High Times Greats: Errol Flynn

Hollywood’s highest adventurer.
High Times Greats: Errol Flynn
Wikimedia Commons

From the December, 1979 issue of High Times comes Harry Wasserman’s story about the legendary actor Errol Flynn (1909-1959). On the occasion of Flynn’s birthday June 20, we’re republishing it below.

On screen he was Captain Blood, Robin Hood, the Sea Hawk and Don Juan. His name changed through 45 Hollywood films, but Errol Flynn always portrayed the amorous adventurer: pirate, smuggler, revolutionary, expert swordsman, reckless lover. Offscreen Flynn assumed roles that were no less flamboyant. He was a swashbuckler in the wilds of New Guinea, a slave trader, a sailor across the seven seas, a war correspondent. He smoked his first opium in Macao, took his first sweet puff of marijuana in Mexico, and was known for applying cocaine to the tip of his cock to keep it numb and erect so he could pump away at a never-ending line of sultry Hollywood starlets. This insatiable hedonism earned Flynn two charges of statutory rape, a morphine habit and an international reputation as both a hero and a debauchee.

Flynn was born on June 20, 1909, in Hobart, capital of the Australian state of Tasmania, to two Australians, famed marine biologist Prof. Theodore Thomson Flynn and Lily Mary Young, daughter of a sea captain.

While his mother and father were both rumored to be enjoying clandestine sexual dalliances, Errol was “asked to leave” Hobart High for his prankstering, then was expelled from Sydney Church of England Grammar School after only a few months for getting caught screwing a laundress’s daughter in a coal pile.

In October 1927, Flynn traveled to New Guinea inspired by rumors of a gold rush. He ended up going from job to job there as a worker on copra plantations until he was hired onto a schooner by Dr. Herman F. Erben for a trip up the dangerous Sepik River to film headhunters. He returned from the trip with tales of poisoned darts, crocodiles and jungle waters strewn with floating human corpses.

It was in New Guinea that Flynn first encountered communism. Starved for reading matter, he had the Sydney library send him some books including selections by Karl Marx. Flynn was so impressed with what he read that he became a “revolutionist,” believing that the distribution of money could be improved upon. Flynn saw Marxism as the only answer to the world’s troubles. From his vantage point in paleolithic New Guinea, the world seemed so backward and in need of some kind of ethic. Marx, it seemed, had the answer. But when Flynn reread Marx years later, he called him “the dullest son-of-a-bitch you can ‘opiate’ yourself with.”

Flynn made several trips between New Guinea and Sydney after buying the ten-ton, 44-foot, cutter-rigged yacht Sirocco. His first voyage on his new yacht was supposed to take six weeks but lasted seven months, including week-long stops at various ports for boozing and carousing. He then bought a five-acre tobacco plantation near Rouna Falls on the Laloki River not far from Port Moresby. (To promote his new enterprise he traveled to Sydney with eight wildly garbed Papuan natives.) But high tariffs prevented Flynn from selling his tobacco in Australia, so he shipped it off to England and went to start anew in Sydney in 1932.

It was while sunbathing on the beach in Sydney that Flynn was spotted by John Warwick, a casting director for Cine-sound Studios. Impressed with Flynn’s physique, Warwick suggested Flynn to Australian filmmaker Charles Chauvel for the role of Fletcher Christian in Chauvel’s production of the first movie version of Mutiny on the Bounty, called In the Wake of the Bounty. Chauvel reportedly was worried about Flynn’s acting ability, but Flynn said he would try anything once, and showed himself to be a natural actor with great charm and charisma. Chauvel and Flynn worked on the film in 1932 on location in Tahiti and Pitcairn Island.

Flynn made little money from the film, however. Shortly afterward, while stealing cheese, ham and bread from Sydney’s Usher Hotel, he met Madge Parks, statuesque, auburn-haired, married, rich, charming, sophisticated and almost twice his age. Her sexual demands taxed even the wanton Flynn, who awoke from her bedside one night, stole her jewels from the dressing table, hid them in the hollow handle of his shaving stick, and left by moonlight for the desolate section of Australia’s northern coast, where he got a job shearing at a sheep station. On the assembly line Errol had to “dag the hogget,” a process he explained in his autobiography: sticking his face into a gruesome mess and biting off a young sheep’s testicles. The sheep rancher had two pretty daughters, and Errol was soon forced to leave his job and run from the barrel of a shotgun for screwing the rancher’s elder offspring.

