June 20, 1909 – October 14, 1959
By Todd Dale
Errol Flynn was a rare type of movie star. He was one of the first celebrities whose on-screen persona was heavily linked with the individual himself. This persona epitomized a charming yet unbridled sexual force. Boys worshiped him, men wanted to be him, and women wanted to go to bed with him.
He made 58 films. Some wonderful and many forgettable. Although one of the highest paid and biggest box office draws of his day, by 1945 his movie-star status was nearly finished. By 1958 he lost it all.
In the end, he didn’t give a shit.
Born in Hobart, Tasmania in 1909, Errol Flynn was a non-conformist, rebellious and very charming boy. By early puberty he had become highly sexualized.
Flynn’s father, Dr. Theodore Flynn was a respected marine biologist professor. He caught Errol experimenting with ducks one day. Flynn explains the tale in his autography, My Wicked, Wicked Ways: The Autobiography of Errol Flynn (1959)
“I fancied myself a scientist…
I have heard that ducks cannot digest fatty pork, something in its intestinal make-up caused the bird to pass the pork with a minute or two. We had plenty of ducks in our back yard. I pondered a night over this.
It occurred to me that it would be interesting to tie a string about ten feet long to the pork. Out came the pork, which I then gave to another duck with the same result, holding onto the string that entered the first duck’s mouth. In a few minutes, I had a half dozen ducks tied together beak to rectum on this greased string”
The irony is that Flynn’s movies are the least thing interesting about him. His life is the stuff of legend. Long before coming to Hollywood, Flynn had been sailing, trading diamonds, tobacco, rare bird feathers, running a plantation, slave trading—in short, pirating all over the Papua New Guinea to make his treasure.
“We fritter our lives in detail, but I am not going to do this, I am going to live deeply, I am going to front the essentials of life, to see what is has to teach and above all above all not to discover when I die, that I have not lived”
– Errol Flynn’s journal
Moving to London in 1934 after starring in the low budget (bad) Australian film, In the Wake of the Bounty (1934), he decided to make a career in acting. His acting resume was a creation of his own, which he freely admitted in My Wicked, Wicked Ways. He did take acting seriously at this point and trained for over a year with different theater companies throughout Britain, working on both stage and screen. Things changed quickly for Errol when Jack Warner wanted him to star in the production of Captain Blood (1935), a big gamble on the 25-year-old unknown Flynn. While still learning his way around Hollywood, he became quickly involved with French actress Lili Damita. Lili was six years older and equal to Flynn’s sexual vivacity. Lili liked women, and Flynn liked them too, but the marriage was based on the bedroom and boozy bars. Flynn was in another girl’s bed before they had a chance to settle down. Although she knew what he was like from the start, his late nights and womanizing left Lili bitter and vengeful. Neighbors learned to associate Flynn’s arrival at home with the sound of breaking crockery and slamming doors. Her hatred of Errol was relentless, even years later in her claims to Flynn’s cash and assets till the day he died.
Their marriage did produce a son, Sean, who was a photo-journalist.
The resemblance is pretty remarkable.
Sean was on assignment in Saigon when he disappeared in April of 1970. His body was never found.
After The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) Flynn became a household name. By 1941 he had starred in over 17 Warner Bros. films. With America entering WWII in December of that year, Errol attempted to enlist in the armed services. He failed the physical exam due to multiple heath problems (including at least one heart attack), recurrent malaria (contracted in New Guinea), chronic back pain, chronic tuberculosis and numerous venereal diseases. This created an image problem for both Flynn and for Warner Brothers. Flynn was the supposed paragon of male physical prowess. Warner continued to cast him in athletic roles, including such patriotic productions as Dive Bomber (1941), Desperate Journey (1942) and Objective, Burma!(1945).
So many of Flynn’s Hollywood contemporaries were doing their part in the War Effort, he felt humiliated that he wasn’t able to. Jack Warner had no desire to publicize the health problems of one of its most valuable assets, and never defended Flynn’s lack of military service. This and his bizarre friendship with Hermann Erben gave way to one of Hollywood’s most outlandish rumors: that Flynn was a “Nazi spy”. Flynn was not a “Nazi spy”. Erben was a German-Jewish physician, and a Nazi. He was one of many Flynn hangers-on. Flynn was affable and approachable – almost to a fault. Flynn enjoyed the company of interesting people and no doubt Erben was verrrry interesting. Erban served in the German military intelligence often assuming the title “Doctor”. At one point, US intelligence regarded him as one of the three most dangerous operatives in Mexico.
