You might be tempted to argue that Errol Flynn was the Mel Gibson of his day. He starred in action film after action film, earning praise for his charisma and his handsome looks. However, what goes up must come down, and just like with Gibson, Flynn’s downfall became a legend in and of itself within Hollywood. Here are 42 facts about Errol Flynn.
Facts About Errol Flynn
1. Birth and Heritage
Errol Leslie Thomson Flynn was born on the island of Tasmania on June 20, 1909. At the time, Flynn was technically a British subject, though he became a naturalized American citizen in 1942.
2. A Man of Adventure
When he was 18 years old, Flynn traveled to Papua New Guinea to make his own way in the world. Flynn worked a variety of jobs in the tobacco and mining industries for several years, before going to Britain in 1933.
3. School Daze
In 1926, Flynn was briefly back in Australia attending a posh grammar school—but it didn’t last long, and he got a first taste of the controversy he would court as a star when he was expelled from the school. Some stories say he was kicked out for stealing, but Flynn himself claimed his expulsion happened for a much more scandalous reason: he was caught in an intimate position with a school laundress.
4. Rubbing Shoulders With Groundbreakers
In the early 20th century, particularly during WWI, fundraising events known as queen’s carnivals were popular. Flynn attended one such queen’s carnival at the age of 9 years old, acting as a page boy for the Australian prime minister’s wife.
5. Hello There, Gramps!
Flynn’s first part was in the 1933 film In the Wake of the Bounty. Flynn portrayed Fletcher Christian, the famous leader of the mutiny aboard the HMS Bounty. In an effort to drum up interest in the film project, Warner Bros. spread a rumor that Flynn was actually descended from the real Christian.
6. Long Before #MeToo
For seven months, Flynn was signed with the Northampton Repertory Company as an actor. This ended abruptly in 1934 when Flynn physically assaulted a female stage manager. Afterward, Flynn would go on to become a Hollywood star, and people seemed to forget all about that, even naming the art-house cinema after him.
7. First Meet Cute
Flynn was on the boat to the US from England when he met an actress named Lili Damita. She would prove instrumental in getting Flynn’s career off the ground (she had a lot of contacts in Hollywood), and the two of them were married from 1935 until 1942.
8. Art Imitating Slander
One of Flynn’s biographers, Charles Higham, published a 1980 book about Flynn which falsely claimed, among other things, that Flynn had been a Nazi spy during WWII. This view took such firm root in pop culture that the 1990 Disney film The Rocketeer modeled a character after Flynn and made him into a villainous Nazi sympathizer.
9. What We Share in Common
Flynn once starred in a Western titled Santa Fe Trail opposite a young actor named Ronald Reagan. In the film, Reagan plays doomed cavalry officer George Armstrong Custer. Flynn also played Custer in another film titled They Died with Their Boots On.
10. The Big Time Starts Now
After taking a few bit parts, Flynn found himself being considered for the starring role in a big-budget swashbuckler film produced with Warner Bros. and titled Captain Blood. Despite his being almost completely unknown, Flynn’s screen test persuaded the studio to take a chance on him. It paid off: The film was a major success and turned Flynn into a star almost overnight.
11. High Water-Mark
At his most successful, in the year 1940, Flynn was named as the fourteenth most popular actor in the US and the seventh most popular actor in the UK.
12. 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall
At the height of his fame, Flynn was a frequent guest of the wealthy William Randolph Hearst during the parties the magnate would throw at Hearst Castle. In true Flynn fashion, the actor was once booted out for being too drunk. That’s right, Flynn was once too drunk even for a debauched Hollywood party.
13. The Jewel in the Crown
In 1938, Warner Bros. released a film which was, at that time, their most expensive film; The Adventures of Robin Hood. Starring a 28-year-old Flynn, the film would go on to be his best remembered and one of his most successful. The movie won three Academy Awards.
14. Close Feelings
Flynn famously made nine films with actress Olivia de Havilland, often in a romantic pairing. Despite salacious gossip, de Havilland staunchly denied that they ever hooked up when the cameras weren’t rolling, though she did admit that she felt a romantic attachment to Flynn and that she never acted on it out of respect to his marriage.
15. Immortalized in Comics
Comic book legend Stan Lee wasinspired by Flynn’s legacy when he created the character of Fandral, a member of the Warriors Three in the Thor series.
