ERROL FLYNN–Exit Laughing

10 Feb

from PHOTOPLAY Magazine – January 1960By SARA HAMILTON

He lived and died—just as he pleased. Errol Flynn, the last of the swashbucklers, marks the end of an era epitomized by the late Jack Barrymore, Errol's friend, and by so many other colorful individuals. Errol was the Don Juan of romance, of high adventure, of complete charm.

He was one of the handsomest men ever to hit Hollywood. His brown hair, blue eyes, patrician profile, the handsomest legs ever seen on a male, his more than six-feet of height, his beautiful accent, soft voice, quiet manner, magnetic charm, made him a target for women. And for hecklers and tourists anxious to prove themselves heroes by picking on the great Flynn. He knew this. He once said to an actor, a quiet young man of breeding, “No, Bobby, I won't join you all at Mocambo tonight. You see, wherever I go, trouble follows and I don't want you to share this problem with me.”

A few nights later, at this same nightclub, an out-of-town heckler—for no reason at all—heaved an egg at Flynn, who was quietly minding his own business, and once again the headlines blared.

His adventures, before he ever hit Hollywood as a young man, surpassed anything he ever did on the screen. Born in Hobart, Tasmania, the island south of Australia, he very early began trading with the natives of New Guinea, traveling up rivers on a boat. There was something very amusing about the way he acquired this boat, and something very comical about his deals, but the details, as he told them to me, escape me now. Anyway, they'll all be revealed in his forthcoming book, “My Wicked, Wicked Life.”

His rare good looks brought advice to become an actor so, as a British subject, he took off for England and the stage. His first role was that of a free-talking, slangy American. He shuddered when he told me about this. Other roles followed and at last he tried Hollywood. His first part was that of a corpse lying flat on the floor for the movie “The Case of the Curious Bride.” One of his early pictures, “Captain Blood,” made him world famous as a hero who conquered all enemies single-handed.

I can't remember exactly how or where I met Errol. I didn't know him at the time of his first marriage to Lili Damita, who won a million or thereabouts in alimony. They met on shipboard when Lili was on her way to Hollywood for the first time and whamie!—she took one look and flipped for Flynn. It wasn't a happy marriage. They had one son, Sean, a handsome boy, now eighteen.

I came to know him well and love him as a friend shortly after he married Nora Eddington. He met Nora in the courthouse during that dreadful ordeal when a 17-year-old girl accused Errol of rape on a boat he owned at the time. Nora, the daughter of a Los Angles deputy sheriff, was working behind the counter of the courthouse cigar store. Errol was acquitted by the jury.

He was a good friend. Actors and actresses, Panamanian rebels, notables, riff-raff, writers, artists all loved him.

His charm, his ability to see the humor in everything, no matter how threatening to his own security, was delightful. Only once, did he let down the mask with me. We were driving home from Palm Springs through a mean section of Los Angeles, when Errol pointed out a dilapidated old hotel, and said, “Ever know what it is to live in a hole like that, old girl?” Something in the way he said it, revealed to me that Errol had gone through much he never talked about. No one ever guessed that hurt and humiliation cut him deeply. No one.

One thing the world doesn't seem to realize is that Errol was a gentleman and something of a scholar. When I first knew Errol, his gentle father, a zoology professor, was teaching at Queens University in Belfast, Ireland. Errol himself became interested in marine zoology, and launched many expeditions with professors at Scripps College in California. They respected and loved Errol. His father visited Errol in Hollywood, often for several months at a time.

Errol was a rogue and a schemer. He'd go to any lengths to frustrate law enforcers, tax men, process servers. Not that he objected to them, personally, but it gave him a terrific kick to outwit legal-beagles.

He used to stop by my apartment on Olympic Boulevard on his way home from M-G-M, when he was making a movie with Greer Garson (I think it was “That Forsyte Woman”), to regale me with the elaborate schemes he'd concocted to outwit some legal action of some sort. I once said, “Wouldn't it be simpler, Errol, just to face it and get it over with?” He looked at me as if I'd lost my mind. “Old girl, what would be the fun of that?”

I remember, I had an interview scheduled with actor Richard Basehart one evening around six at my home, when who should burst in unannounced, but Flynn. “Mind if I take a bath, Sara me darling?” he said, and was off to the bathroom before I could open my mouth. In the meantime, Basehart, who had played a small part in one of Errol's pictures, arrived and there was Errol, wrapped in a towel, flitting from telephone to tub, making long distance calls and finally settling down for a drink. Basehart told me afterwards, it was the most wonderful, delightful evening he had ever spent. That was Flynn for you!

He had fallen in love with Jamaica and had his new yacht, the Zaca, brought from California to Port Antonio in Jamaica, where it was docked next to a private island owned entirely by Flynn. It was called Navy Island, and on its highest hill, still stood the old guns that had withstood pirates years before.

Errol insisted I fly with him and Nora to Jamaica to be his guest on the yacht. They were making personal appearances in Denver, at the time, and I was to meet them there. I remember my plane was late, held up along the way, and it was about two in the morning when I arrived. Flynn's agent was at the airport to meet me and under my hotel door was a note of welcome.

Next day, Errol insisted I make a hospital tour with him and Nora in Denver and the next day we took off, stopping in Miami for dinner.