In 1980, Charles Higham published, Errol Flynn: The Untold Story. In his biography, Higham alleged that Errol Flynn was a fascist sympathizer who spied for the Nazis before and during World War II (On the single fact that Flynn was friends with Dr. Erben) and wait for it…. Flynn was also bisexual who had affairs with many men (On the single fact that this stuff sells books). Not that there’s anything wrong with it. Other claims were that Howard Hughes had a romance with Cary Grant, Hughes was centrally involved in Watergate, offering material assistance to some of the conspirators, and quite possibly Hughes died of AIDS in 1976 though the first documented case of the virus was in 1981. Pure bullshit.
Personally, from what I have read by those closest to Flynn, including his ex-wives; Errol would never do anything that would bring shame upon his father, his children or America. Being a playboy and boozer is one thing; all this is too silly to even discuss and by all accounts, Flynn felt very much indebted to the USA that had given him so much and became a US citizen in the 1930’s. As for Flynn being bisexual? There is no evidence to support this other than Higham’s unfounded claims.
More importantly to Flynn’s life, there were three things he treasured in life besides women: His son, Sean, born in 1941, his yacht Sirocco and his beloved Mulholland Farm. After years of drifting with no real home, Flynn at 32, built his dream home; Not in “the flats” of Beverly Hills that most stars of the times lived, but way up on top of Mulholland Drive. He bought 12 acres to escape from all the bullshit below.
Flynn’s Mulholland Farm is now legend – Part farm, part playboy mansion and even a family home. Black tie dinners one night; nude pool parties the next. Flynn, always looking for a laugh and thrill had a staircase installed that led to a catwalk, so he could walk over the upstairs bedrooms and peer down to one-way mirrors on the celling below to see what was going on: a personal peep show for the most wanted ladies’ man in the western world.
The cerebral and worldly side of Errol is always lost with the wild and wicked side. Flynn was not a product of Hollywood; he made a living from it. A veracious reader with many interests, it was during this period Flynn published his first book, the well received Beam Ends (1937), an autobiographical account of his sailing experiences around Australia as a youth. This was a much-needed outlet for him. Though on top of the game, Flynn was always restless. By 1941, as he was starting to resent Jack Warner’s typecasting him for “keeping him in Robin Hood tights”
By 1942 he was wealthy beyond his dreams. When not holding court at Mulholland Farm he was out on Sirocco sailing with his friends, and of course, many young ladies. His freewheeling, hedonistic lifestyle caught up with him in November 1942 when two under-age girls, Betty Hansen and Peggy Satterlee accused him of statutory rape. There is no doubt Flynn had sex with many under-age girls. David Niven recalled being on Sirocco at Isthmus Cove at Catalina Island (future floating place of Natalie Wood) when three young girls swam over naked and climbed aboard without even an invitation. Niven remarked years later, “Young ladies just chased him, he never had to arrange for anything; women everywhere were available to him.”
On January of 1943, Errol Flynn stood trial for the rape of the two minors. If convicted he could go to San Quentin for 30 years. His drinking increased over the strain. “The Flynn Trial” focused national attention on Hollywood’s sexual morals, which both titillated and shocked many Americans at the time. The trial also placed the phrase “In… like Flynn” into the American vernacular; a highly sexualized slang that had duality in its use.
Peggy Satterlee, then 15, (on her modeling contact she stated she was 17) she and a Life magazine photographer boarded the Sirocco and she claimed to have had sex with Errol; months later, she filed a complaint with the LA District Attorney office.
In September 1942, Flynn met 16-year-old Betty Hansen at a party in the home of British businessman Fred McEvoy. Betty was enamored by Flynn’s movie fame and fortune, but by dinnertime Hansen had vomited from too much drinking. The next day, Hansen told her sister that Flynn had taken her upstairs to clean her up, then seduced her. Peggy Satterlee filed a complaint with LA District Attorney office again who recalled a similar complaint. Before Flynn’s indictment, Satterlee’s own father had approached Flynn with a demand for money stating … “I will lie to the police that his underage daughter had sexual relations with Flynn.”
Trivia: In the 1990’s the home where this meeting took place belonged to
Our Lady of the Fucked Up Face, Joan Van Ark.
Flynn’s attorney was the legendary Jerry Geisler. “Get me Geisler!!” was the call if someone famous was in trouble. Just ask Lana Turner. Geisler dug up the dirt on the teens: Satterlee had already had an abortion before she even met Errol. Betty Hansen had been convicted in California of “crimes against nature”, a 1940’s legalese term for blowies or butt sex. The girls were anything but virgins, but that was beside the point. They were underage and Errol was so terrified of a conviction he had a plane on stand-by at Burbank airport to whisk him out of the country if he was convicted.
