A letter

22 Apr

This letter is a real find . A lovely lady named Veronica has just been going through her Grandmothers things after her death, Now she knew she had known Errol. This letter has been translated from German .

Errol Flynn

One morning as Irmhild was flicking through the Hollywood gossip columns she read that one of Warner Bros. up and coming stars, Errol Flynn, had spent time in New Guinea. Ekke became quite excited. He had known Flynn well and had even referred to him indirectly in his book. Flynn came from a good family, his father being a professor of marine biology, but he had been unsettled by moves between Australia and England, the long absences of his parents, his mother’s lack of pedagogical skill, and his own unruly temperament. After expulsion from his Sydney boarding school for womanizing, brawling and refusing to take an interest in his studies, he had lived a wild life on the streets before sailing for New Guinea. There he had started off as a probationary patrol officer, had then pretended to manage a plantation for a while, had bought a share in a schooner and attempted to make a living by ferrying goods and passengers, and then headed for the gold fields of Edie Creek. Unsuccessful there, he had done some illegal bird of paradise shooting, decided to try for gold once more when he won half a lease in a raffle, had recruited the necessary native labour by a fraudulent trick though, according to his unreliable biography , in a slightly different way from Ekke’s ‘Johnny the Recruiter’, and had once more headed for the gold-fields where Ekke had last run into him when he passed through Edie Creek on his prospecting expedition. Later Flynn had started a tobacco farm in the Moresby district. Like Ekke, Flynn was an avid reader of world literature and two years after meeting up with Ekke in Hollywood, Flynn also published a novel, Beam Ends, based on his adventures in the region, in his case a dangerous trip by yacht from Sydney to Moresby. According to Ekke, it was Flynn’s dog that inspired the dog fight in Ekke’s book. He had apparently first met Flynn sitting alone at a bar waiting for a certain man to make good his threat to kill him, apparently because Flynn’s dog had seriously injured the other’s dog in a fight. Ekke and Errol obviously had many experiences in common, plantation work, trading with a schooner, recruiting and gold prospecting, and they seem to have enjoyed each other’s company. While Ekke had generally attempted to behave in a responsible and ethical way, Flynn remained unrepentant about what he termed My Wicked Wicked Ways in the title of his biography. After World War II, Flynn was suspected of having been involved with ‘pro-German activities’ as a result of his friendship with a confessed Nazi spy, Dr Hermann Erben, but nothing was ever proved and his selfish and impulsive nature made this highly unlikely.

When Irmhild discovered the reference to Errol Flynn in the newspaper, Ekke wrote him a letter in Pidgin English. After a while Flynn rang, invited him to the studio where he was working and introduced him to actors and directors. He then took him home to meet his wife, Lili Damita. Lili had been a well-known actress in silent films, was once engaged to the Prussian Prince Louis Ferdinand, grandson of Emperor William II, then to a British millionaire whom she abandoned for Errol. To Irmhild’s amusement, it turned out that this millionaire had later married one of her former school mates. Lili did not put in an appearance on that first occasion because she feared coming face to face with her husband’s disreputable past. But when Errol invited both Ekke and Irmhild, she eventually mustered the courage to take a peek at them and from then on they were frequently invited and became very good friends. Irmhild writes of their first visit:
Lili was in bed resting. The house was built in the most beautiful position imaginable, up in the mountains with a view over the entire city right to the sea. They have a veritable zoo, three dogs and innumerable cages full of birds. We sat on the veranda with the wonderful view in front of us. Flynn is a typical Englishman, of the best sort and not in the least conceited or affected. He is really amazingly good looking, very masculine and of a type that hasn’t been seen in Hollywood films yet. Lili hadn’t turned up, she had a headache. She also imagined Ekke to be something frightful, a cross between a kanaka and a bandit and didn’t want to meet him; she hated everything that had anything to do with New Guinea. At length when we were about to leave he managed to coax her down. She is small and delicate and has a delightful figure. Her face is pretty but it is hard to know what is hidden under the heavy makeup. Her manner was nice, perhaps a little mercurial and nervous. She invited us to stay for dinner which she announced would be very poor and modest whereas it was excellent, superbly cooked. She herself is Hungarian and has a fat Hungarian cook who definitely knows what she is doing. We sat by candlelight and afterwards a battery of select liqueurs was brought in. We stayed on the veranda till eleven and even out there it was still warm. Next week the Flynns are going to visit us, look at photos of New Guinea and then we’ll go to a nightclub. I am also to play tennis and go swimming with Lili in her exclusive club…. We will have to wait and see what will come of all this. I would like to keep in contact with them. After his time in New Guinea, Flynn worked on the stage in London for three years and was discovered by an agent from Warner Bros. He was brought out here and paid $150 weekly which is apparently a ridiculously low wage. He didn’t get a part because he thought he could manage himself. When he took a manager who gave him some publicity people remembered him very quickly and the various companies began to compete for him. Now he is earning $800 a week and as soon as the film on which he is presently working is completed he will receive twice the amount, that is $6400 a month. On 5 August the production of this film will begin and it is expected to be a great hit. Flynn promised that we could come out and watch the filming, something I have always wanted to do, and have lunch afterwards.
A week or so later Ekke and Irmhild were on the set, watching the production of Captain Blood. Irmhild described the filming in great detail in her letters home. Ekke, in particular, spent quite a bit of time in the studio in the hope of learning more about the craft and making useful contacts. They also watched Lili acting in her film. Through the Flynns they met some of the crazier Hollywood hangers-on; among other things they were invited to a ‘divorce party’. They also witnessed one of Lili’s fits of jealousy when she threw a shoe at Errol because she thought he was flirting with Irmhild. Errol caught it without even looking; he was apparently used to the tactic. Flynn gave Ekke an introduction to the manager of the biggest agency in Hollywood, Al Kauffmann of Joyce Selznik, which was by far the most useful he received. He was there taken on by a Danish lady, Mrs von Koczian. Agnes happened to know her ex-husband as a rakish Austrian, a former officer, and a great lady’s man.