After making a fortune in Manila through cockfights in which his rooster had an edge because his beak was dipped in poisonous snake venom, Flynn squandered his funds in Macao (“the cesspool of the Far East”) by playing fan-tan at the casinos and by bankrolling a Chinese-Irish woman named Ting Ling O’Connor. It was Ting Ling who introduced Flynn to the wonders of opium.

As Flynn described it, Ting Ling ushered him into an opium den in which smokers were on the floor, leaning up on their elbows, their heads resting on wooden pillows. The man in charge scraped the pulp interior out of an orange half, carved four holes in it, stuck in a flame, inserted a black pellet of the finest opium until it bubbled, then stuck the pellet on the end of a long thin pipe called an umchuck. Ting Ling inhaled deeply, held the smoke a long time in her lungs, then exhaled and handed the pipe to Flynn, who grabbed the instrument and drew on it. Flynn recalled that the taste was unlike any tobacco that he ever had, but not unpleasant—it didn’t burn the throat in any way. He experienced no feeling except wanting to open the window. Another umchuck was prepared for him, he took another long draw, then had his first opium experience. His life came before him, his body came out of his body and over his head, held by invisible strands—ethereal, motionless, relaxed, amused by the whole facade and procession of his life. He took Ting Ling to another room and made love to her in ways he never thought himself capable of.

In the spring of 1933 Flynn journeyed to London to become an actor. At the Northampton Repertory Company he played nearly everything from old maids to burglars. Then, as “the worst Othello in the history of the English stage” he lost the knife for his suicide scene during one performance and improvised by dying of a heart attack instead. He was soon spotted by Irving Asher, head of Warner Brothers in England, and was signed for the British production of Murder at Monte Carlo, in which he played a sleuthing reporter.

Flynn enjoyed sex with innumerable women in his lifetime, but the most exotic wenches of the South Seas and the most glamorous beauties in Hollywood were mundane compared to what he found lurking in New York upon his arrival in the States with a Hollywood contract from Warners clenched in his fist. His first weird experience was with Princess Tiarovitch of Russia, whom he met aboard the ship to America and with whom he later rendezvoused in her hotel room at the St. Moritz. After a couple of bottles of champagne, in the middle of a fierce clinch in her bed, he suddenly leaped up with a yell and clutched his buttocks. He felt as though he had been bitten by ten scorpions. There was blood on his hands and the princess had a strange gloating in her eyes, a truly savage look. She was holding a hairbrush with a long handle and very prickly, hard hairs. Flynn got dressed in a hurry. It was his first experience with sadism.

Soon afterward, at a Harlem dance hall, he found his hand on a beautiful thigh, and moved it higher, then higher, until he discovered he was holding a man’s cock in his hand, whereupon he dumped the drag queen, left some cash on the table and beat a hasty retreat.

Flynn’s first film experience in Hollywood was The Case of the Curious Bride, a Perry Mason whodunit, in which Flynn played a corpse. After seeing him in a brief role as a society playboy in Don’t Bet on Blondes, Jack Warner took a gamble and gave him the lead role in Captain Blood. In this screen epic Flynn played a doctor turned sea pirate, acting opposite Olivia de Havilland and Basil Rathbone. After Blood’s success, Flynn followed with a series of swashbucklers, including The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), The Sea Hawk (1940) and The Adventures of Don Juan (1949), all directed by Michael Curtiz.

When he first arrived in Hollywood Flynn lived with David Niven in Santa Monica, in a bungalow they called Cirrhosis-by-the-Sea (one of two guest cottages on the grounds of Ocean House, a beach-side palace built for Marion Davies by her lover, William Randolph Hearst). Niven has related in his own autobiography that while there, Flynn smoked and chewed pot, or “kif,” as Flynn called it.

