beam Ends , New York, 1937.
Showdown , New York, 1946.
My Wicked, Wicked Ways , New York, 1959.
From a Life of Adventure: The Writings of Errol Flynn , edited by Tony Thomas, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1980.
Devilliers, Gerard and Marceau, Errol Flynn , Paris, 1969.
Parish, James Robert, editor, Errol Flynn , New York, 1969.
Thomas, Tony, Rudy Behlmer, and Clifford McCarty, The Films of Errol Flynn , New York, 1969.
Thomas, Tony, Cads and Cavaliers: The Gentlemen Adventurers of the Movies , South Brunswick, New Jersey, 1973.
Godfrey, Lionel, The Life and Crimes of Errol Flynn , New York, 1977.
Richards, Jeffrey, Swordsmen of the Screen: From Douglas Fairbanks to Michael York , London, 1977.
Freedland, Michael, The Two Lives of Errol Flynn , New York, 1979.
Higham, Charles, Errol Flynn: The Untold Story , New York, 1980.
Leguèbe, Eric, Errol Flynn , Paris, 1981.
Norman, Don, Errol Flynn: The Tasmanian Story , Hobart, 1981.
Valenti, Peter, Errol Flynn: A Bio-Bibliography , Westport, Connecticut, 1984.
Wiles, Buster, My Days with Errol Flynn , Santa Monica, 1988.
Thomas, Tony, Errol Flynn: The Spy Who Never Was , New York, 1990.
McDonald, Roger, Flynn: A Novelisation , New York, 1992.
Nicholson, Geoff, The Errol Flynn Novel , London, 1994.
Obituary in New York Times , 15 October 1959.
Thomas, Anthony, "Errol Flynn," in Films in Review (New York), January 1960.
Behlmer, Rudy, "Robin Hood on the Screen," in Films in Review (New York), February 1965.
Behlmer, Rudy, "Swordplay on the Screen," in Films in Review (New York), June/July 1965.
Beresford, Bruce, "Swashbuckling Movies," in Granta , 3 May 1967.
Cutts, J., "Requiem for a Swashbuckler," in Films and Filming (London), Summer 1967.
Davis, John, "Captain Blood," in the Velvet Light Trap (Madison, Wisconsin), June 1971.
"Deirdre Flynn: Looking Down on Daddy," interview with D. Galligan, in Interview (New York), February 1975.
Viviani, C., "Errol Flynn: une romanticisme souriante," in Positif (Paris), April 1978.
Morris, George, "Errol Flynn," in The Movie Star , edited by Elisabeth Weis, New York, 1981.
Valenti, P., "The Many Lives of Errol Flynn," in Journal of Popular Film (Washington, D.C.), Winter 1982.
Webb, T., letter, in Films in Review (New York), October 1986.
Beuselink, James, "Errol Flynn," in Films in Review (New York), vol. 38, no. 4, 1987.
Bartlett, Neil, "The Voyager's Revenge," in Sight & Sound (London), September 1992.
Archer, Steve, "An Untold Tale of William Tell," in Filmfax (Evanston), April-May 1993.
Svedelid, O., "Errol, Come Back!" in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 35, no. 1, 1993.
Stars (Mariembourg), Spring 1993.
Lambert, Gavin, "Errol Flynn: A Swashbuckling Life at Mulholland House," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), April 1994.
Dolven, Frank, "Errol Flynn's Great Westerns," in Classic Images (Muscatine), June 1994.
Norman, Barry, in Radio Times (London), 9 November 1996.
Greene, R., "The Big Picture," in Boxoffice (Chicago), August 1997.
McNulty, T., "The Forgotten Films of Errol Flynn," in Filmfax (Evanston), August/September 1997.
My Wicked, Wicked Ways . . . The Legend of Errol Flynn , film biography directed by Don Taylor, 1985.
* * *
It has been said of Errol Flynn that, although he played a variety of roles, he ultimately always portrayed himself. Like Douglas Fairbanks before him, he excelled in depictions of swashbuckling, virile heroes which seemed virtual prototypes of the idealized American male. The typical Flynn character as defined by his two favorite directors, Michael Curtiz and Raoul Walsh, embodied such qualities as moral courage, exuberance, and, above all, outstanding athletic ability.
Yet, as exemplified by the fact that he was turned down for service in World War II due to a combination of heart trouble, recurrent malaria, and a degree of tuberculosis, the image that he portrayed on the screen was based more than a little on solid acting ability and a desire to compensate for his physical maladies. His offscreen personality often seemed to be afflicted by a desire actually to become his larger-than-life persona, and his personal life was marred by excess: brawls, amorous adventures, and other assorted hedonistic activities. Like the author Ernest Hemingway, he seemed to wish to elevate the artistic self to the mythical status of his fictional creations. In the end, his private life was viewed by filmgoers as virtually inseparable from his screen appearances, and added considerable believability to his performances, even when played "tongue in cheek" as in The Adventures of Don Juan .
In what many people consider his best performance, Gentleman Jim , Flynn delivered a complex performance that relied less upon acting for its great impact than on the subtle nuances of character the actor brought to the role. Projecting both high spirits and charm, Flynn turned James J. Corbett into a charismatic figure with a gift of the gab that, along with a good left jab, carried him to the top of San Francisco society. Although Flynn was purportedly no slouch with his fists, he worked hard to capture exactly Corbett's style in the ring. He even worked out with boxer Mushy Callahan and did his own fighting in the film. The result is an energetic performance that reflects the amount of effort the actor expended to achieve his screen image.
In the late 1940s, the strain on his personal life took its toll on his craft and he became increasingly less careful in preparing for his roles. By the 1950s, he had become tired of swashbuckling, and aspired to more serious parts. But with the exception of Mara Maru , which invites comparison with his earlier achievements, he did not find himself much in demand in Hollywood, even for adventure films. He tried to resurrect his career in Europe with little success and lost most of his money on an ill-fated production of William Tell .
After his return to Hollywood in 1956, Flynn played in three films of a relatively serious nature: The Sun Also Rises , an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's first novel, Too Much, Too Soon , the story of Diana Barrymore in which he played John Barrymore, and The Roots of Heaven . Again Flynn's personal adventures detracted from the critical regard accorded these films. Though he had a reputation as a drunk and all three films featured heavy drinking, Flynn's portrayals, particularly that in The Sun Also Rises , were finely delineated and deserve to be taken more seriously. His better films are part of an adventure genre that has all but disappeared, and no recent actor has been able to assume his mantle as one of the screen's preeminent swashbuckling heroes.
Flynn still fascinates. His action films and swashbucklers continue to play to large audiences on television and remain top sellers in video stores. But it is his sometimes scandalous private life upon which most biographers have focused in recent years.
Especially scurrilous was Charles Higham's Errol Flynn: The Untold Story . In addition to suggesting that the virile Flynn carried on affairs with men as well as women—the kind of shocking, albeit unsubstantiated, revelation which has become such a must in new biographies of deceased, former Hollywood sex symbols that it virtually borders on cliché—Higham posits the theory that the actor who won World War II singlehandedly on-screen was actually a Nazi sympathizer and spy offscreen. Perhaps Higham felt he needed another shocker to sell copies of his book, as rumors of homosexuality were no longer enough. The accusation generated considerable ink—as well as a strong rebuttal to the author's less than weighty "evidence" of Flynn's treasonous activities from film scholar Tony Thomas in a follow-up tome, Errol Flynn: The Spy Who Never Was .
—Stephen L. Hanson, updated by John McCarty