Another well-known identity Ekke and Irmhild met through Hollywood circles was the brother of Sven Hedin, the famous Swedish explorer of Tibet and the Chinese Silk Road, who had just completed a planning mission for the Chinese Government. Towards the very end of their stay in Los Angeles they also visited the German mountaineer, actor and director Louis Trencker on set in St Juan Capistrano where he was filming Der Kaiser von Californien (The Emperor of California),.

— tassie devil


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  1. Maria

    April 22, 2015 at 12:19 pm

    WOW! Thanks for posting this. I enjoy this type of information – a window opening on another facet of Errol and Lili’s life. Great find!

  2. Gentleman Tim

    April 22, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    FANTASTISCH, tassie devil! Thank you. I particularly love the info concerning Ekke & Irmhild’s interactions with Lili, and their insights regardng her.

    Do you know if this letter is connected to Ekkehard and Irmhild Beinssen by any chance?

    This Kaisier von Kalifornien connection would put this circa ’36, I believe.


  3. timerider

    April 22, 2015 at 4:18 pm

    ” she herself was Hungarian”??? Oh well…. thank you very much for this peek into the past. Errol’s home reminds me so much of my cousin Ron Young’s home in Florida with even more dogs wandering around with birds, fish and whatever creature may be, LOL.
    Thanks again Tassie…..

  4. daringthorpe

    April 22, 2015 at 7:44 pm

    I really enjoyed this post, thank you so much for posting. I really got a sense of what the relationship between Lilli and Errol was like. She seems to have not wanted to share Errol with anyone and he, I think walked on eggshells around her.He seems to be more sociable than her.
    Just my thoughts about it, Thanks again. PURE GOLD.

  5. zacal

    April 22, 2015 at 11:30 pm

    This was very insightful, thank you. I really enjoyed hearing about Flynn’s personal time away from the legendary stories. Especially during the period of “Captain Blood” and Lili.

  6. tassie devil

    April 23, 2015 at 7:06 am

    Tim yes this is a letter written by Ekkehard and Irmhild Beinssen . There Granddaughter is Veronika she lives in Hobart and we are going to have morning tea with her on Wednesday next. How in the world did you know this . Genene and Veronika.

    • Gentleman Tim

      April 24, 2015 at 10:16 am

      So cool you’re having tea with Veronica! Her grandparents were really special people, that lived through astonishing times and events. I only “know them” through internet research prompted by your great post, Genene.

  7. David DeWitt

    April 23, 2015 at 8:18 pm

    What a great find! Lili spoke five languages, maybe one of the was Hungarian!

    • Gentleman Tim

      April 24, 2015 at 10:56 am

      Just read that Lili – polyglot that she was – spoke French, English, Spanish, Portugese and German fluently, as well “some” Hungarian and Italian. I’ve diligently searched high and low for clues in photos of her from her very early days in Europe but have not found evidence of any Hungariansism. Nevertheless, it was a very rewarding research project and learning experience.


      • Gentleman Tim

        April 25, 2015 at 4:48 am

        What? No comments yet on the loveliness of young Lili? Is not this powerully clear and convincing evidence of what lured young Errol Flynn to the luscious and exciting Madamoiselle Lili Damita?

        • David DeWitt

          April 25, 2015 at 2:04 pm

          Looks like a wardrobe malfunction! Charming young lady …

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