Best known for his romantic swashbuckler roles in Hollywood films, as well as frequent partnerships with Olivia De Havilland.
In the Wake of the Bounty
I Adore You
Murder at Monte Carlo
The Case of the Curious Bride
Don’t Bet on Blondes
The Green Light
The Prince and the Pauper
The Perfect Specimen
Four’s a Crowd
Footsteps in the Dark
Edge of Darkness
Thank Your Lucky Stars
Never Say Goodbye
It’s a Great Feeling
That Forsyte Woman
Adventures of Captain Fabian
Against All Flags
The Master of Ballantrae
The Story of William Tell
Lilacs in the Spring
The Dark Avenger Note: This film is elsewhere titled, “The Warriors”
The Big Boodle
The Sun Also Rises
Too Much, Too Soon
The Roots of Heaven
Cuban Rebel Girls
Errol Flynn was never nominated for an Academy Award.
Errol Flynn was born in 1909 to parents Theodore Flynn, a respected biologist, and Marrelle Young, an adventurous young woman. Young Flynn was a rambunctious child who could be counted on to find trouble. Errol managed to have himself thrown out of every school he was enrolled in. After being expelled from school in 1926, he spent the next five years oscillating between the New Guinea frontier territory and Sydney.
Australian filmmaker Charles Chauvel was making a film about the Mutiny on the Bounty, In the Wake of the Bounty (1933), a combination of dramatic re-enactments of the mutiny and a documentary on present-day Pitcairn Island. Chauvel was looking for someone to play the role of Fletcher Christian. There are different stories how Errol Flynn was cast. According to one, Chauvel saw his picture in an article about a yacht wreck involving Flynn. The most popular account is that he was discovered by cast member John Warwick. The film was not a strong success at the box office, but it was the lead role and seemed to ignite Flynn’s interest in acting. In late 1933 he went to Great Britain to pursue a career in acting.
Flynn got work as an extra in a film, I Adore You (1933), produced by Irving Asher for Warner Bros. Flynn soon secured a job with the Northampton Repertory Company at the town’s Royal Theatre (now part of Royal & Derngate), where he worked and received his training as a professional actor for seven months. Northampton is home to an art-house cinema named after him, the Errol Flynn Filmhouse.
He performed at the 1934 Malvern Festival and in Glasgow, and briefly in London’s West End.
In 1934 Flynn was dismissed from Northampton Rep. after he threw a female stage manager down a stairwell. He returned to London. Asher cast him as the lead in Murder at Monte Carlo, a “quota quickie” made by Warner Brothers at their Teddington Studios in Middlesex. The movie was not widely seen (it is currently a lost film), but Asher was enthusiastic about Flynn’s performance and cabled Warner Bros in Hollywood, recommending him for a contract. Executives agreed, and Flynn was sent out to Los Angeles.
On the ship from London, Flynn met (and eventually married) Lili Damita, an actress five years his senior whose contacts proved valuable when Flynn arrived in Los Angeles. Warner Bros publicity described him as an “Irish leading man of the London stage”.
His first appearance was a small role in The Case of the Curious Bride (1935). Flynn had two scenes, one as a corpse and one in flashback. His next part was slightly bigger, in Don’t Bet on Blondes (1935), a B-picture screwball comedy.
Warner Bros were preparing a big budget swashbuckler movie, Captain Blood (1935), based on the novel by Rafael Sabatini and directed by Michael Curtiz. They originally intended to cast Robert Donat but he turned down the role. Warner Bros. considered a number of other actors, including Leslie Howard and conducted screen tests of those they had under contract, such as Flynn. The tests were impressive and Warner Bros. decided to cast Flynn in the lead, opposite Olivia de Havilland. The resulting movie was a magnificent success for the studio and Flynn and a new star was launched.
Flynn had been selected to support Frederic March in Anthony Adverse (1936) but public response to Captain Blood was so enthusiastic that Warner Bros. instead reunited him with de Havilland and Curtiz in another adventure tale, this time one set in British India, The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936). It was another big hit.
For a change of pace, Warner Bros. put him in a medical melodrama, Green Light (1937), playing a crusading doctor, a role originally intended for Leslie Howard. He then made another swashbuckler, replacing Patric Knowles in what was essentially a supporting role in The Prince and the Pauper (1937). He appeared opposite Kay Francis in Another Dawn (1937), a melodrama set in a British colony. Warner Bros. then gave Flynn his first starring role in a comedy, The Perfect Specimen (1937), with Joan Blondell under the direction of Curtiz. During this period Flynn published his first book, Beam Ends (1937), an autobiographical account of his sailing experiences around Australia as a youth. He also traveled to Spain, in 1937, as a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War.
Flynn followed this with perhaps his most famous movie, The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), playing the title role, opposite de Havilland’s Maid Marian. This movie was a worldwide success.
Warner Bros. let him try a screwball comedy as a change of pace, Four’s a Crowd (1938). Despite the presence of de Havilland and direction of Curtiz, it was not a success.
