On-screen, Errol Flynn often played the charming, sophisticated hero type. But, off-screen, he was a different man altogether. Rumors of his wayward, wild, often harmful (for others, not usually for him) lifestyle followed him around throughout his relatively short life. Indeed, some of the tales Flynn recounted in his autobiography, My Wicked, Wicked Ways, released after his death in 1959, were downright blood curdling–though no one was surprised by them either.
Errol Flynn was born in Australia at the turn of the 20th century. There, in the wilds of Tasmania, he picked up an obsession with being a tough guy–an attribute many today would call toxic masculinity. It stuck with Flynn throughout his life, defining his roles and his behaviors. As a teen, he skipped school and ran with a notorious gang. Before he made his silver screen debut in England, he spent time in New Guinea, where he worked various decidedly unsavory jobs for the then-colonial government. Finally, Flynn hit the big time in Hollywood, where he used his fame mainly to sleep with thousands of women-according to him, at least.
In this video, we dig up dirt on Errol Flynn, revealing tantalizing tidbits about his off-screen life that the notoriously secretive Old Hollywood studios tried to keep under wraps. If you’re a die-hard Errol Flynn fan or just curious to learn more about his sometimes scandalous life, watch on!
Even His Mom Thought he Was a Devil Child 100
There’s an animal in Australia known as the Tasmanian devil, and many–even his own family, in fact–have likened Errol Flynn to this creature. He grew up in Tasmania, after all! He wrote in his autobiography that he has “been in rebellion against God and government ever since I can remember.” Flynn’s father kept exotic animals as pets, so Flynn spent his youngest years with tigers, kangaroos, and possums as his companions. He never got along with his mother, who frequently beat him because she found his wayward nature challenging to manage. She often referred to him as the “devil in boy’s clothing.” At one point, he ran away from home, door-knocking for work at neighboring farms.
Flynn Was the Epitome of a Bad Kid at School
Given his history, one would be forgiven for thinking that Errol Flynn came from a troubled background. However, it turns out that his father was actually a very successful and wealthy marine biologist. When the family moved from Tasmania, Australia, to England, where Flynn’s father got a teaching job, Flynn was enrolled in the very posh Southwest London College. Far from thriving, his rambunctious nature proved too much for the stuffy school staff. He was expelled after he conducted one too many pranks and skipped one too many classes. His parents sent him back to Australia, where he was enrolled in a Sydney boarding school. While there, he gained a reputation as a bully and was rumored to have slept with the laundry mistress’s daughter. It wasn’t long before he was expelled from there, too, this time for fighting with other students.
After Ditching School, He Lived the High Life
School in the 1920s wasn’t the place for a rebellious teen, so Flynn decided he needed to earn some money. Still in Australia, he worked odd jobs and mostly just enjoyed his time as a young, free lad. He joined a boxing gym and found out he was pretty good at the sport, earning quite the reputation locally. He even got engaged to a woman named Naomi, but the romance quickly fizzled. At 17, he started running with one of Sydney’s notorious razor gangs–who earned their name for carrying razors instead of pistols and disfiguring their victims. Then, in 1926, he decided to ditch his Aussie mates for New Guinea after hearing about a gold rush and dreaming of making his fortune in the country’s wild, tropical jungles.
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Errol Flynn Participated in Colonial Atrocities in New Guinea
Errol Flynn arrived in New Guinea in 1926. At that time, it was a newly minted Australian colony, and the Australian government was busy milking the land for all it was worth–with little care for the wishes of the local inhabitants. Flynn worked for the government, working whatever jobs they offered him. He was a coconut plantation manager, boat captain, fisherman, and gold prospector at various points. Probably his most notorious role was that of a recruiter. His job was to hike deep into the New Guinea jungle in search of remote local tribes. Once he came across a new tribe, he’d chat with the young men, convincing them to come to become indentured workers on the Australian-owned plantations or in the mines. He spent his downtime swimming, reading classic novels, playing sports, and, according to Flynn himself, having affairs with the young, bored wives of other Australian men working on the island. In fact, it was a severe case of gonorrhea that eventually drove him to leave New Guinea.
