Stepehn Youngkin on Os Morris…

23 May

Stpehen Youngkin sent this to me… fascinating, as SPOCK might say! Stephen writes:

Amongst the many people I interviewed for my biography of Peter Lorre was cinematographer Oswald “Os” Morris, whose screen credits include: Beat the Devil; Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison; Lolita; The Spy Who Came in from the Cold; The Taming of the Shrew; The Man Who Would Be King; Equus, etc.  Os was an interviewer’s dream.  He was affable, unassuming, hospitable and rolled out anecdotes with a storyteller’s gift for narrative and a historian’s eye for accuracy.  In other words, I just sat back and listened. 


Sensing my interest in his colorful tales about John Huston (they worked on eight films together), he said that he one day hoped to include them in an autobiography.  That was 1988.  Having recently seen Os on a documentary about Huston, I thought to look and see if he ever did pen that book.  Long story short, it came out last year: 


Huston, We Have A Problem: A Kaleidoscope of Filmmaking Memories (Scarecrow Press, 2006). 


One of the films Morris shot was The Roots of Heaven with Errol Flynn, who, said Morris, had trouble remembering his dialogue, sweated and drank heavily.  Nothing new there.  However, what did catch my attention was mention of a Flynn film that was new to me (and may be to other members):


“My last film [as clapper boy] at Elstree was the Karl Grune-directed Abdul the Damned [1935], hokum about an operetta star (Adrienne Ames) assailed by a villainous Turkish sultan (Fritz Kortner).  In the cast as a palace guard was a handsome lad called Errol Flynn.  He was immediately talent spotted.  Irving Asher, head of production at Warner Bros. studios at Teddington, Middlesex, tested him, the result was sent to Burbank, and Errol was given a six-month contract.”  p. 8.






Pictures curtesy of Karl Holmberg

— David DeWitt


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  1. Anonymous

    May 23, 2009 at 3:18 am

    Perhaps Morris was confusing Flynn for Patric Knowles, who WAS in the film. Also, the late date of the film's production would seem to preclude the likelihood of Flynn being cast as a mere palace guard, since by that time in Britain he had already been given a lead role in “Murder At Monte Carlo”, and only temporarily resumed bit parts upon arriving in the Hollywood in early 1935. Hope this sounds reasonable, Stephen.

  2. Anonymous

    May 23, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    You make a very strong case, Robert, when you site Murder at Monte Carlo whose (UK) release date was January, 1934 and the timing of Flynn's next, the Case of the Curious Bride whose (USA) release date was mid-April 1935.
    Flynn was under the contractual employ of WB by late November 1934 (saw a WB letter to this effect on Ebay). As to WHEN he “arrived” in the USA- newspaper accounts begin somewhere around 11/21/34 or a bit after.
    So what about a possible EF connection to Abdul the Damned? I could find nothing about WHEN the film was begun (perhaps someone has a Pressburger and Powell reference and could check as Emeric (Pressburger) was a uncredited writer). I did find out that before the film was begun, “a B.I.P unit filmed exteriors in Turkey for use as “atmosphere” and in back projection shots”. The rest of the film was made at Elstree.
    However, the earliest listed release was in August 1935 in France.
    Therefore, it is a rather hard case to make that Flynn was in this film unless … this film took a considerable amount of TIME to be shot.
    Now, Patrick Knowles was a part of the MAIN cast listing- he had something of a ROLE in other words. Mr. Morris is claiming Flynn was a guard and a part of the background.
    Time and common sense are on Robert's side … but, then I Adore You wasn't one of his credits at one point either.
    Need more data (to be sure).
    Best- Karl

  3. Anonymous

    May 23, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    I find this fascinating without being surprised by it. Every few years previously undiscovered information comes to light, and quite often it has a basis in reality. While I agree that Flynn most likely isn't in the film, I wouldn't dismiss it either. Anything is possible. Further research will determine the accuracy of Morris' statement. The key word being research. At this point, future Flynn biographers will be fortunate to have such leads to track down and Mr. Youngkin has provided an immeasurable service by agreeing to share that tidbit.
    best always, Tom

  4. Anonymous

    May 23, 2009 at 7:15 pm

    Thanks for the note, Karl. Btw, I've been putting together a day-to-day Flynn chronology for some time now and the passenger manifest for the liner, Paris, has it arriving in New York on the 20th of November, 1934. And yet, who knows??!!

