Star Wars Episode X: Errol Flynn (YMRT #36) / by Karina Longworth


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ErrolFlynn arrived in Hollywood in 1934 and almost immediately became a massive star, his swashbuckler-persona propelling many of the decades biggest action hits, from his debut Captain Blood to his signature film, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and beyond. Flynn's dashing good looks, put-on posh British accent and life-of-the-party personality masked the fact that he was actually an Australian bounder with a shady past, a history of recurrent malaria and a propensity to avoid reality by any means necessary. Secretly too sick to serve in World War II, Flynn stayed home in Hollywood and instead starred in perhaps the biggest sex scandal of the decade, a rape trial from which Flynn emerged maybe even more beloved than before. And then, twenty years after his alcoholism-aided demise in 1959, Flynn was publicly accused of having been a Nazi spy during the peak of his career. 

Show notes:

Special thanks this week to Noah Segan, who played ErrolFlynn.

The story of ErrolFlynn’s life and career is one of denial and misdirection -- sometimes self-imposed, sometimes mandated by Warner Brothers -- and there’s no more entertaining example of this than Flynn’s autobiography, My Wicked, Wicked Ways. Composed with a ghost writer during the last year of Flynn's life and published posthumously, Wicked portrays Flynn as a lovable rake, self-destructive and self-deprecating, but somehow heroic throughout. It's a great read. It's also hard to believe. I quoted from it because Flynn is eminently quotable, but brought in other references for most of the facts.

A star as enigmatic, and a man as conflicted, as Flynn will justifiably inspire many, many biographies. Because I couldn't read them all, I relied mostly on The Two Lives of ErrolFlynn, and The Spy Who Never Was by Tony Thomas, which is a rebuttal to Charles Higham's highly controversial ErrolFlynn: The Untold Story, which is the source of the claims that Flynn spied for the Nazis in Hollywood and Europe during World War II. What do I think about Higham's claims? I think he distorted some evidence, and made a few inferential leaps, to give his accusations form. It's hard to believe that Flynn was ignorant of the Nazi ties of his friend Herman Erben (who Flynn calls "Koets" in his autobiography, apparently because Erben couldn't be tracked down by the fact-checkers), but on balance, I think if ErrolFlynn is guilty of anything, it's most likely of having no moral center. Which is pretty bad, but it isn't treasonous. 

Some additional sources: 

Police Plan Further Inquiry Into The Life of Peggy Satterlee.” Reading Eagle, January 21, 1943

Throwback Thursday: ErrolFlynn Stood Trial for Statutory Rape in 1934, Hollywood Reporter, May 1, 2014


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