Flynn was reunited with Bette Davis, Curtiz, and de Havilland in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), playing Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. Flynn’s relationship with Davis during filming was quarrelsome; Davis allegedly slapped him across the face far harder than necessary during one scene. Flynn attributed her anger to unrequited romantic interest, but according to others, Davis resented sharing equal billing with a man she considered incapable of playing any role beyond a dashing adventurer.
Warner Bros. put Flynn in another Western, Virginia City (1940), a follow up to Dodge City, which was very popular- making a profit of just under one million dollars. He then made another swashbuckler from a Sabatini novel, The Sea Hawk (1940), which had been planned since 1936. It was another hit. So too was the Western, Santa Fe Trail (1940), with de Havilland and directed by Curtiz,
Warner Bros. allowed him a change of pace, a screwball comedy, Footsteps in the Dark (1941), but it was not a success. Far more popular was the military drama, Dive Bomber (1941); this was his last film with Curtiz.
Flynn started a new long-term relationship with a director when teamed with Raoul Walsh in They Died with Their Boots On (1942), a biopic of George Armstrong Custer. His co-star was de Havilland – the last of twelve movies they made together. The movie was one of the biggest hits of 1942.
Flynn became a naturalized American citizen on August 14 1942. With the United States fully involved in the Second World War, he attempted to enlist in the armed services, but failed the physical exam due to recurrent malaria (contracted in New Guinea), a heart murmur, and latent pulmonary tuberculosis. Flynn was mocked by reporters and critics as a “draft dodger”; but the studio refused to admit that their star, promoted for his physical beauty and athleticism, had been disqualified due to health problems.
Flynn’s first war film was Desperate Journey (1942) with Walsh, in which he played an Australian for the first time. It was another big hit. He played Gentleman Jim Corbett in Walsh’s Gentleman Jim (1942), a popular boxing movie. During filming Flynn had a heart attack from which he recovered.
Another hit was Edge of Darkness (1943) which had a box office gross of $2.3 million in the US making it Warner Bros. 8th biggest movie of the year and one in which Flynn played a Norwegian resistance fighter for director Lewis Milestone. He had a cameo in Warner’s all-star Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943), singing a song.In September 1942 it was announced that Flynn had signed a new contract with Warner Bros. for four films a year, one of which he was to also produce.
In late 1942, two under-age women, Betty Hansen and Peggy Satterlee, accused Flynn of statutory rape at the Bel Air home of Flynn’s friend Frederick McEvoy, and on board Flynn’s yacht, respectively. The scandal received immense press attention. Many of Flynn’s fans, assuming that his screen persona was a reflection of his actual personality, refused to accept that the charges were true.
The trial took place in late January and early February 1943; Flynn’s attorney, Jerry Giesler, impugned the accusers’ character and morals, and accused them of numerous indiscretions, including affairs with married men and, in Satterlee’s case, an abortion (which was illegal at the time). Flynn was acquitted, but the trial’s widespread coverage and lurid overtones permanently damaged his carefully cultivated screen image as an idealized romantic leading man.
Northern Pursuit (1943), with Walsh, was a war film set in Canada. He then made a film for his own production company, Thomson Productions, where he had a say in the choice of vehicle, director and cast, plus a portion of the profits. This picture had a modest gross of $1.5 million. Uncertain Glory (1944), was a war time drama set in France with Flynn as a criminal who redeems himself. However it was not a success and Thomson Productions made no more movies. In 1943, Flynn earned $175,000.
With Walsh he made Objective, Burma! in 1944 that was released in 1945, a war film set during the Burma Campaign. Although popular, it was withdrawn in Britain after protests that the role played by British troops was not given sufficient credit. A Western, San Antonio (1945), was also very popular grossing $3.553 million in the US and was Warner Bros. 3rd biggest hit of the year.
Flynn tried comedy again with Never Say Goodbye (1946), a comedy of re-marriage opposite Eleanor Parker, but it was not a success, In 1946, Flynn published an adventure novel, Showdown, and earned a reported $184,000 (equivalent to $2,260,000 in 2016).
Cry Wolf (1947) was a thriller with Flynn in a seemingly more villainous role. It was a moderate success at the box office. He was in a melodrama, Escape Me Never (1947), filmed in early 1946 but not released until late 1947, which lost money. More popular was a Western with Walsh and Ann Sheridan, Silver River (1948). This was a hit, although its high cost meant it was not very profitable. Flynn’s behavior on set was bad and he and Walsh never worked together again.
