<?xml:namespace prefix = o />What follows is a manuscript excerpt from my mock-epic poem Errol Flynn: A Life in Doggerel, for which - if anyone's interested - I'm presently seeking a publisher.
I've completed ”Book I,” consisting of 6 “cantos,” some 600 stanzas total, and am now at work on “Book II,” which will consist of a like number of cantos and stanzas. Book I ends exactly midway through Flynn's life, in late 1934, as he is crossing the Atlantic to Hollywood, and Book II picks up with Flynn recently installed in the film capital.
As my book's working title implies, this is not to be taken seriously as “poetry” – although I'm using a great poem as my template: Byron's Don Juan. Being one of the twentieth century's consummate Don Juans, while having played the role to ironic perfection in a Hollywood film, Flynn and Byron's rollicking Don Juan stanza seemed like a natural pairing. I also chose the verse form because:
Flynn was about romance and poetry –
He wasn't prosaic by any stretch;
And those biographies and other would-be
Accounts of the man (I don't wish to kvetch,
But it has to be said) miss his esprit,
Of which I'm at very great pains to etch
Into hearts and minds through the studied use
Of what's referred to as the “lighter muse.”
Of course, without the “prosaic” biographies, I could never have written my work - but I did want to try and sing Flynn's life, as it were.
The excerpt below comprises the concluding stanzas of canto 4, where we find Flynn having recently returned from his second New Guinea sojourn (or third, depending on how you count) and having just acted in his first movie, In the Wake of the Bounty. But no other acting jobs are forthcoming. It's late 1933 and Flynn is at loose ends:
Errol was anxious about his future—
<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />New Guinea, he feared, was just a dead end.
He’d gone there partly seeking adventure
(Which he had found) but to mainly ascend
In the world and that brass ring to capture;
And though Wake of the Bounty might portend
Greater things to come, he had seen his share
Of portents prove out to be castles in the air.
He also harbored ambitions to rise
In society, and to that end had
Gained a fianceé—did I not apprise
You of this turn of events? Well, the sad
Fact is that Flynn had been very unwise
And something of an insensitive lad
In swearing his love to Naomi Dibbs,
This one of his more unfortunate fibs.
Flynn rightly perceived Miss Dibbs as high class,
Being as she was from the upper crust,
And he handling her like fragile cut glass:
Containing somehow his powerful lust,
Never unsheathing his stalwart cutlass
And never betraying Naomi’s trust
That theirs was a love “on a higher plane”—
But leaving his lower parts in acute pain.
They’d now been “engaged” for almost three years,
But what in fact would it mean to marry?
Love, joy and laughter or blood, sweat and tears?
His parents’ union had made him wary
Of marriage, confirming all his worst fears,
And his own life was presently very
Unsettled and riddled with question marks . . .
And then he encountered a certain “Madge Parkes.”
That likely wasn’t the lady’s true name,
Flynn changed it in Wicked—you’ll see why—
And did I say “lady?” Try one gorgeous dame!
The kind of woman that’d make a rabbi
Drop-kick his Talmud and loudly declaim
The Kama Sutra, or a sworn Samurai
Bust both of his swords right over his knee
And go off on a saki-drinking spree.
Statuesque she was, sporting auburn hair,
And we can safely resort to “bombshell”
In describing her figure; she bore an air
Of artless glamour and in a nutshell
Was charming, clever and had savoir faire—
Along with a touch of the Jezebel;
A scarlet woman, as it were, for you see,
Our siren was married—and pushing forty.
Urbane, well-traveled, spirited and gay,
She enjoyed swimming, also liked to dance,
Was stylish without being recherché,
The kind of woman who perforce enchants;
And what I guess I’m trying to convey
Is that Flynn’s first hot and heavy romance,
His first “real woman,” was no other
Than the doppelgänger of his mother.
And she was rich. In their nights dining out,
And for drinks thereafter at a dance place,
There was never the shadow of a doubt
Who’d treat; and she did it with faultless grace,
Not in the business of trying to flout
The unspoken rules, leaving not a trace
Of just how the bill had been settled—they’d
Walk out of somewhere and it’d just be paid.
