Errol Flynn at 100

Errol Flynn turns 100 on Saturday, June 20; Errol Flynn the larger-than-life movie star who inspired the saying, “In like Flynn,†and spent a career dedicated to carousing and mischief, from highly publicized fistfights to paternity suits and a legendary body-snatching.

“Errol Flynn was easily one of the most colorful figures of the Twentieth Century,†says Robert Matzen, co-author of the 2009 hardcover, ERROL FLYNN SLEPT HERE. “He did things that the rest of us only dream of doing—and he did them every day! He was a favorite of U.S. presidents; he dated a Romanian princess. When she was 20 years old, with her new husband standing right next to her, Flynn propositioned Shirley Temple in his steam room. He propositioned America’s Sweetheart!â€

Flynn had a more serious side, and authored three books, as well as many articles and op-ed pieces. He claimed more than once that he would rather find success as a writer than an actor, and wanted to justify the statement on his tombstone, “They read my stuff!â€


Born in Tasmania, Flynn grew up in Australia. When he couldn’t get along with his mother or any headmaster on the continent, young Errol left home and took odd jobs in New Guinea—by his own admission, he had his best luck as a slave trader. Through a strange set of circumstances, Flynn landed in Hollywood at age 25 and within months was cast as the star of the first great pirate epic, Captain Blood. Flynn then went on to swashbuckle his way through a series of classic films, including The Sea Hawk, The Adventures of Don Juan, and the best of them all, The Adventures of Robin Hood.

In 1941, at the height of his fame, Flynn built a dream house high on Mulholland Drive. As detailed in ERROL FLYNN SLEPT HERE, the ranch-style colonial, which he dubbed Mulholland Farm, looked like a traditional two-story ranch, but had some special features. “He built secret passageways into the place,†says co-author Michael Mazzone. “One of them led to a small space where he could look into the ladies’ bathroom through a two-way mirror. When he added on to the house, he included another two-way mirror that looked down on a huge bed. He’d tell leading ladies, ‘Oh, go on into that room and change into your bathing suit,’ then run upstairs and spy on them. Flynn and his mirrors were the talk of Hollywood.â€

Mulholland Farm became the most notorious house in Hollywood, and not only because of the trick features of the house. Flynn held spectacular parties for the film community that are still talked about today; parties that featured live dance bands, nude divers, fencing exhibitions, and plenty of girls.

Then there was the crazy Hollywood prank to end them all. When Flynn’s pal John Barrymore died in May 1942, legend has it that director Raoul Walsh and other Flynn cronies spirited the body up to Mulholland Farm and sat it in Flynn’s favorite chair, drink in hand. “Some researchers don’t think it really happened. They say it was against the law, but these guys were crazy enough to do it, and we think they did.â€

The turning point for Flynn occurred later that same year, when the Los Angeles District Attorney charged Flynn with statutory rape. The subsequent trial made page one of every newspaper in the country and gave birth to the slogan, “In like Flynn.†He was acquitted after a month-long trial, but in the process lost credibility as an artist. When he realized the damage done, he contemplated suicide. “I have a zest for living, and twice the urge to die,†he confided.

Within another decade he had fled the United States owing half a million in back taxes, and alimony to two ex-wives. To ease the pain, he turned to vodka and drugs, and died at age 50 of a massive heart attack in Vancouver, B.C., making worldwide headlines one last time.

In 2009, Errol Flynn’s world is mostly gone. Two of his four children have already passed on, and his fabled house was demolished in 1988. Its last owner, singer Ricky Nelson, bought the place because he idolized Errol Flynn. Nelson continued to own it until his death in an air crash at the end of 1985. The mansion of another singer, Justin Timberlake, now sits on the Mulholland Farm footprint.

But Flynn, soon to be 100, has left a large footprint of his own, including more than 50 films that include some of the finest of Hollywood’s Golden Age. “If Errol Flynn came to Hollywood today,†Mazzone contends, “he’d still be a star; he had that much talent and that much charisma. Some stars were manufactured, but not him.â€

Beyond the capers and scandals, the man who made mischief for himself also made grand entertainment, and still can be seen swinging from a vine in Technicolor as the most beloved Robin Hood of all, welcoming Maid Marian to Sherwood Forest. “Going out, promoting the book, we’re approached by a lot of people who really loved Errol Flynn,†says Matzen. “What I’ve learned is that he may have not been the happiest guy, but he brought happiness to millions. It’s staggering to think of the impact of his work. People who saw his films 60, 70 years ago still light up when they hear his name. He was their hero.†Not only that, but Flynn’s best-selling, candid autobiography, MY WICKED, WICKED WAYS, is still in print after 50 years, which means that, yes, they’re still reading his stuff. Happy 100th Birthday, Errol Flynn.