Flynn’s first toke of marijuana, however, was in Mexico while on vacation with his new girl friend, actress Lili Damita, and Dolores Del Rio at the home of Mexican revolutionary artist Diego Rivera. Flynn was given a drink made by Rivera. Then, while caressing his potted plants, Rivera took out a pack of French Zig-Zag rolling papers, rolled a joint and told Flynn that after smoking it he would see a painting and hear it as well. Flynn smoked the joint, ate some pot, then suddenly started to sweat. His extremities went numb, and he felt paralyzed, yet capable of motion, as though he were suspended in time. And then, just as Rivera had promised, the pictures started singing simple Mexican themes: a woman on her mule moving through a field of cacti, the peasants at work, in rhythm—synesthetically perceiving the nonverbal harmony of illumination and color and sound.

In 1943, after reading Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, Flynn decided he must experiment by writing under the influence of opium.

He asked a friend if he could get him some, and the pal responded, “My plane carries a lot of that junk.’’ Soon, according to Flynn, “he came up with enough to dope half a studio.” Flynn started shooting up opium every day in the form of morphine, then writing while high on the stuff. His roommate at the time, Freddie McEvoy, noticed Flynn’s complexion was becoming paler, found the hypo and the morphine, and burned them in the fireplace. When Flynn discovered this he hit McEvoy smack on the nose. But Freddie convinced Flynn to go cold turkey, and Flynn claimed that from then on he took a narcotic occasionally, but only on a doctor’s advice, administration or prescription, although close friends claimed otherwise.

Flynn’s experimentation with opiates had led him to the conclusion that they diminish the male sexual impulse but stimulate the female. Flynn, speaking from his long experience, challenged any medical sources to refute this. He had had more experience with narcotics and females than most doctors, and it was his opinion that if medicine knew more about the effect of opiates on females, they would probably do more with narcotics in the menopausal stages of a woman’s life. It was a position guaranteed to raise howls of protest from the AMA, and to make his traditional female audience swoon.

Flynn also prided himself on testing every aphrodisiac from India to Mexico. He tried cantharis, or Spanish fly; a little cocaine on the end of his penis; a certain root found in Ciudad Trujillo, Santo Domingo, which is supposed to excite the male and female when it is drunk. His conclusion: There is only one aphrodisiac —the woman you love.

When Flynn’s friend, Dr. Gerrit Koets, arrived in Hollywood with 1,200 monkeys (which he would sell to the Rockefeller Institute for experiments on the common cold for a dollar-a-head profit), Flynn asked Koets to help him escape from the boredom of Hollywood and the demands of his wife Lili Damita. Koets suggested “there’s a hell of a good war going on in Spain—a civil one, the best kind.”

Flynn agreed it would be fun, so he got his friend William Randolph Hearst to assign him to cover the war as a foreign correspondent. Flynn and Koets hopped a Cunard liner to Paris, where, upon arrival at the Plaza Athenee Hotel, Flynn discovered that his wife Lili and her mother had quarters at the same hotel. After a futile attempt at reconciliation, Flynn and Koets finally made it to Spain.

The Loyalists assigned them a car and a driver, who drove the two buddies through Barcelona. Flynn’s mood was morbid. He had the feeling that he had come to die and it might not matter. He felt unreal, tired, beat up by life with Lili, overworked at the studio—inwardly ready for the bullet he had come to Spain to get.

Flynn had a good grasp of the realities of the war itself. Spain was being used as a testing ground for weapons that would later be employed in World War II. Hitler and Mussolini helped Franco. The Soviet Union helped the Loyalists. America was playing it neutral.

In the human sense Flynn was for everybody. He knew there were idealists, fanatics, nuts on the Loyalist side, and that the big money was sentimental to the Franco cause, or outrightly sympathetic. As to his own sympathies, he decided that since the split was a revolution by Franco against the legally elected Republican government, he leaned toward the Left, where there might be a little more idealism and humanity.

While on the road from Barcelona to Madrid to meet “a top-brass Loyalist,” a man in the front car of the motorcade was killed instantly by a bomb as he offered Flynn a candy bar. Shaken, Flynn and Koets arrived at the Gran Via Hotel. They were awakened the next morning when the building across the street was blown to bits by exploding shells. Flynn and Koets ran down to the lobby, where a calm, unruffled clerk explained, “That’s the Germans. They always shell at nine o’clock.”

