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Errol, Robin Hood and The Red Earl

28 Jan

When Errol was in Mexico in the 1930s and visited the house of the renowned Marxist artist Diego Rivera, he met his then assistant, a moustachioed Englishman, who introduced himself as Jack Hastings. His full name, however, was Francis John Clarence Westenra Plantagenet Hastings, 16th Earl of Huntingdon, one of the oldest titles in England.

In Britain, Hastings was known as the ‘Red Earl’, for his left-wing politics and rapscallion behaviour. (The ‘Red Earl’ was to become part of my family when my father married his eldest daughter, Moorea.)

In the late 1920s, Jack had scandalised English Society by espousing Marxism, announcing his intention to become a painter and having an illicit affair with Cristina Casati, the young daughter of the notorious Italian Marchesa, Luisa Casati.The Marchesa lived in a Venetian palazzo (now the Guggenheim Museum) with two pet cheetahs and 10 footmen, whom she had painted gold. She was also a legendary style muse, captivating everyone from Diaghilev and Jean Cocteau to Man Ray and Cecil Beaton. She wore live snakes as jewellery and once went to a party dressed as St Sebastian, with metal arrows attached to light bulbs. Unfortunately, she electrocuted herself and had to retire for the evening.
Luisa Casati and cheetah

Luisa Casati with one of her cheetahs

The Marchesa dressed as Saint Sebastian for a party.

Luisa as St Sebastian

The Marchesa Casati, photographed by Man Ray.

The Marchesa Casati, photographed by Man Ray.

Jack soon married Cristina and they ran off to the South Seas and lived for a time on the island of Moorea (after which he named their daughter). Jack painted several canvasses and then went to Mexico to show his work to Diego Rivera, whom he revered as both an artist and a fellow Marxist. Rivera was so impressed he engaged Jack as his assistant and took him on as a pupil.

The Earl of Huntingdon and his wife Cristina Casati.

The Red Earl at work and play, and below left, his wife Cristina

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There he lived for nearly a decade, in between trips to Hollywood, where his notoriety caused him to be much in demand and, as he told my father, he socialised with Douglas Fairbanks, John Barrymore, Ronald Colman, Dietrich, Livvie, whom he attempted to kiss, and – most importantly – a newly famous Errol Flynn. Jack and Errol had something in common apart from being rebels with a taste for young women and living close to the edge.

The family tradition was that the Earls of Huntingdon were directly descended from Robin Hood, a claim supported by English folklore (the title of Earl of Huntingdon has often been associated with Robin Hood). Some of the male Earls have been given the name Robin, and the present Earl of Huntingdon is called William Edward Robin Hood Hastings-Bass.

Robin Hood, Earl of Huntingdon!

When Jack heard that Errol was to play Robin Hood in a film, he jotted down some notes. One was:’It must be made clear that he is the Earl of Huntingdon.’ Another said: ‘Your moustache should be grown thicker, like mine,’! He was rather annoyed when both these directives were ignored.

The Red Earl's Moustache

The Red Earl’s Moustache

Errol's Robin Hood Moustache

Errol’s Robin Hood Moustache

Jack could be volatile. He was so wedded to the idea that he was a descendent of Robin Hood that when one man had the temerity to question the outlaw’s historical existence, Jack threw him down the stairs.
His marriage to Cristina failed, partly due to her being equally hot tempered. Though she claimed to be a Communist, she once hit her maid so hard she broke her arm. After they divorced, Jack married the novelist Margaret Lane.

Jack Hastings was a man of unique talent as an artist who has now become known as ‘The English Diego Rivera.’ He painted a mural for my father called ‘The Snake in Eden,’ which he had hung in our dining room in Italy over the objections of some, who found it a trifle explicit. His murals are now considered lost masterpieces as very few exist. There is one in the Marx Memorial Library in London and two in the US. I would be fascinated if anyone knew the whereabouts of other murals. In the meantime, there is a wonderful biography of Jack, called ‘The Red Earl’, by Selina Hastings, his other daughter. I recommend it strongly, as he and the Flynnster were definitely fellow travellers!

One of Jack's political murals

One of Jack’s political murals

My father with Moorea and my brother, Pericles.

My father with Moorea and my brother, Pericles.

 

— PW

 
 

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  1. Gentleman Tim

    January 29, 2017 at 9:29 am

    Heavens to Petsy, PW, you are one erudite ex-Luddite! This is absolutely fascinating. May I please have more time to research and enlighten myself before commenting further? This is spectacularly new information to me. .. … Makes one want to dance the Petronella. bit.ly/2kg4vbV…

    Signed: An admirer from America.

    bit.ly/2kfMiLe…

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  2. Maria

    January 29, 2017 at 4:01 pm

    Robert Earle of Huntington

    Lies under this little stone.

    No archer was like him so good;

    His wildnesse named him Robbin Hood.

    Full thirteene yeares, and something more,

    These northerne parts he vexed sore.

    Such out-lawes as he and his men

    May England never know agen

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    • PW

      January 29, 2017 at 6:04 pm

      You brilliant person! Where did you find that poem? I have never seen it before. P

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    • Gentleman Tim

      January 30, 2017 at 5:59 am

      Bullesye, Maria! Great find! … The plot thickens …

      If I kneweth how to say “Awesome Find” in Old Middle English, I would, but, alas Mi’Lady, I faileth thee.

      Robin_Hood_inscription_on_the_gravestone_in_the_Kirklees_Estate_grounds,_in_West_Yorkshire.jpg

      And to thinketh all this time I thoughteth Sir Robin lived out his years with Lady Livvie in Chico. Nevertheless, Britain’s Kirklees is a splendid site for Britain’s Hercules.

      robin-hoods-grave-7.jpg

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  3. Maria

    January 29, 2017 at 6:17 pm

    Here is another one. This is the University of Western Ontario. A few years ago there was a display of Robin Hood information -but I just missed it.
    alpha.lib.uwo.ca/search/?searchtype=t&searcharg=robin+hood&searchscope=20…

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  4. Maria

    January 30, 2017 at 12:06 pm

    Hey- this is cool Tim!

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  5. shangheinz

    January 30, 2017 at 2:08 pm

    2718.jpg

    Here is a rare movie poster depicting Errol as Little Red Robin Hood. The cap maybe being a hommage to the Red Earl?

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    • PW

      January 30, 2017 at 4:53 pm

      Oh, that’s wonderful. You genius. What a great find! I must get it framed somehow. The Red Earl owned a marvellous red cravat, but not a red hat.

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