The Illegals, Hansen and Satterlee
In Flynn style, with everything on the line during the highly publicized trial, he had the smuggled seventeen-year-old, Linda Christian to Mulholland Farm.
She waited for his return from the courthouse every night. As a side note, in his autobiography Flynn states that immediately after Linda Christian’s screen test, he offered to pay for her to have a couple of crooked teeth fixed. When he got a whopping bill, he discovered that she had taken the opportunity to undergo major cosmetic dentistry. A few years later, when he met her again, he said,
“Smile, baby – I want to see those choppers: they took their first bite out of me!” This was very Flynn.
In the end, Flynn was acquitted, but his career had taken a bad hit. In Flynn panache, he could not care less what people thought. He told friends it was a set-up. He never had sex with either of the girls. Errol had many faults, but he was not a liar. His take on the whole matter was; “If anyone does not believe me, then they can just go to Hell!” Flynn spent his court recess time flirting with 18-year-old woman, Nora Eddington. Nora worked at the snack bar inside the LA courthouse where the case was being tried, and whose father was Captain Jack Eddington of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. A romance blossomed, and Flynn married her in Mexico in August of 1943 when Flynn was 34.
“My problem wasn’t getting women into my life – it was getting them out of it.”
The marriage gave Flynn the domestic happiness at Mulholland Farm he had never experienced. By all accounts daughters Deirdre, born 1945, and Rory, born 1947 have remarked that their father was wonderful and attentive in the ten-year marriage to Nora and involved his family in his travels, endeavors and sailing.
In 1946, Errol acquired Zaca, a schooner-rigged yacht that was truly another one of the loves of his life. He sailed her for thousands of miles from the Pacific to his favorite place on earth, the Caribbean and to… Jamaica. Flynn docked his boat into Kingston before hopping on the back of a motorcycle and reaching Port Antonio. He fell in love with the place, famously declaring it “More beautiful than any woman I have ever known”. He would buy up as much of the land he could afford covering the costs by taking any movie roles offered. Hollywood was now “Flynn’s Bank” and not a important part of his life.
Sadly, this did not give Errol Flynn the happiness and harmony he longed for. Booze was the ever-present part his life since his formative teen years, that gave way to pain pills after an injury in 1946 and ultimately, morphine. How early Flynn’s drug use began is not really known. We do know that his wife Nora left him because of it. The couple divorced in 1949. Nora said of Flynn in her biography years later. “He wasn’t afraid of anything, particularly if there was a challenge to it.”
Flynn’s last marriage was in 1950 to actress Patrice Wymore. That same year he was released from his contract by Jack Warner as were many still under contact from Hollywood’s Golden Age. , (Warner’s kept him around the longest of their contract stars, a fact that showed his star power.)
For the first time Flynn decided to produce and star in a movie, The Story of William Tell (1953). He sunk all of his personal fortune ($500,000) in making this film, which he envisioned as his comeback. Filmed in Rome and the Italian Alps, Flynn’s production partners defaulted. The production halted and Flynn was left stranded in Rome facing financial ruin. Flynn had built the alpine set for the movie in Courmayeur, Italy and ran out of money. He contacted his business manager Al Blum to wire him funds to keep production going. The last time they had contact, Blum informed Flynn that he “owes the IRS only $18,000, you have nothing to worry about” But Blum had not paid Flynn’s taxes for years – deferring them. In the end, Flynn owed the IRS $840,000. Blum had fleeced Errol out of his fortune and not paid his taxes, this was done to finance his own sordid gambling habit. Blum, sick with cancer died shortly after. On his deathbed, his final farewell to his famous client was “Tell, Errol, I am sorry”. Errol Flynn declared he was bankrupt in Rome in 1952.
To make matters worse, Flynn was making $1,500 a month alimony payments for over 15 years to his former wife, Lili Damita, and then fell behind. Damita took him to court and Flynn lost his beloved Mulholland Farm and other investments. He was able to hold on to his beloved Zaca and his Jamaican plantation. In 1955, Flynn and his wife Patrice appeared in film version of King’s Rhapsody filmed and produced in England and Spain. The reviews were abysmal. They returned to Flynn’s 2,000-acre coconut plantation and cattle ranch in Port Antonio, Jamaica, to raise their daughter Arnella, born in 1953. They spent the next six years building a working farm and ranch. In need of money, Flynn did perform in European produced films, though most were B-grade endeavors with poor production value. In 1956, United Artist asked Flynn to return to Hollywood. He made three films, Istanbul, The Big Boodle, and Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises all released in 1957. Ernest Hemingway himself saw The Sun Also Rises. He walked out after 25 minutes.
