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Posts Tagged ‘Adventure’

The Errol of the 18th Century

29 Jan

John Wilkes (1725 to 1797). Born in London to a middle class family, he was a journalist, writer, libertine, poet, adventurer, wit, radical MP, womaniser, duellist, fighter against oppression, and one of the first media celebrities.

Wilkes was also the most successful womaniser we English ever produced (at any rate, he was the most famous). He even managed to pinch Casanova’s favourite mistress, which the Italian moaned about in his memoirs. It must have been very galling as Wilkes wasn’t much to look at, having a crooked jaw and a squint, but as one smitten female put it, ‘he doesn’t squint more than a gentleman should!’

He began life as an adventurer, gaining access to aristocratic society by virtue of his wit and erudition. He soon found a patron in the Earl of Granville, a prominent Whig politician. Granville secured for Wilkes a safe seat and he entered the House of Commons. Wilkes then founded the North Briton, a newspaper which focused its acerbic satire on the incompetent ministry of Lord Bute. Issue No45 caused uproar in its unprecedented attack on the Government and by implication, the King. Wilkes became an instant celebrity in an era that had just embraced newspapers, with shops ‘cashing in’ in the form of figurines, pictures, cockades, pins and even parrots that repeated ’45 & Liberty.’ Wilkes literally caused riots, and people would tear off pieces of his clothes.

John Wilkes, drawn by his enemy William Hogarth

Even the Tory Dr Johnson was eventually won over by his charm and intelligence. Interestingly, he was referring to Wilkes when he famously said, ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.’

Another reason Wilkes became infamous was his Flynning ways. A libertine who had lost his virginity aged 12, he liked to try everything and, in particular, every woman. He was elected a member of a secret society called the Monks of Medmenham, which later became known as the Hell Fire Club.

The men dressed as monks, and prostitutes were hired to dress as nuns. They were ferried by boat, at night, to the grounds of a ruined abbey on the banks of the Thames. Wilkes was known as ‘Brother John of Aylesbury’ and kept the cellar books. The quantities of claret and port consumed were quite extraordinary, even by the standards of the day.

Medmenham Abbey

Wilkes loved to play practical jokes. In fact, it was said of him; ‘Jack Wilkes will sacrifice his best friend for a scurvy jest.’ Remind you of anyone? He once dressed an ape as the Devil, hid it in a chest and then unleashed it on an unsuspecting Lord Sandwich, who was then First Lord of the Admiralty.

After a few years, the ‘brotherhood’ disbanded. According to some, the orgies were relocated to the subterranean caves at West Wycombe Park in Buckinghamshire. West Wycombe, which is one of the first Palladian houses in Britain, belonged to fellow ‘monk,’ Sir Francis Dashwood, who had the grounds laid out to mimic the shape of a woman’s naked body.

Sir Francis Dashwood, painted as a monk

Having been in the caves myself, however, I can say that they are cramped, freezing and very damp! Hardly conducive to nights of passion.

Entrance to the caves at West Wycombe Park

Inside the caves at West Wycombe

West Wycombe House

The house and, above, its private church with a hollow golden ball that could seat six men, and was used for drinking rum punches!

The Temple of Music

Wilkes had married young, to an older, wealthier woman. The marriage was not a success and he left, taking their daughter Polly, who was devoted to him and never married. When Wilkes had to escape to the Continent after the Parliament convicted him of ‘obscene libel’, Polly accompanied him.

After a sojourn in Italy, where Wilkes took up with a 15 year old countess who stole all his money, he returned to England, was imprisoned, re-elected to the House of Commons and went on to become Mayor of London and a supporter of American independence. He also established three vital English liberties; freedom of the press to report the proceedings of Parliament, freedom from arrest without charge, and the right to take your seat in Parliament if you have been democratically elected.

Errol would definitely have approved.

Wilkes died aged 72 at his home in Grosvenor Square and is buried in the Grosvenor Chapel, South Audley Street, London.

Grosvenor Chapel, Mayfair.

— PW

 

Errol, Robin Hood and The Red Earl

28 Jan

When Errol was in Mexico in the 1930s and visited the house of the renowned Marxist artist Diego Rivera, he met his then assistant, a moustachioed Englishman, who introduced himself as Jack Hastings. His full name, however, was Francis John Clarence Westenra Plantagenet Hastings, 16th Earl of Huntingdon, one of the oldest titles in England.