  5. Anonymous

    May 26, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    Ahoy Tom (and Robert)!
    Some further info on this most elusive of subjects.
    I believe it was through Thames Productions (for the “Hollywood” series) that Irving Asher was interviewed (1978), and that a portion of this interview wound up in Portrait of a Swashbuckler? (There is no credit in the Swashbuckler doco otherwise). In the excerpt contained in the doco, Asher speaks ONLY of Murder at Monte Carlo and no other mentions of UK based films and Flynn.
    As TCM recently summarized the current understanding of things:
    Flynn himself had gotten his first real start at Teddington Studios appearing in an uncredited bit in I Adore You (1933) followed by the lead in Murder at Monte Carlo (1934). After that producer Irving Asher recommended Flynn to Jack Warner who brought him to the U.S. for his first U.S. film, The Case of the Curious Bride (1935). Asher was also responsible for Knowles and Ian Hunter being signed by Warner Bros. Ironically, all three actors – Flynn, Knowles and Hunter – ended up together in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).
    So, upon further checking of the other scant sources on the subject, we have, from Gerry Connelly's book Errol Flynn in Northampton (1998):
    “Irving Asher had a vacancy for a male lead, but shooting began in three days. No time for a screen test so he did something else.
    Flynn was appearing as a film extra in the British International Pictures Production of Mimi, starring Gertrude Lawrence and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Asher contacted Fairbanks and asked him to check Flynn out, and tell Asher what he thought. (Connelly said he had seen Mimi and could not spot Flynn).” On receiving a favorable appraisal from Fairbanks … decided … to cast Flynn.”
    I do not know where Connelly gets his info concerning his Asher story (as I did not spot a citation, but assume, again, the same Thames interview) … yet, when Fairbanks Jr. had the chance to tell a story, and he was mentally VERY SHARP at this point, he omits this shared film connection, and instead remembers (from Salad Days, 1988):
    “I sought out my old Hollywood friend Irving Asher … He was producing Warner Brothers budget quota films and was their overseas representative as well … we toured his small studio at Teddington on the Thames. While going around, he introduced me to a very handsome personable young Australian whom he’d seen in a provincial rep company and whom he had tested and cast in bit parts (note: Asher produced I Adore You and Murder at Monte Carlo). I was asked to see his latest test. I liked it very much and said so … Irving, encouraged, promptly recommended him to Jack Warner …”
    So, tis still … “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”.
    BUT- as Connelly further relates of the Asher story: “Flynn, around this time (of September/October 1934) placed an advertisement in Spotlight stating he was now available for work …” and “Flynn just turned up one day, got past Asher's secretary and told him he wanted to be a star”.
    So, given this “Rampant Male”-like aggressiveness when it came to pursuit of a film career, it would not be entirely surprising that he might show up for a one or two day shoot as an “extra” (if given the chance)- even one with a most inauspicious of titles like Abdul the Damned.
    To be continued (maybe) …

  6. Anonymous

    May 26, 2009 at 11:33 pm

    Karl, see page 28 of The Green Book. Fairbanks told me both in a personal letter and in an interview that he recommended Flynn to Irving Asher.

  7. Anonymous

    May 27, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    Ahoy again Tom-
    You took me “aback” with your citing of the “Green Book”- as first thought for me was Fairbanks' Salad Days and your alluding to some other reference I had missed! I then realized that you were talking about YOUR book … never thought of it in that way before, and by god- 'TIS.
    I must apologize for the obscureness, on my part, that led to such a bit of confusion … in my comment that “he (Fairbanks) omits this shared film connection”, I was referring to their (alleged) appearance together in the film Mimi.
    It is funny, btw, how everyone thinks they are “pivotal”, or are “the pivotal one”, in someone else's career. (Fairbanks also spoke about Greer Garson in this way, as I recall).
    It is also interesting that there are so many variations on this story having to do with the discovery of Flynn. In the Asher interview (in Portrait of a Swashbuckler), Asher, in fact, credits Hal Wallis with acting on his (Asher's) recommendation; not Warner.
    As the old saying goes … success has many fathers but failure is an orphan.
    Best- Karl

  8. Anonymous

    May 28, 2009 at 12:53 am

    It is indeed fascinating. Fairbanks was never shy about taking credit for his part in “discovering” Flynn. From my viewpoint I have no problem acknowledging that Asher and Fairbanks discovered Flynn. No matter if it was Hal Wallis or Jack Warner who later agreed with their recommendation, it was Asher and Fairbanks who set things in motion. Now, about that film appearance….since you have a DVD possibly you can screen it frame by frame?