While walking through the streets one day, Flynn was cursing the Loyalists, who, although he agreed with their cause, had angered him by shooting a priest. Suddenly he and Koets were accosted by a young woman partisan yelling “Salvo conducto!” Koets tapped her on the chin paternally, and she reached into her dress between her breasts, pulled out a pistol and stuck it in Koets’s stomach. He stepped back, producing the identification papers she demanded, then tried to tenderly brush his hand on her cheek, thinking that she would respond to a gesture of romance. Instead, she fired her gun, sending a bullet through Koets’s shirt and grazing his skin. She started to back away, stumbled on some debris behind her, and Koets grabbed the gun from her hand. Then a shell exploded and a balcony fell on Flynn, knocking him unconscious. Headlines in the United States screamed “ERROL FLYNN KILLED IN SPAIN,” but he only languished in a Loyalist hospital where Koets took care of him.

When finally given a machine gun by a commissar who told him to get in there and earn his right to be a Loyalist supporter, and to hell with that foreign-correspondent stuff, Flynn realized he didn’t want to kill anyone. He had handled weapons galore in pictures, but it didn’t bridge the gap between the make-believe of films and the reality of Spain.

Flynn was finally confronted by his chauffeur, Pepe, as to when he would give the partisans the million dollars he had collected from other sympathetic Hollywood stars. Astonished, Flynn said there was no such money; he later found out that Koets had spread that rumor around Barcelona so that they would be given first-class accommodations. Flynn suggested to Koets that they leave the country immediately.

But when Flynn returned to the United States nobody would publish his stories. Instead, editorials lambasted him for having “Loyalist sympathies,” and the Knights of Columbus branded him “a dangerous radical.” Flynn complained that he had always resented that the artist is relegated to a place with no voice in political or human affairs, although, after all, it is the artist’s world, too.

Late in 1942, Flynn answered a knock at his door and in came “two dicks.” They were in plain clothes, but he could have told, on the street, a hundred feet from them, that they were police. (Plainclothesmen usually look more like police than uniformed cops. You get to be able to make a fine distinction like that after you’ve had your share of contact with them.)

They charged him with the statutory rape of a 17-year-old blonde named Betty Hansen. Flynn didn’t know the difference between rape and statutory rape. Rape to him meant picking up a chair and hitting some lady over the head with it and having your wicked way—which he hadn’t done.

Hansen had been threatened with four years of detention in juvenile hall, so she nailed Flynn to save her own skin. She had been dragged into the cop shop after being found in a Santa Monica hotel by police working on a missing-person call from her sister.

“Their queries dredged up a story of amatory adventuring,” recalled attorney Jerry Giesler in his autobiography, Hollywood Lawyer. (Flynn hired Giesler, who had successfully defended Busby Berkeley against a charge of killing three people while drunk.) “Although some of it may have been the product of the girl’s imagination,” continued Giesler, “she did produce Flynn’s unlisted telephone number to back up her story that not only had she met him but he had committed statutory rape upon her.”

Flynn had been partying at a Bel Air home rented by his friends Stephen Raphael, Bruce Cabot and Freddie McEvoy. Hansen was, as Flynn later remembered, a “flowsy little blonde” whom someone named Sevow had invited over with a bunch of other women to entertain the boys.

Miss Hansen was only 17, but her youthfulness did not keep her from being ripe physically, a quality that Flynn didn’t overlook. Also Miss Hansen was impressed with Flynn’s charm and “his stellar position in the Hollywood firmament.” Until the day of his death, this type of episode would shape his life.

The grand jury returned no indictment against Flynn on Betty’s weak charges in October 1942, so the district attorney’s office did a little more digging and found Peggy Satterlee, a 16-year-old nightclub dancer, who claimed Flynn seduced her twice on his yacht Sirocco during a cruise off Catalina Island. The fact that Satterlee’s supposed statutory rape had actually occurred a year earlier, when her mother had first reported it, got Flynn and Giesler thinking that “something stank.” The grand jury agreed and dismissed the charge of statutory rape.