Warner Bros. tried returning Flynn to swashbucklers and the result was Adventures of Don Juan (1948). The film was very successful in Europe grossing $3.1 million dollars but less so in the U.S. with $1.9 and struggled to recoup its large budget. Still, it was Warner Bros. 4th biggest hit of the year. From this point on, Warner Bros. reduced the budgets of Flynn’s films. In November 1947 Flynn signed a 15-year contract with Warner Bros. for $225,000 per film
After a cameo in Warner Bros’ It’s a Great Feeling (1949), Flynn was borrowed by MGM to appear in That Forsyte Woman (1949) which made $1.855 million in the US and $1.842 million abroad which was the 11th biggest hit of the year for MGM that year. He went on a three month holiday then made two medium budget Westerns for Warner Bros., Montana (1950), which made $$2.1 million and was Warner Bros.’ 5th biggest movie of the year, and Rocky Mountain (1950), which made $1.7 million in the US and was Warner Bros. 9th biggest movie of the year. MGM borrowed him again for Kim (1950), one of Flynn’s most popular movies from this period as it grossed $5.348 million ($$2.896 million in the US plus $2.452 million abroad) making it MGM’s 5th biggest movie of the year and 11th overall for Hollywood.. It was shot partly in India. On his way home he shot some scenes for a film he produced, Hello God (1951), directed by William Marshall; it was never released and remains a lost film.
Flynn wrote and co-produced his next film, the low budget Adventures of Captain Fabian (1951), directed by Marshall and shot in France. Flynn wound up suing Marshall in court over both movies. For Warner Bros. he appeared in an adventure tale set in the Philippines, Mara Maru (1952). That studio released a documentary of a 1946 voyage he had taken on his yacht, Cruise of the Zaca (1952. In August 1951 he signed a one picture deal to make a movie for Universal, in exchange for a percentage of the profits: this was Against All Flags (1952), a popular swashbuckler. As early as 1952 he was seriously ill with hepatitis resulting in liver damage.
In England he made another swashbuckler for Warner Bros., The Master of Ballantrae (1953). After that Warner Bros. ended their contract with him – an association that had lasted for 18 years and 35 films.
Flynn relocated his career to Europe. He made a swashbuckler in Italy, Crossed Swords (1954). This inspired him to produce a similar movie in that country, The Story of William Tell (1954), directed by Jack Cardiff with Flynn in the title role. The movie fell apart during production and ruined Flynn financially.
Desperate for money, he accepted an offer from Herbert Wilcox to support Anna Neagle in a British musical, Lilacs in the Spring (1954). Also shot in Britain was The Dark Avenger (1955), for Allied Artists, in which Flynn played Edward, the Black Prince. Wilcox used him with Neagle again, in King’s Rhapsody (1955), but it was not a success, ending plans for further Wilcox-Flynn collaborations. In 1956 he presented and sometimes performed in the television anthology series The Errol Flynn Theatre that was filmed in Britain.
Flynn received an offer to make his first Hollywood film in five years: Istanbul (1957), for Universal. He made a thriller shot in Cuba, The Big Boodle (1957), then had his best role in a long time in the blockbuster The Sun Also Rises (1957) for producer Daryl F. Zanuck which made $3 million in the U.S.
Flynn’s performance in the latter was well received and led to a series of roles where he played drunks. Warner Bros cast him as John Barrymore in Too Much, Too Soon (1958), and Zanuck used him again in The Roots of Heaven (1958) which made $3.0 million. He met with Stanley Kubrick to discuss a role in Lolita, but nothing came of it.
Flynn went to Cuba in late 1958 to film the self-produced B film Cuban Rebel Girls, where he met Fidel Castro and was initially an enthusiastic supporter of the Cuban Revolution. He wrote a series of newspaper and magazine articles for the New York Journal American and other publications documenting his time in Cuba with Castro. Many of these pieces were lost until 2009, when they were rediscovered in a collection at the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for American History. He narrated a short film titled Cuban Story: The Truth About Fidel Castro Revolution (1959), his last known work as an actor.
By 1959, Flynn’s financial difficulties had become so serious that he flew to Vancouver, British Columbia on 9 October to negotiate the lease of his yacht Zaca to the businessman George Caldough. As Caldough was driving Flynn and the young actress Beverly Aadland, who had accompanied him on the trip, to the airport on October 14 for a Los Angeles-bound flight, Flynn began complaining of severe pain in his back and legs. Caldough transported him to the residence of a doctor, Grant Gould, who noted that Flynn had considerable difficulty negotiating the building’s stairway. Gould, assuming that the pain was due to degenerative disc disease and spinal osteoarthritis, administered 50 milligrams of demerol intravenously. As Flynn’s discomfort diminished, he “reminisced at great length about his past experiences” to those present.
Gould then performed a leg massage in the apartment’s bedroom and advised Flynn to rest there before resuming his journey. Flynn responded that he felt “ever so much better”. After 20 minutes Aadland checked on Flynn and discovered him unresponsive. Despite immediate emergency medical treatment from Gould and a swift transfer by ambulance to Vancouver General Hospital, he did not regain consciousness and was pronounced dead that evening. The coroner’s report and the death certificate noted the causes of death as myocardial infarction, coronary thrombosis, coronary atherosclerosis, fatty degeneration of liver, and portal cirrhosis of the liver.
Both of Flynn’s parents survived him, as did his former wives and estranged third wife, Patrice Wymore, and his four children. He is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California, a place that Flynn had remarked that he hated.