Leading Men of Classic Movies
In a previous article, I wrote about the life of Johnny Weissmuller and his partner John Wayne, who owned the scenic Los Flamingos Hotel on the cliffs in Acapulco. Although those two had their own reputations as “Bad Boys,” it was Errol Flynn who steered them to the sleepy fishing village, before it’s fame as an international lure for the Jet Set.
A Tasmanian Devil
Errol Flynn (1909-1959) was born on the island of Tasmania where his professor father taught biology. His mother came from a line of sea going sailors, although there’s no evidence to support Errol’s claims of heraldry to the group who led the Mutiny on the Bounty. Young Errol had a knack for tall tales, although his education was shortened by expulsion after having an affair with his school’s laundry lady. By the age of 18, he was on his way to Papua New Guinea to seek his fortune in the mining camps and rugged plantations. Failing to strike it rich, Flynn began to spend more time in Sidney.
A Self Taught Gigolo
Errol was always interested in furthering his education and had taught himself how to ballroom dance with nothing, but a book and a broom. He found that the art of acting was similar and a great way to meet women. In 1933, he landed his first screen role as “Fletcher Christian” of that same tale of the Mutiny, revisited years later by Marlon Brando and Mel Gibson.
Sword Fighting Swinger
Errol Flynn traveled to England where he studied acting at the Northhampton Repetory Theater. Shortly after another booting out of school for fighting, Flynn became an extra in several movies until talent scouts from Warner Brothers signed him to a contract. His transfer to Hollywood was a cannon ball of sensational publicity when “Captain Blood” hit the screens. After that, Flynn embarked on a career of dashing swashbucklers that made him the envy of men and an object of desire of mostly women.
In Like Flynn
He shared a bachelor pad with his debonair pal, David Niven. Their clubhouse was infamous for the abundance of young starlets circulating amid rumors of strategically placed one-way mirrors. Even so, Flynn found time to be married 3 times, while he took care to put his families into their own house. The hard life of drinking and debauchery took it’s toll and Flynn ran aground in 1942 when charges of statutory rape became an international scandal. Even though he was found “Not Guilty”, his once impressive physical presence was eroded and his movie career collapsed.
Booty on the Bounding Main
Flynn took to the seas in his sailboat, The Zaca, and finally agreed to write an autobiography . A publishing company-assigned ghost writer slipped into the pitfalls of the lifestyle and Errol wrote most of the book himself. Although the publication was short on celebrity gossip, the more honest tales of his life off-screen were juicy enough.
Nazis or Communists?
Allegations that Flynn had been a spy for the Nazi’s were difficult to prove and highly unlikely. However, it was common knowledge that he was a drinking buddy of Fidel Castro. Errol died young and was buried by his many admirers in a coffin lined with bottles of premium whiskey to smooth his transition into an afterlife. There was little hope that he could bribe Saint Peter to open the pearly gates.
Read “My Wicked, Wicked Ways”by Errol Flynn and Jeffrey Meyers.
Guest starring in this series of Top 10 Leading Men of Classic Movies , I want to include two other notable candidates. Both of them were much more to be considered loyal, family men, although the temptations of fame were considerable. If “Wicked Ways ” leaves you craving for more, then find a copy of the autobiographies of :
I am Spartacus!
Kirk Douglas – “Son of the Ragman”
This all around athlete became a bigger than life presence in a variety of roles from mythical strongmen to deranged artists. An early body builder from the days before steroids, Kirk built a legacy that was carried on by his son, Michael Douglas.
Soylent Green is people!
Charlton Heston – “In the Arena”
From the triumphs of Ben Hur and Moses to his descent into the least appealing of vacation spots, “The Planet of the Apes”, Charlton Heston had a career that took him from blockbuster hits to top secret documentaries about the Atomic Bomb. He was an outspoken civil rights supporter and served as the President of the National Rifle Association.
Stay tuned for expanded articles about these titans of the Silver Screen.