Errol Flynn Careened Around the World With a Doctor Friend
Errol Flynn had packed away a decent amount of money while in New Guinea. He and an equally wayward doctor friend decided to go on a bit of a world tour. They rampaged around Australia, the South China Sea, and the Mediterranean–cheating at cockfights in the Philippines, smoking opium in Macau and then defecting from the Royal Hong Kong Army Volunteers. Finally, Flynn decided to head back to Europe. He landed in England in 1933 and managed to fumble his way into acting. It turned out to be a good fit. Flynn saw success as a mutineer in In the Wake of the Bounty and signed with the Northampton Repertory Company. While on stage, he was talent scouted by Warner Brothers, signing a contract with the Hollywood production company in 1935. Flynn starred in the breakout films Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood, which set the tone for his future roles as a handsome, rough-and-tumble adventurer–despite the fact he claimed to be rather shy and awkward on set. Oh, and Errol Flynn also got married… to the equally wild actress-of-the-day Lili Damita.
Errol Flynn Was Hit Over the Head by Bette Davis
Ever heard the phrase “In like Flynn?” Well, this has its origins in Errol Flynn’s notorious love life. Once he landed in Hollywood, he gained a scandalous reputation as a party animal, drunkard, and womanizer. In fact, rumors abounded that Flynn slept with women and men–stars like Tyrone Power, Howard Hughes, and Truman Capote reportedly number among his trysts. Few celebs were immune to his charms, but it turns out the indomitable Bette Davis would have none of him. They co-starred together on the 1939 film The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, and Errol Flynn was reportedly paid a lot more than Davis. She already disliked Flynn, and this sent her over the edge. There was one scene where she was directed to give Flynn a light slap on the cheek. Instead, she belted him! Flynn didn’t do anything at the time, but his ego was undoubted as bruised as his face.
Errol Flynn Met His Second Wife at His Trial for Statutory Rape
It wasn’t until 1943 that Errol Flynn’s predatory behavior of seducing young women and even girls caught up with him, though the outcome wasn’t what many had hoped for. That year, he landed himself caught on two charges of statutory rape. The women in question were 17-year-old Betty Hansen and Peggy Satterlee. Satterlee was underage during her encounter with Flynn on his yacht. Sadly, though typical for the time, after cross-examination by lawyers that attacked the womens’ moral character and bolstered that of the accused, Flynn was acquitted of all charges. In fact, though Flynn himself said the trial affected his mental health, he became an even more popular star than ever before after the trial. Not only that, but he spent his breaks during the trial flirting with a courthouse worker called Nora Eddington. She was only 18 or 19 at the time, and just a year later, the two were married.
An Increasingly Drunk Errol Flynn Sailed the Mediterranean with Princes and Kings
By the time the 1950s rolled around, Errol Flynn had divorced his second wife and married his third–Patrice. Together with their baby daughter, they moved onto Flynn’s yacht, Zaca, and sailed the Mediterranean. Flynn had fallen out of favor with the Hollywood set and was broke, but he still kept good company. Rita Hayworth, King Farouk of Egypt, and Prince Rainier all numbered among his jet-set friends. He carted around a legendary suitcase emblazoned with the words “Flynn Enterprises.” It was filled with vodka, quinine, glasses, and, jokingly, a Bible. While he claimed he was living the good life, he started to rely more and more on alcohol to get through the day. He lost his good looks and grew chubby. Strangely, his new physique landed him some high-profile roles in Hollywood, where he almost always played a drunken rogue.
Errol Flynn Reportedly Regretted His Life Choices on His Deathbed
Errol Flynn spent his last years mostly in seclusion in his tropical estate in Jamaica. Divorced from his third wife, his children all living in America, Flynn spent most of his time with his new girlfriend of two years, Beverly Aadland. She was just 15 when they first met at a reading for a part in a movie–at least, that’s what Flynn told her when he asked her to dinner. She was with him when he died of a heart attack in 1959. According to Aadland, Flynn was proud of his star-studded film career but was filled with regret for how he’d lived his life otherwise. Though going by his autobiography, it seems Aadland might have given him a bit too much credit.
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