While most screen legends from Hollywood’s Golden Age found fame only after working their way through vaudeville, radio, or numerous minor film roles, Errol Flynn was the proverbial overnight sensation.
Virtually unknown to Hollywood in the early 1930’s, Flynn became a household name after the success of the 1935 Michael Curtiz directed swashbuckling adventure “Captain Blood,” released 80 years ago this month.
“My dad had only been in a couple of other Hollywood films, in very minor roles,” said Rory Flynn from her home near Wilmington, NC. “Jack Warner took a huge gamble to hire him, trusting his instinct when he saw the magic and charisma of my father.”
At a budget of around $1 million, it was a risk for Warner Brothers, especially as Flynn’s leading lady, Olivia de Havilland, was also a relative newcomer.
Curtiz was a tough director, too, and rode the rookie Aussie actor hard.
“He could be quite a little dictator on the set,” explained Rory. “I’ve seen notes written to Curtiz from Hal Wallis, also a producer on the film, telling him to stop putting Errol down and crushing his confidence. But at this early point in his career, my dad didn’t have any clout so he basically did what he was told.”
Flynn endured, and went on to become box office gold for Warner’s into the 1940s. But after a lifetime of flamboyant, hard living, Flynn died at just 50 in 1959, when Rory was 12.
While her early memories of seeing her dad on film are distant, they remain vivid.
“The first time I saw him was in the Bugs Bunny cartoon, ‘Rabbit Hood,’ which contains a live action clip of him from ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood,’” she recalled. “We had a copy and he would show it at the house all the time. For a kid, what could be more fun than seeing your dad with Bugs?”
Rory says her first theatrical viewing of a Flynn film was a western, after he died.
“We would go to this theater in Hollywood that showed old movies on Saturdays,” she said. “It was probably ‘They Died with Their Boots On’ or ‘Dodge City’ and I remember thinking how handsome he was. Today, whenever I see his films I just wish I’d had more time with him.”
She is also struck by the resemblance between her father and her actor son, Sean. “He has my father’s eyes and so many gestures, looks, and movements like my dad’s that my heart just bursts with emotion.”
Rory and Sean will introduce Flynn’s 1941 “Dive Bomber” at the Coronado Island Film Festival, in Coronado, Calif., January 15-18 (see www.coronadoislandfilmfest.com).
In the decade following “Captain Blood,” Rory says the success of Flynn’s films “practically built Warner Brothers studios.”
So perhaps it was fitting, having provided Flynn’s big break in “Captain Blood,” that Jack Warner should offer his star a final farewell.
“Errol had trials and tribulations in his life,” said Warner in the eulogy, but he remained a “warm and generous human being.”
“I remember the funeral and seeing my father lying in state and that was tough when you’re 12 years old,” recalled Rory. “I had lost my best friend, but through his films and many fans around the world he will always be with us.”
Rory’s Errol Flynn web site is www.inlikeflynn.com.
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 600 magazines and newspapers. Follow @TinseltownTalks