“It looked pretty silly. The bulls were mighty small for a start, and it looked like they had big horns on them for the day. I guess the best thing about the film was Errol Flynn”
Flynn’s performance was highly acclaimed and there was talk of an Oscar nomination, but that would not happen. He became typecast again, playing alcoholics in his next two films. Ironically he played John Barrymore, his idol and friend, in Too Much, Too Soon (1958).
This brings us to one of the most famous legends in Hollywood:
After John Barrymore died on May 29, 1942, director Raoul Walsh “borrowed” Barrymore’s stone-cold corpse from the mortuary and placed the dead star in Flynn’s armchair up at Mulholland Farm. When Flynn returned home, he saw his dead friend and flipped out, running off into the night. A great story, but not true. The tale was even repeated as fact by Flynn himself. Why let the truth get in the way of a good story?
In his autobiography My Wicked, Wicked Ways, Flynn explained that when in Rome in 1952, he was facing financial ruin and final-stage alcoholism. He described a visit to a Swiss physician who informed him his liver had stopped functioning. Flynn responded. “What happens now?” The Doctor, responded, “You die, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but you die. I am sorry”Flynn describes going to the bathroom and staring at his reflection, “My eyes looked like as if they had been dipped is mustard. You’re yellow all right,” I muttered. Then a quite irrelevant, rather ludicrous thought came into my mind: “Goddamit, I refuse to predecease Jack Warner!” Is that story true? I doubt it, Earl Conrad had ghost written part of Errol’s biography published after his death. Are most the stories true? No doubt they are, though one might careful and take some pause when reading this “Autobiography”.
By 1958, Flynn decided to stay in Hollywood. His marriage to Patrice was failing back in Jamaica and he was off again to seek his next fortune. His next and final residence was at the newly built (and future death location of Janis Joplin) Landmark Motor Hotel in Hollywood; Flynn had rented a one-bedroom suite next to the pool.
The Landmark Hotel, now the Highland Gardens
He met 15.5-year-old, Beverly Aadland.
Beverly Elaine Aadland (aka Woodsey, aka Little Wood Nymph aka S.C.) was the daughter of a dancer and an industrial chemist,. They met when Flynn was 48-years-old. They were lovers from the first night they met. She became his “Darling Woodsie” – so called because she reminded him of a wood nymph. Friends of Errol comment, that this was “happiest time in his life” Aadland would say years later that Flynn “Was planning to start a new life as far from Hollywood as possible: He would marry his “Wood Nymph” in their newly built house in Jamaica, they would have a baby, raise cattle and he would write books.”
The “large pile” of illegal gold bars would finance all this that Aadland says she saw stashed in the hull of his yacht Zaca, and which disappeared after his death. During their two-year odyssey that included time in Hollywood, Africa, Paris, London, Majorca, Cuba, Italy, and Jamaica, they made love, drank a lot, got arrested, worked on his autobiography and did “hours of talking” and made the comical movie, Cuban Rebel Girls (1959). Errol saw hope in the Cuban Revolution, Flynn saw hope in many places.
He flew to New York to get a reverse vasectomy, “He knew I wanted a baby,” Aadland stated years later. Shortly afterward, at Aadland’s 17th birthday party, he announced their engagement; but Flynn was short on money – again.
He decided to lease the Zaca for cash. He and Beverly flew to Vancouver, BC to finalize the lease agreement. According to legend, the 118-foot Zaca had been fitted with the rigging from Canada’s famed Bluenose.
Flynn encountered a press crowd when he arrived at Vancouver Airport. A female reporter asked him why he constantly seemed to be surrounded by underage girls? Flynn shot back
“Because they fuck so good.”
Here is Flynn’s last interview while in Canada that week.
The yacht was to be leased by businessman George Caldough. Both Errol and Beverly spent several happy days staying at Caldough’s home, discussing Zaca, but soon it was time to get back to LA.
Thanks to Find a Death friend Blair Stone we learn that the Caldough home is no longer. Though it’s a nice house built on the land, the last night Errol slept was in the home located where these photographs were taken. There were still bits of the original house. Crumbs.