But the DA’s office decided to override the grand jury and bring him to court on the same charges. Then Flynn finally figured it out. The previous district attorney, Buron Fitts, had been the protector of Hollywood’s big names in squashing any kind of complaints. The big studios supported him. But when Fitts lost the next election to “Honest” John Dockwiler, the new DA decided to make an example of the first guy in Hollywood to get in trouble. “I was the first guy,” said Flynn.

In court, Peggy said Flynn was no gentleman, a laugh in the press because he was currently starring in the movie Gentleman Jim. When Betty said he kept his socks on during intercourse, the reporters joked about this, too, because Flynn’s other current hit was They Died with Their Boots On. The other big joke of the trial was Peggy saying Flynn had seduced her into his cabin by saying the moon would look much more romantic through a porthole.

Flynn was acquitted of all charges by a jury Giesler had stacked mostly with women, none immune to Flynn’s charisma. Besides, Flynn believed everybody knew that the girls had asked for it.

But although Flynn was declared not guilty, the myth remained. (“A GI or marine or sailor went out at night sparking and the next day he reported to his cronies, who asked him how he made out, and the fellow said, with a sly grin, ‘I’m in like Flynn.’”)

During the trial Flynn had gotten a crush on the girl who worked the counter in the courthouse lobby and who turned out to be the daughter of police captain Jack Eddington. Nora Eddington soon discovered how the rape trials destroyed and shattered Flynn—he became addicted to morphine again. While Flynn was first going out with Nora (whom he later married in 1945), she discovered him in the bathroom with a hypodermic. When she accused him of addiction, he defended his right to try everything once. But once was not enough for Errol, for when he later visited Nora in Mexico where she was having an illegitimate baby, she noticed he kept going to the bathroom and emerging rolling down a sleeve. She later checked his suitcase while he was out for a drink and discovered a hypo, a bent spoon and morphine. When confronted, he told her he took morphine because he needed a “lift.” After making biological discoveries on the Mexican islands, Flynn’s father visited Errol in Hollywood and soon found out about his son’s morphine addiction and confronted Errol with it. Errol then accused Nora of telling his dad, and an argument ensued during which he kneed her in the stomach and caused internal bleeding.

One of Flynn’s last movie roles was as John Barrymore in Too Much Too Soon; Barrymore had been a close friend of Flynn’s, and Barrymore’s last days as a puffy-eyed rummy were similar to Flynn’s own.

Barrymore had come to stay at Flynn’s home for three weeks before his death in 1942. Flynn later described Barrymore’s visit as “the most frightening three weeks I had since I was in the New Guinea jungle.” Barrymore smelled “pungently” and one of his habits was urinating out the windows. After Flynn complained that Barrymore had taken the varnish off one of the picture windows, Barrymore started peeing in the fireplace, causing the room to reek of urine. Barrymore was drinking a lot of vodka at the time, the same liquor Flynn later drank in abundance. Barrymore had been in and out of hospitals all during his last years for such things as hyperstatic pneumonia and ailments of the stomach, kidney and liver. Worn down by alcoholism and a weak heart, Barrymore died of a heart attack in 1942. Flynn and the rest of the Hollywood heavies who had been Barrymore’s friends were invited to a rousing wake.

Flynn returned from Barrymore’s wake, turned on the lights and found Barrymore’s corpse propped up in Flynn’s favorite chair. Errol freaked out and tried to run but was stopped by his friends, including Raoul Walsh and W.C. Fields. The prank was later immortalized in the film W.C. Fields and Me, starring Rod Steiger as Fields and Jack Cassidy as Barrymore.

In 1949, Flynn got divorced from Nora after four years of marriage. During the making of Rocky Mountain, Flynn’s last western, in 1950, Flynn met actress Patrice Wymore, 20 years his junior, whom he married in Monte Carlo in October of that year. At the wedding, Flynn was unexpectedly served with papers accusing him of raping Denise Duvivier on his yacht a year earlier. As evidence, Denise had a published French photo of the two of them embracing. She claimed he had raped her in his private shower on the yacht. Taking the judge at the Monacan trial to his yacht, Flynn showed him it would have been as impossible as raping her in “an upright coffin” because of the tight squeeze. The judge dismissed the case. Flynn stayed married to Patrice until his death.