  9. Anonymous

    May 28, 2009 at 11:30 am

    Alas, I do not have the DVD … someone else, in fact put some selected frames out there on the internet- I just borrowed a couple. It was, indeed, fortuitous that they happened to catch a line up of palace guards along the way which fit in nicely with another's reminiscence of a scene.

  10. Anonymous

    June 6, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    The Profile of that 1st Guard in the lower lefthand side sure looks like a lean and hungry Errol to me. Michael.

  11. Anonymous

    May 13, 2011 at 4:24 am

    Today's research at the WB Archives seems to have settled the score on this mystery. Here is part of a letter Irving Asher wrote to Jack Warner in the fall of 1934:
    “The picture I cabled you that I could have rented him (Flynn) for was a B.I.P. picture ‘Abdul Hamid’, which is being made on a big scale, and they wanted him to play the part which was originally intended Charles Farrell would play. The reason I cabled you is they offered me £ 125. a week, [approximately $625], on a five-week guarantee – and as we pay him $75. a week I though it was pretty good profit.”
    The rest of the letter is pretty juicy also, but you'll have to wait for it!

  12. Anonymous

    May 13, 2011 at 8:32 am

    Comments… hm, had to go through all the previous posts first to understand what it was all about… but it sounds as if Flynn was having a bigger role in it than just the one of a guard??

  13. Anonymous

    May 14, 2011 at 3:20 am

    Hi Robert;
    This is the most fascinating news! I bet my life on it that that the soldier in the line up was Errol and now I can live longer – you saved my live – it is him! Wow!
    Do you have this letter and are you able to publish it here?
    I am also sure in my bones that Errol knew Patrick Knowles in England and with your proof that Errol was in ABDUL it is certain that they knew each other before Hollywood as Patrick was in ABDUL too. I have the movie!
    I am sure every single member of this blog envies your position to be able to make yourself avail of the Warner records. I would say you must have a lot up your sleeve and we are waiting with anticipation.
    Take care,

  14. Anonymous

    May 14, 2011 at 3:21 am

    Hi Inga;
    Sorry, but he was just the guard!
    Patrick Knowles had a very small speaking role, but Errol was just an extra! I have the movie!
    Take care,

  15. Anonymous

    May 14, 2011 at 5:02 am

    Er….I think you need to read it again, Tina. It says: “The picture I cabled you that I could have rented him (Flynn) for….”.
    Sorry to burst your balloon.

  16. Anonymous

    May 14, 2011 at 5:53 am

    Tina, if you have the movie, you could try to make larger screen captures and post them here. I told you how, maybe you can try.

  17. Anonymous

    May 14, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    Hi Robert;
    Only bad boys burst little girls balloons! Errol might have burst little girls balloons at one time or another too, so I have to forgive you!
    Balloons or no balloons, but now you have me really confused!?
    You must have been a Spartan in one your former lives!
    Maybe you could be so kind and explain it with a few more words?
    Maybe the dust of my kitchen renovation has clouded my brain!
    Take care,

  18. Anonymous

    May 14, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    Hi Inga;
    I have the Abdul DVD and you say one can make pictures of it, that would be great, but I would need to have the instructions again if you be so kind. It must have been at the time when I was more in hospital than at home. Sorry I am a bad pupil! Slap-slap!
    I hope your stress time is soon over too!
    Take care,

  19. Anonymous

    May 14, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    My dear pupil, it's always the teacher's task to slap the pupil. So don't you ever do this again. I will contact you later in the evening and hope I will remember this particular point. I also hope that my stress level will be back to normal soon…

  20. Anonymous

    May 14, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    Irving Asher is informing Jack Warner in his letter that he (Irving) “could have” loaned Errol out for “Abdul”, but we are to infer by this that he didn't. He goes on to say in the letter how much he could have profited from the deal. The complete letter will be in the Chronology.
    I hope this clarifies.

  21. Anonymous

    May 14, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    Hi Robert;
    Thank you so much!
    AND I thought we found Errol in Abdul, so this proofs that Errol was NOT in Abdul. Yet it sure looks like Errol, I thought he was an EXTRA in this movie, as it is said that he worked at the beginning as an extra at Warner's.
    My poor balloon is all bust to pieces – what a pity!
    Thank you Robert for having the patience with me.
    Take care,

  22. Anonymous

    May 14, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    You're very welcome, Tina. And no need for patience–I take my job here very seriously!

  23. Anonymous

    May 14, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Hi Robert;
    I know you take your job here very seriously and we are all grateful for being so diligent and wonderful!
    I just don't want to go on your nerves with my this time dusty brain!
    Thanks – Tina