Errol Flynn was not a nice man. He was blessed with astonishingly good looks, charm and charisma, yet he lived his life in the singular pursuit of personal pleasure, a hedonist to the bone. Of all the books I have read on him, I do not recall the man ever doing anything for anyone other than himself. Those who knew him at the end said he was as self-centred as ever. At fifty he was a bloated old man, ravaged by heart, liver and kidney disease, his looks and charm long gone, his body resembling that of a 70 year-old. I could have written here about his career, but that has been done countless times. I could have glossed over his shortcomings, but that has also been done far too often. Instead, I have focused on the seamy side of his life, his appalling habits and practices, his disregard for the standards expected in a civilised society. It does not make pretty reading, but below is the Errol Flynn the cinema-goers of the 40s and early fifties did not get to see. And just as well.
Errol’s mother was a direct descendent of a Bounty mutineer, a midshipman named Ned Young, whose descendants still live on Pitcairn Island. Of course, this was nowhere near rich enough for Hollywood blood, so Warners typically claimed he was descended from the number one mutineer, Fletcher Christian. Born in Hobart, Tasmania, Errol moved to New Guinea, then Britain, then California. He was a heavy drinker (of anything that contained alcohol, even oranges injected with vodka which he consumed on the set), and a seducer of an incredible number of women in his life (maybe as many as 14,000). He was an opium addict and bisexual, counting among his many conquests such ‘pretty boy’ actors as Tyrone Power and William Lundigan.
It was during Flynn’s alleged four-year affair with Argentina’s Evita Peron that he would stop off in Acapulco or Rio to tryst with male lovers as well. These were young, often under-age, good-looking boys such as Mexican beach boy lover Apollonia Diaz. It was safer to do this in South America than in California. Nevertheless, he still took appalling risks trawling Los Angeles high schools on occasion, seeking out under-age girls for sex as well. He was usually accompanied by his buddy, actor Bruce Cabot. (Close friend David Niven refused to be a part of this highly dangerous practice). When Errol eventually died in Canada decades later, he was co-habiting with a 15 year-old girl, a part-time actress named Beverly Aadland, who had already been his lover for over a year! Cuban Rebel Girls (1959) was his last film and it is a shocker, interesting only because it features Miss Aadland. Acquaintances say he was actually making love to her when he suffered his fatal heart attack. Had he lived, Flynn would probably have married the girl when she came of age. At least that was what he kept telling everyone. In the 1958 musical South Pacific she plays one of the nurses in the Thanksgiving Show.
Flynn with Beverly Aadland shortly before his death.
He once confided to actor Peter Finch that his cocaine-taking (he refused to refer to it as an addiction) started as a way of easing the pain from his unbearable hangovers. He was also an opium addict. During his later years in the West Indies he insisted on having regular shots of penicillin because the black women in the area were reputed to be 96% syphilitic. He was having sex with them every day and the penicillin gave him approximately five hours immunity from infection. He was a man who lived his life entirely on his own terms and to Hell with everybody else. His looks and enormous personal charm, not to mention his widespread fame, enabled him to practice his bi-sexuality to his heart’s content. Friends say he did this at least three times a day, every day, with both male and female lovers. Many of them mere schoolchildren, his ‘San Quentin Quail’, as he liked to call them. He may even have coined the expression. Flynn treated those who loved and cared about him deplorably. Typically, when he decided to sell his Boston House property, his biographer Earl Conrad asked what would happen to the staff, many of whom had been with the actor for ten years or so. His cold response; ‘That’s their problem’.
He was born in Tasmania in 1909. His parents were actually en route to Antarctica when his mother had to withdraw from the expedition to give birth to her only son. And she never forgave him for it. Not ever. She treated him badly as a child and teenager, so much so that throughout his life he would delight in humiliating the woman whenever he could. Friends, and even total strangers, were appalled to hear him refer to her, (even introduce her), as ‘the cunt’. His first encounter with a male brothel (filled mostly with very young boys) took place in Marrakesh when he was about 23 years old, a year or so before he hit it big with Captain Blood. When it came to sex, there were no rules at all as far as Flynn was concerned. Virtually everything to do with sex was worth exploring. His list of female conquests is pretty much endless and included many of the beautiful actresses of his era, and a vast number of chorus girls, continuity girls and fans. His male lovers included Cabot, William Lundigan, Ross Alexander, director Edmund Goulding, Tyrone Power, Helmut Dantine, Scott Forbes and (according to Marlene Dietrich), David Niven. Flynn and Niven shared lovers of both sexes, sometimes several in a single night. Crewmen for Flynn’s yacht were recruited primarily for sex. Some even managed to gain film work through him. Lundigan, a former radio announcer, was one. Errol often described him (much to Lundigan’s embarrassment) as better in bed than any woman he ever had.
Bruce Cabot William Lundigan
Two young crewmen/lovers, Stephen Raphael and Jack Budlong, gained bit parts in Errol’s 1941 movie They Died With Their Boots On. Poor Budlong was terribly injured during shooting when he was thrown from his horse and impaled on his own sabre. Six days later he died. In his memoirs Flynn gave him the false name of William Meade (to protect the young man’s reputation), but his death clearly hurt the actor deeply. At the same time Errol’s wife, actress Lily Damita, filed for divorce after seven years, and the split was anything but amicable. She was tempted to expose her husband’s nefarious sex-life, which would have surely destroyed his career, but he knew just as much about her bi-sexual shenanigans as she did of his, so she settled for a hefty alimony instead. Besides, she valued her career far more than he valued his.