Federal narcotics agents questioned Flynn about prescriptions provided by a Beverly Hills physician in late March of 1956. George White, the bureau district supervisor, said that during an hour-long grilling, Flynn answered all questions in a “prompt and satisfactory” manner. Flynn, who was called in under administrative subpoena, refused to discuss the matter with reporters, and the doctor under investigation was never identified nor was the dope.

Biographer Earl Conrad, who ghosted Flynn’s autobiography and recently wrote Errol Flynn: A Memoir, claims that, while working with Flynn for a few months in 1957, when Flynn was heavy into morphine and whiskey, he hired a pimp to procure Jamaican peasant women for Flynn’s enjoyment. Conrad painted the dissipated Flynn as a man who had become paranoid enough to believe at moments that Conrad and others were out to poison him. Conrad, a civil-rights crusader who had fought to stop capital punishment, could never understand Flynn’s love affair with hedonism.

When Flynn first heard of a revolution brewing in Batista’s Cuba, he was drawn to the myth of Fidel Castro and decided he must fight beside him to secure the future of the Cuban people. In those days it was fashionable among the Hollywood radical chic to support Castro’s efforts, but Flynn was the only one to travel to Cuba to help the cause. Again Flynn traveled on assignment as a Hearst foreign correspondent, which resulted in a syndicated newspaper series, “I Fought With Fidel.” Flynn also filmed a semidocumentary movie of his trip, Cuban Rebel Girls (1959), in which he starred with his latest girl friend, teeny-bopper Beverly “Woodsie” Aadland. Cuban Rebel Girls would be Flynn’s last testament, passing the torch of revolution from one rebel hero to another.

Flynn waited to meet Castro for weeks in Havana’s Nacionale Hotel before receiving instructions to board a four-engine Constellation plane on Christmas morning at the Havana airport. He packed his “Flynn Enterprises” suitcase with vodka, tangerines, sweaters, underwear, shaving gear and a pack of toilet tissue, the latter being rare in Cuba.

Flynn and his companion, John McKay, were searched by two plainclothes Batista cops at the airport but, having no guns, were allowed to fly to Camagüey, about three-fourths of the way to Castro’s headquarters in Oriente Province. They waited for their contact at the Camagüey airport terminal’s bar, sipping Cuba fibres.

“I suppose you could say I went by autograph into the rebel lines,” wrote Flynn in his series for Hearst. “Armed with pens and pencils provided by public and bartender, I signed indiscriminately for a time, Batistans, Castroites, Cuban bobby-soxers. All the while, I was looking out of the corner of my eye for my contact. Where was he or she?”

The contact turned out to be the airport’s traffic manager, Bill Patton, a young American married to a Cuban woman. Patton, it turned out, had helped Flynn on his last trip to Cuba, when he flew there in his own plane, a single-motored Navion.

Patton told them to wait at the Grand Hotel for Castro’s personal plane, which would fly them to the rendezvous. While waiting, Flynn recalled, they learned that Camagüey was under siege, that four rebel forces had strongholds commanding all approaches to the town.

When Castro’s red and silver Cessna landed, Patton got Flynn and McKay past the Batista sentries by saying they were scouting the countryside for Cuban Rebel Girls locations. Once aboard, Flynn asked the pilot about the gun at his side. “In here it is fully loaded,” he replied. “I got this bullet marked. That’s for me if they catch me.”

“Why?” asked Flynn.

“I’m not going to let the Batistans torture me,” the pilot smiled.

Flynn later heard from Castro’s own lips that his pilot, whose name Flynn never learned, never had a chance to use his bullet.

In an hour they landed at a small airstrip next to a farmhouse, where they were met by Capt. Luis Perez. Flynn carried a rifle and searchlight and took off on a wild two-day jeep ride through the cane-field region, deeper into rebel territory. Every hour or two a new man would enter the car and stay with them for a relay, as they approached Castro’s quarters. Once they saw Batista prisoners captured by Castro’s soldiers, and they talked with them; apparently they were being well-treated by the rebels.