In Britain, Hastings was known as the ‘Red Earl’, for his left-wing politics and rapscallion behaviour. (The ‘Red Earl’ was to become part of my family when my father married his eldest daughter, Moorea.)

In the late 1920s, Jack had scandalised English Society by espousing Marxism, announcing his intention to become a painter and having an illicit affair with Cristina Casati, the young daughter of the notorious Italian Marchesa, Luisa Casati.The Marchesa lived in a Venetian palazzo (now the Guggenheim Museum) with two pet cheetahs and 10 footmen, whom she had painted gold. She was also a legendary style muse, captivating everyone from Diaghilev and Jean Cocteau to Man Ray and Cecil Beaton. She wore live snakes as jewellery and once went to a party dressed as St Sebastian, with metal arrows attached to light bulbs. Unfortunately, she electrocuted herself and had to retire for the evening.
Luisa Casati and cheetah

Luisa Casati with one of her cheetahs

The Marchesa dressed as Saint Sebastian for a party.

Luisa as St Sebastian

The Marchesa Casati, photographed by Man Ray.

The Marchesa Casati, photographed by Man Ray.

Jack soon married Cristina and they ran off to the South Seas and lived for a time on the island of Moorea (after which he named their daughter). Jack painted several canvasses and then went to Mexico to show his work to Diego Rivera, whom he revered as both an artist and a fellow Marxist. Rivera was so impressed he engaged Jack as his assistant and took him on as a pupil.

The Earl of Huntingdon and his wife Cristina Casati.

The Red Earl at work and play, and below left, his wife Cristina

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There he lived for nearly a decade, in between trips to Hollywood, where his notoriety caused him to be much in demand and, as he told my father, he socialised with Douglas Fairbanks, John Barrymore, Ronald Colman, Dietrich, Livvie, whom he attempted to kiss, and – most importantly – a newly famous Errol Flynn. Jack and Errol had something in common apart from being rebels with a taste for young women and living close to the edge.

The family tradition was that the Earls of Huntingdon were directly descended from Robin Hood, a claim supported by English folklore (the title of Earl of Huntingdon has often been associated with Robin Hood). Some of the male Earls have been given the name Robin, and the present Earl of Huntingdon is called William Edward Robin Hood Hastings-Bass.

Robin Hood, Earl of Huntingdon!

When Jack heard that Errol was to play Robin Hood in a film, he jotted down some notes. One was:’It must be made clear that he is the Earl of Huntingdon.’ Another said: ‘Your moustache should be grown thicker, like mine,’! He was rather annoyed when both these directives were ignored.

The Red Earl's Moustache

The Red Earl’s Moustache

Errol's Robin Hood Moustache

Errol’s Robin Hood Moustache

Jack could be volatile. He was so wedded to the idea that he was a descendent of Robin Hood that when one man had the temerity to question the outlaw’s historical existence, Jack threw him down the stairs.
His marriage to Cristina failed, partly due to her being equally hot tempered. Though she claimed to be a Communist, she once hit her maid so hard she broke her arm. After they divorced, Jack married the novelist Margaret Lane.

Jack Hastings was a man of unique talent as an artist who has now become known as ‘The English Diego Rivera.’ He painted a mural for my father called ‘The Snake in Eden,’ which he had hung in our dining room in Italy over the objections of some, who found it a trifle explicit. His murals are now considered lost masterpieces as very few exist. There is one in the Marx Memorial Library in London and two in the US. I would be fascinated if anyone knew the whereabouts of other murals. In the meantime, there is a wonderful biography of Jack, called ‘The Red Earl’, by Selina Hastings, his other daughter. I recommend it strongly, as he and the Flynnster were definitely fellow travellers!

One of Jack's political murals

One of Jack’s political murals

My father with Moorea and my brother, Pericles.

My father with Moorea and my brother, Pericles.

 

— PW

 
 

A Kitty Packard Pictorial of Errol Flynn

16 Jun

Hello Flynn Fans!
I thought I post this link as it is a very nice write-up about Errol.
kittypackard.com…
Enjoy!

— Tina

 
 

Errol and Olivia on the cover of “American Cinematographer” Magazine – June, 1938

29 Nov

This is the June, 1938 cover of the “American Cinematographer” Magazine with Errol and Olivia in their costumes from “the Adventures of Robin Hood”.

— Mary Ann

 
 
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