And she loved sex. Madge Parkes loved it so,
That Flynn was a quick convert to the school
Of thought which holds that a woman’s libido
Emerges more active, and does not cool,
As might be expected, when the big 4-0
Looms up. (However, in later life—you’ll
No doubt smile wryly—Flynn’s special delight
Was girls decades shy of their sexual height.)
Yes, sex was her thing and she Flynn’s training ground,
But her needs so great that the constitution
Of our phallic hero, later so renowned,
Was undergoing a dissolution;
And one night after another hard round,
Feeling like he could use a transfusion,
Errol arose weakly from the mattress,
Relieved to escape Madge's scorching caress.
She lay there sleeping, a vision, a dream,
Her arms outspread and her beautiful hair
Spread over the pillow, and a thing supreme
Was her form, with thighs designed to ensnare,
Fulsome hips (yet not too broad in the beam),
Slim waist, and her breasts—oh man, what a pair!
Flynn took all this in, and then his gaze
Began another vision to appraise.
On the dressing-room table, sparkling bold,
Were scattered some jewels, in sizes assorted,
Some of them rings, and others with gold
Or silver chains; he had often escorted
Madge out with these gemstones, but to behold
All those rocks now here together hoarded
Reminded him just how much she was worth
As well as of his own financial dearth.
And it seemed to him that in their affair
Madge was getting the far better deal;
She took him to places with long stemware,
Places that had a strong snob-appeal,
But you could eat only so much Camembert,
And even for bed he had lost his zeal,
For far from being paradisiacal
Her demands had grown nymphomaniacal.
His gaze drifted from the dressing-room table,
Away from the lustrous and dazzling jewels,
And back to those legs to rival Grable
And bust to incite Pavlovian drools
And shapely hips that were willing and able
And face over which men had once fought duels—
On Madge his eyes lingered for a short while,
Wrestling with his conscience—her or the pile?
It was clear that there were no prospects for Flynn
In Parkes; Errol still had big albeit
Somewhat vague plans for his future, which in
So far as he was able to see it,
Wasn’t in Australia—though he’d miss the women,
He felt that he had no choice but to flee it;
And as Madge had been getting constantly laid,
Then Errol ought to be consonantly paid.
In other words, it didn’t take long
For Flynn to decide on his course of action:
He knew emphatically that it was wrong,
By far the “most dastardly” malefaction
He’d ever committed, but the urge was strong,
So in his state of near stupefaction
He got himself dressed very stealthily
And grabbed up the loot as his rightful stud fee.
He raced down the stairs like the place was on fire,
Then hurried through the streets, but didn’t run
Since running was a thief-identifier;
And back at his lodgings he took his hard-won
Yet ill-gotten gains and placed them entire
—He'd scooped up plenty, but hardly a ton—
In the cavity of a shaving-brush,
Which was pretty darn crafty in view of his rush.
Several inches in length was the shaving
Brush’s handle and at the end a crown
That unscrewed to reveal a lifesaving
(Hopefully, at least, in case of shakedown)
Hollow interior made for a thing
To constrict blood vessels and thus shut down
The bleeding if you contracted a nick,
Namely an old-fashioned “shaving stick.”
Flynn placed the jewels in the hollow section
And put a small end of the stick on top
And then screwed the crown back on—a deception
That was likely to outsmart your basic cop,
From whom any top-to-bottom inspection
Of Errol’s belongings would surely stop
Short of reducing his toiletry articles
To their sundry component particles.
Flynn had to get out of town right away
And soon caught a boat that was leaving Sydney.
He’d safely boarded, they were all set to weigh
Anchor and sail from the harbor, when he
Saw bulking large in his stateroom doorway
Two plainclothes cops who’d come round to see
What they might be able to uncover
In the bags of Madge’s light-fingered lover.
First place they looked was the heels of his shoes,
Thinking they might be hollow, then they checked
His shoulder padding, another old ruse,
And the whole time Errol sought to affect
A derisive mien, putting to good use
His inborn and nurtured lack of respect
For authority types—but his fat sneer
Was also intended to mask his fear.
If they discovered the jewels he was sunk.