16. Ladies’ Man
Among the actresses with whom the womanizing Flynn was romantically linked include Lupe Velez, Dolores del Rio, and Marlene Dietrich.
17. So Close, Yet So Far
In the 1950s, Flynn met with director Stanley Kubrick to discuss acting in his upcoming film, an adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial book Lolita. It ultimately didn’t happen—perhaps because Flynn had already had a notably scandalous brush with a younger woman.
18. In Like Me
During his lifetime, the expression “in like Flynn” became very popular, and was said to have come from the suave way he was able to seduce women into his bedroom. Like any good narcissist, Flynn was pleased with the phrase, and once claimed he wanted to name his autobiography In Like Me.
19. In Tribute to Dad
One of Flynn’s daughters, Rory, built a career for herself in the fashion industry, both as a model and also as a photographer. Rory would also write a book about her father titled The Baron of Mulholland.
20. Outlaw Ambitions
Like any true Aussie actor, Flynn wanted to be involved in a film about famous Australian outlaw Ned Kelly, but it never worked out.
21. The Original YOLO Poster Boy
Not only was Flynn known to be an alcoholic, but he also experimented with various substances. His second wife would later attest that Flynn was determined to experience as much of life as he could, which led him to try opium in the 1940s. Sadly, Flynn became addicted to opium for the rest of his life, which contributed to later health problems.
22. Lost Boy
Flynn’s only son, Sean, became an actor in the footsteps of his father, but he eventually gave this up in favor of journalism—but his story has a heartbreaking end. With the same sort of daring that Flynn showed on and offscreen, Sean traveled to south-east Asia during the Vietnam War as a war correspondent for Time Magazine. In 1970, Sean Flynn disappeared while he was in Cambodia. In 1984, he was declared to be dead, though his body was never recovered, nor was a cause of death ever confirmed.
Flynn had a reputation for being a cruel prankster. During the filming of Captain Blood, Flynn would drive Olivia de Havilland crazy with prank after prank, which left her paranoid. One of these pranks was to put a dead snake in her underwear, and Flynn was all too happy to share these anecdotes in his autobiography.
24. Stopped From Serving
Flynn tried to enlist to serve in WWII, but he was rejected because of various health concerns. Warner Bros. didn’t want it known that their big action star was rejected from the military for health problems, so people began to gossip that Flynn was a draft dodger. At one point in his life, Flynn stated that his only regret in life was not participating in WWII.
25. Trial of the Year
In 1942, Flynn was accused by two 17-year-old girls of committing statutory sexual assault. The accusations sent shockwaves through Hollywood and the US, with the majority of people siding with Flynn against his accusers. The girls’ names were dragged through the mud by Flynn’s fans, and Flynn was ultimately acquitted.
26. Odd Place to Find Love…
Incredibly, the trial process led to Flynn beginning a romantic relationship with a 19-year-old woman who was working at the courthouse. Nora Eddington married Flynn in 1943, and was his wife until 1949.
27. Thanks, Ernie!
In the last few years of Flynn’s life, the aging actor replaced his trend of playing heroic leading men with playing alcoholic supporting roles, including an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. The film was a moderate success, but Hemingway himself was disappointed with the result. The only positive aspect of the film, as far as he saw it, was Flynn’s performance in the film.
28. Let’s Go to Africa
One of the last films that Flynn made was the drama set in Africa titled The Roots of Heaven. Directed by John Huston, the film was a startlingly progressive one, promoting conservation and protection of elephants. Despite only playing a supporting role during the shoot, Flynn received top billing when the film was released.
29. You Want a Piece of Me!?
By all accounts, The Roots of Heaven was a serious struggle to make. Flynn not only caused trouble due to his alcoholism, but also brought harder substances onto the set during production. Huston naturally clashed with Flynn, leading to an incident where Flynn tried to pick a fistfight with his director. Unfortunately, Flynn was far beyond his boxing days, so Huston (a former boxer himself) allegedly knocked Flynn down with a single punch.
30. I Tried Apples First, But They Just Didn’t Compare!
Several of the film productions that hired Flynn were well aware of his alcoholism getting in the way of his profession. As a result, Flynn was occasionally banned from drinking on set. In response, Flynn had a rather devious loophole prepared: he would inject vodka into oranges, which he would eat to get the buzz he craved.
