Royal Reels: Gambling


This unpretentious cover is addressed to Mr. Errol Flynn, c/- Warner Bros Film Studios, Culver City, California, U.S.A. and it bears a copy of the blue 3½d KGVI stamp, postmarked with a roller cancel with a boxed SYDNEY/ 25 OCT/ 1946 and LIFE IS PRECIOUS/ HELP/ TO PREVENT/ ACCIDENTS, a warning unheeded in the actor’s life (Figure 1).

Errol was born in Hobart, Tasmania on 20 June 1909 to Theodore Thomson Flynn, a zoologist of repute, who became the professor of biology in Hobart. Theodore shared an entry with his son in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. His wife, Lily Young, Errol’s mother, was a descendant of one of the Bounty mutineers. Did she endow Errol with a swashbuckling career?

Errol’s youth was a predictor of his adult life for he was expelled in 1927 from his school in Sydney (Sydney Church of England Grammar School) for having sex with the daughter of the school’s laundress. He was also expelled from the next school he attended. The same year he trained as a district officer in New Guinea, quickly followed by a copra plantation overseer, partner in a charter schooner business, and a gold prospector. Sailing became his life-long hobby, and by 1932 he was back in Sydney, notorious for unpaid debts in New Guinea, starting a career as Fletcher Christian in the film In Wake of the Bounty.

In 1935 he moved to California, signed a contract with Warner Bros and shot to stardom as the swashbuckling hero in Captain Blood. Flynn played opposite Olivia de Haviland in eight films including the former film, as well as The Charge of the Light BrigadeThe Adventures of Robin Hood, Dodge City, Santa Fe Trail, and They Died with their Boots On, from 1936 to 1941. Flynn was well known for drinking, womanising and throwing wild parties and his life style caught up with him when he was accused with rape by 2 teenagers. The trial took place in January-February 1943 and Flynn was cleared of the crime. The term “in like Flynn” came to be synonymous with success in romantic endeavours.

Flynn was a member of the Hollywood Cricket Club, along with his close friend actor, David Niven. His suave, debonair and devil-may-care attitude to life was immortalised into the English language by Benjamin Johnson in his book An Errolesque Philosophy on Life. He was married to actress Lily Dimita (1935-42), Nora Eddington (1943-48) and actress Patrice Wymore (1950 until his death in 1959), siring one son and three daughters.

By the 1950’s, Flynn became a parody of himself. Heavy drinking and drug abuse left him prematurely aged and bloated, but he still won acclaim as a drunken ne’er-do-well in the The Sun Also Rises (1957). Numerous legends surround Flynn’s death for he was still married but courting a teenager Beverly Aardland and they flew to Vancouver where they partied with Grant Gould (brother of the pianist Glenn Gould). Flynn fell ill, retired to a bedroom to rest, and was found half an hour later in the throes of a massive heart attack, dying in Aardland’s arms on 14 October, 1959. He is interred, with six bottles of whisky, in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, Glendale, California. He had become an American citizen in 1942, and was survived by both parents, his third wife, one son of the first marriage, and the two daughters of his second marriage. A melange of memorabilia of Errol Flynn is seen in Figures 2 – 6.

Categories: Arts and Artists