Errol Flynn: A Life in Doggerel

10 Mar

<?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.[1]


“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.)[2]


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.



[1] Leonidas called back, “Come and get them!”

[2] In which the letter in question is “hidden” in such an open and predictable place that it escapes detection.

— Kevin McAleer


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  1. Anonymous

    March 10, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    Great work, sir–you're doing the old lad proud!

  2. Anonymous

    March 11, 2009 at 5:51 am

    Excellent, Kevin! Definitely enjoyed reading this bit and learned more about Mr. Flynn!

  3. Anonymous

    March 12, 2009 at 1:12 am

    Thanks, Russ, appreciate it very much – I'll be putting up verses periodically, as the mood strikes me.

  4. Anonymous

    March 12, 2009 at 1:25 am

    Thanks, Robert, I should like to think so. Checked out your bio – you've certainly done a thing or two in your life. But primarily a painter, n'est-ce pas? What do you think of John Decker's portrait of Flynn?

  5. Anonymous

    March 12, 2009 at 2:27 am

    Hello, Kevin
    Primarily a painter, oui.
    As for Decker's portrait: Don't mention it to anyone around here but I've never liked it! It's quite unimpressive and (though no one I know has ever pointed this out) nothing more than a direct copy of an existing photo portrait of Flynn. Our boy obviously never sat for the l'ancien artiste. However, wouldn't mind owning it for collectable reasons. You?!

  6. Anonymous

    March 13, 2009 at 12:22 am

    Well, you may have already guessed – I'm not too terribly thrilled with it. From the very beginning it seemed clumsily done to me. Never cared for the black outlining technique he uses to delineate and presumably underscore Flynn's more salient features – it looks like the makeup man went wild with the eyeliner. For me, Flynn himself was vivid enough, and the last thing he needed was accentuation. From the neck down I like the picture though. Kevin

  7. Anonymous

    April 15, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    “From the neck down”–you're a tough critic!! I only wish I had been around to offer Flynn an alternate portrait. I'd have concentrated on the his depths from the neck up!