PHOTOS CREDITS: Microsoft Word Clip Art
TEXT: © 1985, 2011, 2015 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.
I saw the filmed autobiography of Errol Flynn, My Wicked, Wicked Ways, on CBS a few weeks ago. Although it had an abundance of true-life comedy and adventure, it was generally a sad story, as I think most biographies of interesting people are bound to be.
Other than Gene Autry, Errol Flynn is the only hero I can remember having as a child. Well, actually my hero-worship of Flynn was a composite of him and Robin Hood, the part with which I most identified him. But, Robin Hood was long ago and Flynn was of the present.
As years passed, I was vaguely aware of Flynn’s risky love affairs. I wasn’t a reader of movie magazines, but such incidents were also reported elsewhere. They tarnished his image a bit for me, but I silently rooted for him and hoped that all would turn out well.
And Robin Hood? Robin Hood was printed forever (?) on celluloid and in Howard Pyle’s book of the legends. I used to play the role in hours of transcendent imagination, which frequently overwhelm susceptible children. With imaginary bow and arrow I would win the imaginary archery shoot and take the golden arrow. Armed with a yard stick, which imagination miraculously transformed into a broadsword, I dealt Sir Guy of Gisborne a death blow. (Never, however, did I let imagination carry me so far away as to jump on and off my mother’s furniture.)
But back to Flynn. What struck me most about the television biography were two things: (1) the tenuousness and fragility of relationships and (2) the ease with which one can be deflected from even the simplest life goals.
If we are to believe the film, Flynn married his first wife, Lili Damita, because she threatened to throw herself off a window ledge if he didn’t. And after they were married she couldn’t tolerate the adoration Flynn’s female fans showered upon him. She apparently became ever more neurotically possessive and finally “took him to the cleaners” in divorce court.
Then there was Flynn’s own idol―John Barrymore. Flynn practically made a rest home out of some rooms in his house for the aged, alcoholic actor. Barrymore died, and another of Flynn’s closest friends, a stunt man, was killed while doing a stunt―both deaths occurring in the same week. After spending an evening trying to drink his grief away, Flynn came home, turned on the light in his living room and screamed with horror at the sight of Barrymore, neatly groomed and dressed, sitting upright in a chair.
When Flynn started to run out of his house, three of his friends popped out of the shadowy foyer and stopped him, explaining that they had bribed the mortician to let them bring Barrymore home for a last round of drinks with his chums. With a hand still shaking from the fright, Flynn filled some glasses, and they all raised them toward Barrymore in manner of a toast.
Friends! I wondered which was the case: That they were good friends because they had gone to an extreme length to arrange a final drink between buddies; or that they were bad friends because, in their foolish desire to make it a surprise, they had scared a friend almost out of his wits?
The other point ― how easy it is to be deflected from even simple goals ― was exemplified by the hold Jack Warner and Hollywood generally had over Flynn. Judging by the film, I gathered that all Flynn wanted to do was play in serious roles (such as Rhett Butler in “Gone with the Wind”) and earn enough money to buy a boat large enough to sail around the world. Because of his various relationships, however, he couldn’t seem to break away from Hollywood or from his roles as a swashbuckler. (Nice irony there!)
Given the contrast of Flynn’s personal situation (a $2,500 a week salary) with that of the American public as a whole when he was making his most memorable films ― between 1935 and 1940 ― one is perhaps justified in accusing him of being just a bit self-indulgent. Moreover, it can reasonably be argued that by providing escapist films for a suffering world he was doing more good for his fellow humans than he ever could have done aboard a boat sailing the seas.
Apparently, there wasn’t much he could do about obtaining more serious roles; in those days, once you were a success at the box office in one particular part, you were type-cast. Still, to sail to the Fijis and Malaysia in his own ship was Flynn’s personal dream―regardless of how simple or even simple-minded it was from our point of view―and perhaps he did himself great personal harm we cannot imagine by not carrying through with his dream.
— The Monahans News, February 7, 1985
By the way, yesterday Chris Ruggia and I discussed my January 19th blog post, “Bob’s Current Preferences”, and he explained his intent in the third panel of the comic there. Consequently, I added a few sentences to the end of the post; so any of you readers who have already read that post and are curious about the mysterious “brush” can click on the listing at the side of this page, under “Recent Posts”, and return to the cartoon and my “explication” of it.
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