Prison was not the least of his worries,
But to be exposed as a dirty skunk,
And Father’s displeasure to incur, please,
That was too much; so he showed the same spunk
As Leonidas in reply to Xerxes
When he demanded that the Spartans lay
Down all their weapons at Thermopylae.
“Are you shitheels finished? Why don’t you take
One leg and you take the other and shake me,
I might just have them up my arse”—thus spake
Errol, they responding: “That would not be
A bad idea.” No, a grave mistake
It would be, countered Flynn, and promised that he
Would shove through a porthole the first of them
Who attempted this foolhardy stratagem.
“Come and touch me, one of you yellow-livered
Sons-of-bitches!” It was not as if these
Hardened Australian plainclothesmen shivered
In their boots at his words and got knock-knees,
But Flynn seemed like the sort who delivered
Fully on his threats, not a boy to sneeze
At by any means, so they let it ride
And by way of answer intensified
Their search of his bags; and then Errol, for
His part, did sneeze at them, simulating
An ACHOO that was summoned with a roar
When one of them started investigating
The shaving brush—which you might well deplore
As a sophomoric trick, effectuating
The exact opposite of its design,
But the cop was clearly no Albert Einstein,
So he failed to see through Errol’s schoolboy
Attempts to distract him from the very
Thing he was holding. (The transparent ploy
Can also derail an adversary
Who anticipates that you will employ
Cunning—just witness that cautionary
Tale where doing the overt is better,
Edgar Allan Poe’s The Purloined Letter.)
Whether or not Flynn’s sneezing and bating
Tactics really served to draw attention
Away from the search, thus extricating
Him from this fix, they show a dimension
Of his person, otherwise so fluctuating,
That was a constant, and hence bears mention:
Equipped with a heart unusually stout,
Flynn was an ace at brazening things out.
With the policemen having left empty-
Handed and the boat now full underway,
Errol unscrews the shaving brush and he
Prises the gemstones, one by one, away
From their settings and throws these into the sea,
Via the convenient porthole, the day
Having yielded to night of deepest black—
All hail our prudent kleptomaniac!
Flynn returns the jewels to their hiding place
And walks out on deck and breathes the fresh air,
And he gets the wind and the spray in his face
As he leans out over the railing; a rare
Sense of elation has come to replace
That of impending doom, the rude scare
He had suffered now giving way to a feeling
Akin to pride in his double-dealing.
He’d gotten away with it! Guilt he had,
But that just made it more delectable;
He’d done a thing unquestionably bad
As well as highly disrespectable,
Something that branded him a first-rate cad,
But now that it was indetectable
And he himself pretty much off the hook,
He felt just swell about being a crook.
But Errol’s present exhilaration
Was not exclusively owing to his
Narrow escape from incarceration
But from his sexually exhausting miss
And that other form of ruination
Which went by the misnomer “wedded bliss,”
With his prim fiancée Naomi Dibbs,
Entailing both in-laws and baby cribs.
Also, as mentioned, Flynn felt that to make
His fortune he’d have to leave Down Under
And head Up Top; and icing on the cake
Was that with his newly acquired plunder
He now had a very healthy grubstake
Which might buy him time to work a wonder
In this or that project or endeavor,
In China, India, or wherever.
But not in Australia—that much Flynn knew.
In stealing the jewels he hadn’t planned
To bid a definitive farewell to
His mistress, intended, and native land;
But through his thievery, out of the blue,
Errol had managed to force his own hand,
His subconscious impulses, as a group,
Now being realized in one fell swoop.
And I’ll venture there was yet another
Unconscious urge behind his larceny:
Because Madge was so like Errol’s mother,
The quite real if latent misogyny,
Spawned by Marelle, found in his rich lover
An apt target, hence the sheer villainy
Of Errol's transgression, which victimized
A generous woman whom he otherwise prized.
But let’s leave Flynn now, leaning on the rail,
Looking out over the expanse of sea,
Trying to make out whatever detail
He can on the distant shore, because he
Will not be returning again; but braille
Is needed to pierce the obscurity,
The mainland now completely out of sight
As Flynn sails blindly into the night.
 Leonidas called back, “Come and get them!”
 In which the letter in question is “hidden” in such an open and predictable place that it escapes detection.
— Kevin McAleer