Dr. Gould gave Flynn injections to relieve the pain. Phone calls were made and astonishingly, not long after their arrival, people materialized and a party began. Flynn stood against a wall to relieve the pain in his back and regaled the group with stories of the Hollywood figures he had known. He took questions from the guests and entertained them as Flynn could – always a superb storyteller. After performing impersonations of Bette Davis and W.C. Fields, he announced he was tired and going to lie down for an hour, then would take everyone out for dinner, “I shall return!”he said and retired to a bedroom and laid down on the floor to relive his leg and back pain.
This was not the case at all, Flynn was suffering myocardial infarction and unlike the movies he had played in, one does not just drop to the floor; this heart attack was slow and lethal.
After about 30 minutes Beverly went into the bedroom to check on him. She found him trembling, his face blue. She could hardly hear his heart. He was trying to speak, however words could not be formed. Her screams brought the doctor . . . but it was already too late. Al Gowan, a member of the Inhalator Squad a 1950’s Canadian word for EMT said
“Flynn was dead before we got there.”
After being declared dead at the Vancouver General Hospital, Errol was moved to Vancouver City Morgue for autopsy. On this very slab, thank you very much.
The death certificate, dated October 23, 1959 indicated myocardial infarction, coronary thrombosis, coronary atherosclerosis, liver degeneration, liver sclerosis and diverticulosis of the colon as the causes of death.
The coroner had counted Flynn as one of his cinematic heroes, but the man carried in on a stretcher “was sallow and a puffy and he looked an awful lot older than his fifty years,” he would write.
Flynn’s heart had definitely stopped, but all his other organs were so shot that the coroner ultimately ruled his death as due to “natural causes.”
Glitch Dept: The National Post, “The most notably damaged organ as it turns out, was Flynn’s penis. His dick was beset by a collection of enormous genital warts. The warts were so large, in fact, that the city’s chief pathologist Tom Harmon, removed them and preserved the specimens in formaldehyde with an eye of having them serve as a teaching aid to future generations of British Columbia doctors. To this day, a piece of Flynn might still have resided in Canada if the bizarre act had not been caught by Mr. McDonald — who immediately scotch-taped the warts back into place.” – The National Post
“How big was Errol Flynn’s penis?” wrote Mr. McDonald in 1985. “Errol Flynn was no larger and no smaller in his stature, his jewels, his endowment, than any other man.” No doubt, Errol Flynn would love this story.
Errol’s remains were at the morgue for two days, then packed in a $25 coffin and shipped to California. He was dressed in the same clothes he died in. This journey took four days, in an unrefrigerated baggage car.
There was a rumor that someone was going to try and hijack Errol’s body so his friend Buster Wiles accompanied the corpse. “During the trip south, I’m going to spend part of the time in the baggage car with Errol and have a few drinks. He would have liked that.”
More details at this interesting Errol Flynn Blog.
Flynn was no doubt especially ripe upon arrival.
Errol had a funeral service at Forest Lawn, Glendale. Pallbearers were Mike Romanoff, Jack Oakie, Guinn Williams, Raoul Walsh, Otto Reichow and asshole Mickey Rooney.
Although Errol’s own wish was to be buried in Jamaica “under a gnarled oak tree in front of the house,” his legally-wedded-though-estranged-for-two years wife, Patrice Wymore, wanted him buried in LA (a place he had come to despise). His good friend Bud Abbott of Abbott and Costello fame was given the burden of making the arrangements. In true Flynn fashion, it was a mess. Abbott ordered dozens of roses for the funeral, but didn’t specify the color. The florist sent ALL yellow roses, not befitting Flynn’s machismo. Beverly Aadland did not attend. Jack Warner and some others did. It was very private and very quick.
I remember a good friend of Errol’s commenting on someone’s statement, “It’s so sad very few came out for his funeral, Errol would be so upset.” Flynn’s friend responded “Like hell he would, Errol had contempt for publicity and crowds; his friends, they are here today, those not here are still his friends when you get down to it”
Trivia: Actress sisters Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland had famously feuded for over 40 years. One source of this feud was apparently, Errol.
Trivia: Ricky Nelson owned the Flynn’s Mulholland Farms when he died in a plane crash.
This is a great account of this legendary Flynn/Nelson (HAUNTED) home.
The ruins located in Runyon Canyon, the popular Hollywood hiking trail, are not from the old Flynn estate.
However, part of Justin Timberlake’s property is. Doesn’t his hair suck?
More: Flynn trained with the great Ralph Faulkner at the legendary Falcon Studios on Hollywood Boulevard. Faulker taught Flynn and many others, swordsmanship.
Hollywood, determined to destroy all it’s history, tore down Falcon Studios.