Tyrone Power was in love with Flynn
Flynn’s six-month affair with Tyrone Power was always doomed because Ty lived in constant fear of being found out, and Errol couldn’t care less if they were found out or not. Power liked being a movie star adored by millions of women the world over. He also held tender feelings for Flynn, whereas the relationship was merely an exercise in raw sex for the Australian, who often gave ‘running commentary’ during their sexual liaisons, much to Power’s disgust. But it was Errol’s unbounded delight in telling all and sundry intimate details of their love-making that worried Ty most. He reluctantly terminated the affair when Errol suggested they should ‘perform’ in front of their homosexual friends. All this time Power was married to French actress Annabella, a ‘lavender’union, arranged by the studio to mask his bisexuality.
Throughout his life Errol was a flagrant exhibitionist who delighted in displaying his manhood at every opportunity. In England, before he began his movie career, he was investigated by police for indecent exposure, for standing naked and rampant in front of his bedroom window as the mostly female work force arrived for duty at the factory across the street. At all-male parties he was known to happily strip off his clothes, execute a hula dance and masturbate, as he belted out a dirty ditty. In Hollywood, years later, he often left his trailer door open on the set during the hours of shooting, giving all and sundry a good look as he walked about in a sexually aroused state. When director Anatole Litvak witnessed this one day, he screamed at the actor to ‘cover himself’. Flynn grinned and threw a handkerchief over his erection. Even in his final years, when his mother was living with him, he would regularly appear at the dinner table stark naked, always ensuring he had a full erection before entering the room!
Helmut Dantine, another lover.
In 1938, Flynn formed ‘The Olympiads’, a private ‘club’ that consisted of several other rakes and a few pseudo-intellectuals who were both sexually predatory and anti-Semitic. Among its members (the list varied from time to time), were Cabot, Lundigan, John Barrymore, Patrick Knowles, W C Fields, Alan Hale, Alan Mowbray and avant-garde painter, John Decker. Edward G Robinson was refused admission simply because he was Jewish. The group would meet, swap intimate sex stories, get drunk and (when aboard Flynn’s yacht), snort cocaine and enjoy orgies with bevies of young starlets and hoofers, not to mention the young, male crew members personally selected by Flynn as ‘playthings’. As if he did not have enough vices for one lifetime, Errol was also heavily into drugs, especially cocaine and opium. The notorious nymphomaniac and actress Lupe Velez was one of his lovers for a time. She had been married to swimming champion Johnny Weissmuller. It was Lupe who suggested to Flynn that he put a pinch of cocaine on the tip of his penis to heighten sensation during intercourse, a practice he would continue for the rest of his life. The use of opium also enhanced his passion (or so he claimed), so that too became a regular occurrence.
Flynn personally supervised the building of his Mulholland Drive mansion which he called Mulholland House. He had a huge two-way mirror installed in the ceiling over his bed, on the other side of which was his ‘jerk-off room’. He rarely slept in his bedroom himself, for he would graciously offer it (and an extra boy or girl, if they wanted one) to guest couples who stayed overnight. He would then gather with his cronies above and watch then having sex. He even had a projector installed for guests to watch pornographic movies from the bed, to arouse them for another bout. Throughout, Flynn and his pals would indulge in sexual acts, usually masturbating each other, as they spied on the couples.
Davis & Flynn in ‘The Private Lives of Elizabeth & Essex’.
Throughout most of his adult life Flynn suffered from various maladies. He had contracted malaria and gonorrhoea in New Guinea as a young man, and both afflictions came back to haunt him many times. He also had a heart murmur, a slight touch of tuberculosis, and his liver suffered from the inordinate quantities of liquor he consumed. Of course, he was also addicted to cocaine and opium, although he refused to admit it. When he decided to enlist in World War Two he was shattered to receive a 4F rating and declared unfit to serve. For some reason he chose to fend off accusations of ‘draft-dodging’ and cowardice, rather than make it public that he was not the virulent, perfect male specimen his fans believed him to be.
Much has been made of allegations that he was a Nazi spy during World War Two. None of this appears to be true, however. He was certainly anti-Semitic, but he was no lover of Nazis or Nazism, according to his ex-wife, Nora Eddington. In fact, whenever he voiced his disapproval of anyone, she recalled, the first term that usually sprang to his mind and tongue was, ‘mother-fucking Nazi!’ It would be reasonable to assume that such a hedonist and hater of authority as Flynn would scarcely be enamoured of an ideology that fairly bristled with discipline and authority. It is, however, true that the FBI trailed him throughout much of World War Two, especially when he headed off to South America, but that was only because they suspected him of chasing under-aged lovers (which he was). The final word on this came, following an independent investigation, from Sir William Stephenson, head of British Intelligence during the war. ‘In my professional opinion Mr Errol Flynn was not a Nazi spy’, he wrote.
Director John Huston
Director John Huston was a brawler. He was also an amateur boxing champion in the 1920s. At a party at the home of David O Selznick he and Errol had a knock-down, drag-out fight that lasted an hour on Selznick’s front lawn. By its conclusion Flynn was nursing two broken ribs and Huston a broken nose. The fight began after Huston remarked that the real men were away fighting the Second World War, while the actors still at home were just ‘pansies’ pretending to be tough. Flynn, still smarting from being exempted from military service on genuine medical grounds, took offence and offered him outside to prove a point.
Sean Flynn His mother, Lily Damita.
Sean Flynn, acted in a few ordinary films, among them The Son of Captain Blood (1962), but was more interested in freelance photojournalism. He was the only son of Errol and Lily Damita. On 6 April 1970, at the height of the Vietnam War, 30 year-old Sean and a photographer friend drove out to a, supposedly, abandoned outpost in Cambodia and were never seen again. It is generally believed they were captured by Khmer Rouge guerrillas and executed. Lily tried for years to find out for sure what happened to her boy, but the disappearances still remain a mystery.