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Errol’s Affliction

23 Aug

Reached a sad conclusion recently after re-reading Earl Conrad’s ‘Errol Flynn – A Memoir.’ Almost hate to share it but here goes. I’d read the book 30 years ago as a young man and was fascinated by its behind the scenes look at the writing of My Wicked Wicked Ways, on which Earl Conrad collaborated with Errol the year before his death. More than any other source, it presents the true picture of Flynn, his genius for living, his many flaws, his peccadillos and quirks. Whereas ‘My Wicked…Ways’ was rousing and fascinating and wonderfully written, equal parts fact and fiction, the Conrad memoir really lays it out.

Fast forward 35 years during which time one of my avocations has been the study of psychopathy as well as  a concomitant ten year career as an investigative reporter. Re-reading Conrad’s memoir last week, it was perfectly clear that poor Errol was a  psychopath. There is no question. His behavior as described by Conrad is textbook, and would rank Errol high on the Hare Checklist, the accepted litmus test for diagnosing this condition. This is not to belittle Errol’s many talents and unique presence, but he was indeed a psychopath, an affliction that one is born with. There may be an inherited component, the jury is still out on this; it may stem from an under developed amygdala, a small gland in the brain that contributes to the development of one’s conscience and the ability to control one’s impulses. But Errol was one, in my opinion.

In some ways, believing this, makes me empathize with him (Flynn). One of the saddest observations made by Conrad in his book (beside the sheer sense of wanton self destruction exhibited by Errol) was that Errol was virtually friendless. This Conrad finds shocking, as I did, and Conrad liked Flynn and seems like a thoughtful and honest writer, so I believe him. Conrad observed that Flynn had countless fans and wannabe hangers-on and constant solicitations to invest in things or lend his name to organizations, but virtually no friends.

I know my observations are going to upset many Flynn fans. And these same observations don’t diminish Flynn the often brilliant actor, but at least for me, they explain a lot. I remember reading Conrad’s memoir for the first time in 1984 when I was an aspiring writer working at Omni magazine in NY. I was so taken with it that I contacted Mrs Conrad through her husband’s publisher -Earl had recently died- and as it happened she was visiting NYC. We met at the old Madison Pub on Madison Ave in the 80’s, and talked about Earl and Errol and I was pitching the idea of making a movie about the experience of writing the book. I remember how much she’d like Errol the few times they met, and recounted one story about having once owned a photo of Errol urinating on the side of the road in Cuba! I remember she was recovering from pneumonia and wanted to catch a cab to her hotel downtown, and so to save her money (since Madison headed uptown) I walked her through a snowstorm around the block to Lexington Ave so she could travel south (?) with the traffic. Which damn near killed her.

 

 

— TJR McDowell

 

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Well, it was brave to make a controversial posting like this! I have to remind all and sundry that Flynn wrote an excellent piece about fear, and was known not for nothing as the Fearless Flynn, and yet he was afraid of madness, and afraid he would not live fully, perhaps, if he gave into every social norm. However, at the time he knew Conrad he was both a drug user (not many have friends who are not into the same thing, and therefore are somewhat secretive) and he also was in the company of an underage girl, was desperate… Read more »

I don’t know the size of Errol’s amygdala, TJR, but Errol did leave us extensive evidence regarding his philosophy of life. In March of 1939, for example, he published the article below. Thank you to Jack Marino for providing its transcription to me. He wrote similarly in MWWW about how he was going to confront life head-on, “drive it into a corner”, and refuse to die without having really lived. … REFUSE TO BE AFRAID By Errol Flynn Nobody can afford to be afraid. All my life I’ve fought fear because I believe it is the only real menace to… Read more »

Thanks TJR for your frankness. Every indebt blog entry is appreciated, especially the contoversial ones.. A true Flynn fan is well aware of Errols shortcomings despite his larger than life image. The whole Hollywood environment was detrimental to building character with studio bosses at the helm like Jack Warner, a penny pincher and compulsive casino gambler, Harry Cohn, a devoted wife cheater family man, and Darryl F. Zanuck, whose mistress protegés Carole Landis and Marilyn Monroe both ended their lives. Just to name a few hell of famers and the list doesnt even include WED! We are not oblivious to… Read more »