31. No Fan of His
Flynn frequently worked with the feisty Hollywood star Bette Davis at the peak of his career, but the two didn’t get along while on set together, and Flynn often accused Davis of slapping him too hard in certain scenes because of her latent attraction to him.
For her part, Davis wholly resented Flynn and despised having to share the screen with an actor who could only play swashbuckling roles. As she once told an interviewer, “He himself openly said, ‘I don’t know really anything about acting,’ and I admire his honesty, because he’s absolutely right.”
32. Taking It Back
Years later, Davis had a touching change of heart. Olivia de Havilland remembered seeing a screening of a Flynn film alongside Davis, and while the two were watching it, a shocked Davis leaned over and said, “Damn it! The man could act!”
33. All Bases Covered?
Being such a famous star of Old Hollywood, Flynn has been portrayed by other actors in various films. Examples include Guy Pearce in a 1993 biographical film about Flynn, Jude Law in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, and Kevin Kline in The Last of Robin Hood.
34. Someone Needs Therapy After That!
Flynn was one subjected to an incredibly disturbing prank. Allegedly, director Raoul Walsh managed to get a hold of John Barrymore’s corpse just after the Hollywood legend had died. After bribing a mortician to give him access to Barrymore’s body, Walsh arranged for the deceased star to be sitting in a chair with a drink in his hand in Flynn’s living room when Flynn came home one day.
According to Flynn, he was so shocked and horrified that he had a sleepless night. Frankly, we doubt we’d ever sleep again.
35. Are You Crazy?!
Despite working together on several films, Flynn and director Michael Curtiz did not get along. After all, Flynn’s first wife, Lili Damita, was previously married to Curtiz. It all came to a head when they were working on The Adventures of Robin Hood: Flynn was struck by the point of a sword that didn’t have a guard on it and demanded an explanation for the lack of precaution. The actor he was working with explained that Curtiz had told him to take the guard off, as it would lead to a more “exciting” scene. Enraged, Flynn charged towards Curtiz, grabbed him by the throat, and asked if this was “exciting enough.”
36. Someone Call PETA!
Another famous incident of hostility between Flynn and Michael Curtiz occurred on a film set in 1936. In order to replicate a bloody sequence, Curtiz set up tripwires against a pack of charging horses. Of the 125 horses tripped up by these wires, 25 of them died from their injuries. Flynn was so infuriated by the casual animal cruelty on display that he physically attacked Curtiz. The filming of that scene would lead to animal protection laws being strengthened.
37. A Fallen Star
On October 14, 1959, Flynn was in the middle of a deal to sell his beloved yacht to a friend in Vancouver because of his latest money troubles. It was there that Flynn suffered a fatal heart attack and died at the age of 50.
38. Marked Man
An autopsy performed on Flynn determined that his body and his overall health were more suited a man in his mid-70s rather than Flynn’s actual age of 50. Doctors determined that the condition of his liver was so bad that if he hadn’t had a heart attack, he would have had less than a year to live anyway.
39. A Fitting End?
Errol Flynn was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in California—a cemetery he apparently detested while he was alive.
40. Safe to Say He Learned Nothing
Flynn caused a huge scandal in the last two years of his life when he traveled with a 15-year-old secretary named Beverly Aadland. Aadland was also Flynn’s mistress at the time, a situation which had actually been encouraged by Aadland’s mother, Florence. The proud parent later wrote a book about her daughter’s affair with Flynn.
Later, Beverly herself revealed some disturbing aspects of their relationship. According to her, their love was built on a constant sense of play and outdoing one another, but these jokes often had a dark side. They would get into enormous fake fights in nightclubs where Flynn would pretend to hit her, and she would pretend to get a nosebleed. Sounds…fun?
41. Big Brother Flynn
At the height of his fame, Flynn bought property on Mulholland Drive and built the “Mulholland Farm,” or as it was often called in private, the “playhouse.” Flynn hosted wild parties at this property, which featured all kinds of debauchery that Old Hollywood’s private gatherings were known for.
42. Peep Show
However, there was a dark side to the “playhouse”—it was set up to be a voyeur’s dream home. Peep-holes and two-way mirrors were set up to allow Flynn to spy on his female guests. He also set up microphones to overhear private conversations throughout his house. Why hasn’t there been a horror movie made about this guy?