Those weeks on the Zaca were unbelievable. It was moored in port because of litigation of some kind (wouldn't you know?), which delighted me, for I'm a poor sailor. Errol was a wonderful sailor.

We visited the banana boats that put in from England, toured the island in Flynn's car (I can't remember how it got there), swam in the unbelievably blue lagoons near the island, and Flynn even made a movie while there on his island. I acted in it. We all did. He directed it. I later saw it as a travelog and it wasn't bad. Thank heavens my walk-on was cut out.

We dined by candlelight on deck and, for some reason—it delighted Errol—the calypso singers all referred to me as “Miss Sara T.” A few years later, Errol brought me from Paris a suede notebook initialed in gold, “Miss Sara T.”

He lived and died—just as he pleased… believing: “After the first death, there is no other…”

I met Noel Coward through Errol in the Myrtlebank Hotel in Kingston. Our table in the dining room was always the mecca for visiting celebrities and tourists. I remember some Australian lads, who had arrived in port on a small boat, were broke and discouraged. They got in touch with Errol, who set them up with a party right on the dock, had them over to the yacht in Port Antonio for the day and gave them money to get them going.

Errol bought a pineapple plantation near Port Antonio that had a house of sorts on it. He and Nora and I went over it together, suggesting alterations and repairs, and here, some months later, he installed his parents. They later went back to Ireland, where Professor Flynn resumed his teaching job.

Later, back home, Errol and Nora invited me to be their guest for a weekend in Palm Springs, and in all my life, I've never had as much fun nor laughed as much. From the time we arrived at the Racquet Club, Clark Gable and his girl of the moment joined us. We were the envy of everyone there. It was just one of those weekends when everything happened. We played practical jokes and had a ball. Clark hated to see us go on Sunday evening. I remember, Errol and Nora and I stopped at a Chinese restaurant in some little town on the way home, and we telephoned back to Clark with some more crazy nonsense. Clark and Errol called each other “old Dad.” I never did know why.

I was having dinner at Clark's home one evening, some months later, when Clark told me he'd heard on the radio, Errol had an operation. I telephoned his home immediately. There he was—all alone. (I don't know where the family was.) So the next morning, early, I went up and stayed the day with him. I saw to it that he ate something.

Wherever he went, trouble followed. One of the funniest brawls he ever got into, was the time he kicked a New York cop in the shin and was promptly arrested. Humphrey Bogart, who was with him, tried to explain it wasn't all Errol's fault—but to no avail. He quarreled with his old pal Bruce Cabot in Rome, was constantly being sued by women for rape and assault. But he came up smiling. And what a smile.

In his dressing room, out at Warners, the wine flowed from 4 o'clock on and yet he never missed a scene. He was always on time and made no trouble on sets. Jack Warner loved him. Everyone did. You couldn't help it. He met Patrice Wymore, when she came out here to make movies, at Warners. Nora had divorced him and married Dick Haymes. Errol went back to Kansas (I've forgotten exactly where) to meet Pat's family and get married. They had one daughter, Arnella.

Errol slowly shed the Hollywood scene, after marriage to Pat, and went to Europe. But, when he came back to sign for “The Sun Also Rises” at Warners, he saw that across the way “Marjorie Morningstar” was being filmed.

In that picture, was a girl called Beverly Aadland, who had a small dancing role. She caught Errol's eye and 'tis said that, when Errol went to Mexico for “The Sun Also Rises” (he was absolutely marvelous in it), Pat heard that Beverly went along.

When Errol returned to Hollywood recently, for a Red Skelton TV show, Nora invited all his old friends to a party. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend, though I wanted to see Errol. Nora said he was disappointed. Anyway, it seems that at the party, Beverly made a remark Nora resented and the fur flew. Flynn went home, taking Beverly with him. She later returned alone. Nora said the fracas took place in the parking lot and the reporters picked it up and exaggerated the story.

Beverly gave each of Errol's and Nora's children, Deirdre, 14 and Rory, 13, a pair of their father's cuff-links as a memento, and returned to Nora an expensive pencil she had once given Errol, marked “To E.F. from N.F.” Errol's women never forgot him. I believe Pat Wymore still loves him, too.

Deirdre always called her father The Baron. He was devoted to his children, and they loved him, too.

Recently, he was on TV with Bette Davis in an old movie, “Elizabeth and Essex,” and he was so handsome, you could hardly think of him as ever growing old. Olivia de Havilland, Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan and all his other leading ladies, were his friends. So were Greer Garson, Pat O'Brien, Jack Oakie. And I am very proud to say that Errol was my friend, too.

I went to Errol's funeral with his daughters, Deirdre and Rory. As I stood there, with tears in my eyes, I remembered the words he'd written in a recent letter to me: “…I'll wager, Sara me darling, you knew better than anyone. I never gave a damn what was said of me, rightly or wrongly. When I was a somewhat notorious, resentful one 'round town, I figured I deserved all the brickbats that came my way; all the knocks, the lampoons, the festoons, the harpoons; but it was nobody's business—and what the hell could I do about it anyway? 'Better never deny, never protest, never counterattack.'”

And he ended the letter, “Do you think I might become a pillar of society?”

I knew the answer, even as I paid him my last respects. “No, Errol, you couldn't. Because if you had settled down, you wouldn't have been you.” And you, Errol, were something special.

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— David DeWitt


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