Early in the evening of Saturday, December 27, 1958, they arrived at a big sugar mill called the Central America, where inside they found Castro sitting on a bed, his ear on a small radio receiver, a Belgian revolver on a table next to him. Castro was wearing his customary tan army fatigues, as were two others, a male officer and Castro’s female secretary, the dark-haired, slim “heroine of the revolt,” Celia Sanchez, who wore a pink orchid on her right shoulder and a .32-caliber revolver lashed to her waist.

Flynn noticed, much to his surprise, that Castro had grace, agility of movement, and a simplicity of manner. He didn’t look like a man who had been burned up in the sun, nor did he show signs of having lived five and a half years in the jungles.

Castro suggested that Flynn go to the village of Palma Sorino, which had just been liberated, so that he could observe how the Cubans felt after they had been taken out of Batista’s hands. Castro counseled Flynn to talk to whomever he wished, and to take all the pictures he wanted to take—in short, to see the happy faces of the “liberated Cuban citizens.” This was quite a contrast to the Batista camp, where Flynn learned that a few U.S. journalists had been tossed into the clink.

Castro regretted he couldn’t stay and chat any longer, that urgent matters demanded him elsewhere, but that they would talk again before Flynn’s departure for the United States. Castro’s farewell words to Flynn were “Roam about as you please, you have the complete hospitality of the Castro camp. Good luck.”

Legend has it that when Castro finally rode his jeep triumphantly through the streets of Havana upon winning the revolution, there was Errol Flynn by his side, both of them waving at the grateful people of Cuba.

“ERROL FLYNN WAS LIFE OF PARTY MINUTES BEFORE HE DIED,” read one headline about Errol Flynn’s death by heart attack at the age of 50 on October 14, 1959.

He died laughing, having a good time and enjoying himself, said Mrs. George Caldough, his hostess at the party. She and her husband had offered to buy Flynn’s yacht, Zaca, and while visiting them in Vancouver he complained of severe pains and asked to see a doctor. The Caldoughs took him to the home of Dr. Grant A. Gould, where Flynn talked of long-gone friends, the late John Barrymore and the late W.C. Fields. “Hell, dying is not so much,” Flynn commented, and then asked for a room to lie down in, adding: “But I shall return.” His last words—he died soon in the next room.

The coroner’s deputies said it was a heart attack, with complications of malaria, hepatitis, gonorrhea and tuberculosis. After the autopsy one of the coroner’s deputies remarked, “His was the body of a tired, old man—old before his time, and sick.” John McKay remarked: “It was like having a reputation as a gunslinger. Everyone would try to outgun him. They’d make cracks about his girl friends or his drinking. He always had to have a few drinks just to be on an even keel with the wise guys.” Said widow Patrice Wymore in Washington, calling friends on the West Coast, “Those vultures preyed on him out there. They killed him! They killed him!”

But it wasn’t drink, dope, sex or bad company that killed Flynn—it was curiosity. Yet his memory lives on in the dashing figure of the long-haired, leotarded, pencil-mustached swashbuckler still flickering on the silver screen.

  1. Great story! Hollywoods badest bad boy. There will never be another like him. Would have loved to have hung out with him.

    1. Remember…. It is the artist and their work we all admire. I love Errol Flynn’s great movies… particularly his first 10 years in Hollywood.
      Flynn .. A legend… A great actor of action, fantasy, and adventure….
      The personal life with most …whether actors, artists, or musicians…are full of sinful questionable behavior that are usually repulsive. Let us remember and celebrate the artistry they created.

  2. I first saw Errol Flynn in Captain Blood back in 1961 when it was shown on our local TV station. I became an immediate fan.
    It is amazing (to me) that he could portray such upright characters onscreen, while being a total reprobate off. Just proves the theory of “the bubble” that Liz Lemon outlined on an episode of THIRTY ROCK. Good-looking people get away with anything.

  3. Great read!!
    “In like Flynn”… When I lived in Pacific Palisades, W.LA, Ca. as a teenager+, in the 70’s through the mid-eighties, I would stop by the Hollywood area, Rexall drug store, on Sunset Blvd. where Errol Flynn would “cat call” women driving by and I/we emulate his antics in a Tribute to the Legend of Eroll Flynn.

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