Revisiting a tragic rogue

Times Staff Writer

Errol Flynn, the swashbuckling actor who came to fame in the 1930s, seemed to have everything going for him. "He had a face and a charm and ability," says his widow, Patrice Wymore Flynn. "He was just made for the camera."

But there was a self-destructive side too. Flynn was a womanizer who stood trial in 1942 for statutory rape, for which he was ultimately acquitted. He drank, shot morphine and began finding it difficult to remember lines. He was felled at age 50 by a heart attack.

"He was his own worst enemy, in many ways," said film historian Rudy Behlmer, co-writer of "The Films of Errol Flynn." "He thumbed his nose at convention, and he probably felt he could have it all. He wanted to try everything and I am sure he did. I think he thought he had the strength to stop."

"The Adventures of Errol Flynn," a new documentary airing at 5 and 8:30 tonight on Turner Classic Movies, examines the life and career of this paradoxical, charismatic man who was born in Tasmania in 1909.

In addition to interviews with Wymore, daughter Deirdre Flynn and frequent costar Olivia de Havilland, the documentary is filled with delicious clips from his movies, including the swashbucklers "Captain Blood," "The Adventures of Robin Hood," "The Sea Hawk" and "Adventures of Don Juan," as well as "The Dawn Patrol," "Gentleman Jim," "Objective, Burma!" and "That Forsyte Woman."

TCM is airing several of these films in conjunction with the documentary. And on April 19, Warner Home Video will release several Flynn films on DVD, including "Sea Hawk" and "Captain Blood."

Wymore, who met Flynn when they co-starred in 1950's "Rocky Mountain," said her husband's career was unfortunately "overshadowed by the public's playboy image. He felt he was never taken seriously as an actor, I don't think. So I think it's nice to know that he is being recognized as a talent. Nobody has been able to do what he did."

The Flynn she knew wasn't a madcap partygoer. "He loved to have people at the house," she said. "To get him to go to a big soiree was not easy."

But Wymore couldn't save him from himself after a series of misfortunes in the early 1950s.

First, Flynn was dropped from Warner Bros. in 1953.

Then he sank money into an ill-fated film version of "William Tell" that was never completed due to insufficient funds. A lawsuit filed by a former friend, actor Bruce Cabot, due to the film's demise, wiped him out.

"He just lost his way," said Wymore. "It was all too much all at once. His whole world was crumbling around him."

In 1957, Flynn caused a scandal when he left Wymore and ran off with 15-year-old actress-showgirl Beverly Aadland, whom he described as his "protegee."

Wymore says that before his death in 1959, she and Flynn were making plans to reconcile.

In the documentary, Deirdre says she caught her father one day with a syringe of morphine. "But you have to understand, I never saw him drunk though he drank all the time. I never saw him stoned, even though I knew what he was doing. I knew it wasn't right and I knew it wasn't good, but I thought he had been doing it a long time, I guess he can handle it."

She was 3 when her father divorced her mother, Nora Eddington. She says he remained close to her and her sister Rory. "Every time he was in town, we were with him," she recalled. "He was strict but fun-loving. He taught me to ride my pony when I was very young and years later he went horseback riding with me."

Her father, she says, would always lobby studio chief Jack Warner for more serious fare. "When he first started out in theater in England, he had his mind set on being a serious actor," she said. "But Jack Warner kept him in tights. I think that bothered him and he started to walk through his films."

But he certainly didn't walk through 1949's "That Forsyte Woman."

Warner loaned him to MGM for the Technicolor adaptation of John Galsworthy's novel, in which he beautifully underplays the role of a repressed British aristocrat obsessed with his wife (Greer Garson) but unable to express his love.

"He went against type," said his daughter. "It was his favorite picture. And I love that picture too."


'The Adventures of Errol Flynn'

Where: TCM

When: 5 and 8:30 tonight

Ratings: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14)

Also: Flynn stars in "The Adventures of Robin Hood" at 6:30 tonight, "Captain Blood" at 10 tonight and "They Died With Their Boots On" at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday.

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