Brand Tasmania Newsletter, August, 2011, Issue 119
Hollywood film idol, Errol Flynn, died 52 years ago but the most infamous of Tasmanians continues to be a worthwhile investment for writers and publishers. Dermot McCaul, a State Library of Victoria blogger, recently wrote: “The New Books shelf in Arts continues to amaze and delight; and occasionally perplex and bewilder! A couple of new books about Errol Flynn set me to thinking ...”
The books in question included the not-so-new (2006) The Baron of Mulholland: a daughter remembers: a photo memoir by Rory Flynn; co-edited with William R. Bremer.
McCaul writes: “This slightly older book by Flynn’s daughter Rory, a well-respected photographer, tells a personal and intimate story of life within the Flynn family. She reveals yet another side to this truly complex man, as well as paying tribute to her brother Sean who went missing in Vietnam whilst covering the war as a photojournalist.”
There are many other – real and imagined – aspects to the Flynn persona. No one argues about the fact he was born in 1909, the son of a Hobart academic and was soon displaying a rebellious streak.
The handsome Tasmanian, often sporting a moustache and goatee beard, made his film debut in 1932 in the Australian production In the Wake of the Bounty.
The Hollywood star-makers liked what they saw and Flynn became one of the best-known personalities in 20th century entertainment through action-packed, romantic roles in a succession of hit movies during Hollywood’s golden era in the 1930s and 1940s.
His unrestrained lifestyle made him an intriguing subject for journalists and authors.
The books on Flynn to arrive most recently on library shelves are Errol & Olivia: ego & obsession in golden era Hollywood by Robert Matzen (2010) and Errol Flynn slept here: the Flynns, the Hamblens, Rick Nelson and the most notorious house in Hollywood by Matzen and Michael Mattzone (2009).
“These two large format books [both published by Paladin’s Goodknight Books] are as fascinating to look at as to read. Packed with previously unpublished photographs, they focus on two very distinct aspects of Flynn’s extravagantly lived life in Hollywood,” McCaul writes.
“His on-screen partnership with Olivia de Havilland resulted in a series of truly marvellous films such as Captain Blood, Robin Hood (still the best version in my humble opinion!), The Charge of the Light Brigade and Dodge City, to name just four of the eight. This book explores both their on-screen and off-screen lives.”
The second book focuses on a house that Flynn built for himself on Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles, notoriously designed with secret staircases, sliding panels and two-way mirrors in the guest quarters. After Flynn quit the property, it was owned by a succession of celebrities, including teen-idol singer Ricky Nelson, before being torn down in the late 1980s.
Errol Flynn: Satan’s angel by David Bret (2000) was published by Robson Books and is described by McCaul as “not quite so cosy.” The bibliophile blogger writes: “Sexual predator, anti-Semite, misogynist, etc., etc. Bret goes full tilt at the things many other biographies just hint at, or leave out entirely.”
Flynn’s autobiography, My Wicked, Wicked Ways, had owned up to most of it years ago, anyway.
The State Library of Victoria’s Flynn collection is extensive “Search the catalogue for Errol Flynn and you’ll find even more books investigating his life and films, soundtracks to some of his greatest movies, two of his own novels and even a rather weird photograph from our Picture Collection titled (dubiously, if you ask me) “Producers? with male actor Errol Flynn lookalike!” McCaul writes.
The Hollywood high life in the 1950s slowly degenerated for the once-dashing Tasmanian into chronic alcoholism, extended debauchery, B-grade movies, aborted projects and unsuccessful comebacks.
Hero-worship was replaced by vilification. He was described by one writer as a bisexual drug addict and by another as a Nazi spy. His lifestyle eventually killed him in 1959, when he was 50.
But the legend and the story-telling just won’t go away.
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