Inherited Risk: Errol and Sean Flynn in Hollywood and Vietnam

Overview

On April 6, 1970, the charismatic Sean Flynn rode his motorcycle into a roadblock, was captured by the Vietcong, and vanished into the jungle. Errol's son shared his father's good looks, charm, athleticism, courage, and artistic talent. But Sean also inherited his father's love of risk, compelling him to lead an equally romantic but tragically brief life.

The story of both men's chillingly similar lives begins with Errol. He was born in Australia, where his mother either beat ...

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2002 Hard cover New in new dust jacket. shelf wear. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. With dust jacket. 368 p. Contains: Illustrations. Audience: General/trade. NEW BOOK WITH ... FINE DUSTJACKET WITH SHELF WEAR. YOUR SATISFACTION IS OUR GUARANTEE. THANKS. Read more Show Less

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Overview

On April 6, 1970, the charismatic Sean Flynn rode his motorcycle into a roadblock, was captured by the Vietcong, and vanished into the jungle. Errol's son shared his father's good looks, charm, athleticism, courage, and artistic talent. But Sean also inherited his father's love of risk, compelling him to lead an equally romantic but tragically brief life.

The story of both men's chillingly similar lives begins with Errol. He was born in Australia, where his mother either beat him or ignored him. He spent his early adult life in the savage outposts of New Guinea as a tobacco planter, gold prospector, bird trapper, diamond smuggler, and slave trader. By the time fame arrived, drinking, drugs, and sex with underage girls assured him legendary status for recklessness, as well as an early death.

Sean was obsessed with his father, a remote and mythical figure. Never able to break free from Errol's overpowering legacy, Sean established his own heroic reputation. The father played a daredevil on screen, the son -- as brilliant and daring as his father -- was driven to increase the stakes. His final gallant and suicidal gesture carried the Flynn tradition to its inevitable conclusion.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Jeffrey Meyers has written an impressive dual biography of Tinseltown legend Errol Flynn and his son Sean, who was a Vietnam War photographer. Errol's life was filled with glamour, fame, and the drugs and wanton sex that came along with the Hollywood lifestyle. Sean, obsessed with his famous father's legacy, was determined to find excitement and glamour of his own. That attempt would lead to a brief -- and tragic -- career as a combat shutterbug, culminating in his capture by the Vietcong and death from malaria.
Publishers Weekly
The sins of the father resurface in the struggles of the son in Meyers's rollicking double biography of the charismatic movie star Errol Flynn and his equally handsome son, Sean. The life of the elder Flynn is, of course, well known. A native Australian, Errol worked as a gold prospector, pearl diver and correspondent for the Sydney Bulletin before being "discovered" by a Warner Bros. agent. He took America by storm with such classics as Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk. A "Byronic figure," he seduced hundreds of women, brawled with bums and stars alike and consumed astonishing amounts of drugs and alcohol. Inevitably, Sean's much briefer biography suffers by comparison. Only in intermittent contact with his father, Sean grew up to be a B-movie star in Europe in the early 1960s (including a stint as the "Son of Captain Blood") before becoming a freelance photographer in Europe and Vietnam. Both men came to sad, gruesome ends: Errol wasted away from substance abuse; Sean was captured at a Vietcong checkpoint and later executed. As a biographer of Humphrey Bogart, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others, Meyers is well-equipped to chronicle the fabulous self-destructiveness of the devil-may-care Errol and his dashing son. Despite an obvious affection for his subjects, he doesn't shrink from exposing their less attractive features, including Errol's statutory rape trial (a scandal that brought "in like Flynn" into the popular lexicon). Despite the odd structure Errol's hefty life is sandwiched between thin sections about Sean Meyers offers an entertaining, disheartening look at two fascinating men who flew too close to the sun. Agent, Clyde Taylor. (June) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Literary critic and biographer Meyers (Hemingway, etc.) traces the tragic similarities between Hollywood legend Errol Flynn and his son Sean, a freewheeling war photographer who died in the Vietnamese conflict. Errol Flynn's decadent lifestyle is legendary, and semifictional accounts abound, including his own My Wicked, Wicked Ways. Meyers wisely takes a factual approach without minimizing his subject's infamous excesses regarding drinking, drugs, and sex. He gives equal attention to lesser-known aspects of Errol Flynn's life, such as his youthful adventures in 1920s New Guinea and his efforts as a serious writer. Meyers's research sheds light on Errol Flynn's various scandals some personal (his 1943 statutory rape trial, which downgraded his celebrity to notoriety) and some political (a close friend turned out to be a Nazi spy; Flynn later became involved in the Cuban revolution). This double biography loses its momentum, however, in the three chapters covering Sean Flynn's short life. As much a thrill seeker as his father, Sean embraced the Vietnam experience and was eventually captured and killed by the Vietcong while working as a journalist. The passages on Sean are revealing but eventually distracting; the parallels between father and son are not made as obvious as they should be, and the central chapters on Errol Flynn could have stood alone. Recommended for libraries with strong collections of Hollywood biographies. Elizabeth Morris, Otsego Dist. P.L., MI Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
From veteran biographer Meyers (Orwell, 2000, etc.), an account of swashbuckling film legend Errol Flynn and his ill-fated son Sean. Gifted with good looks, charm, and a winning smile, Errol (1909-59) was a Hollywood Bad Boy: seducer of underage girls, accused statutory rapist, neglectful husband and father, brawler, drunk, and drug addict. His onscreen feats of chivalry and derring-do in films like Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood were matched in real life by dissolution, self-centeredness, and sexual cruelty. Yet Errol was also a real-life adventurer and eccentric who had once sailed around the world, wrote novels and screenplays, read the classics, kept a pet monkey, and inserted himself into both the Spanish Civil War and Castro's Cuban revolution. Meyers clearly appreciates the audacity that made Errol the rogue of Hollywood's golden age and is drawn to the elder Flynn's intellectual and political endeavors, but he's impatient with his subject's excesses as the story inevitably hastens on to the next round of debauchery and to the film legend's untimely death, at age 50, from drink, drugs, and exhaustion. The other side of this dual biography concerns Sean (1941-71), the son Errol barely knew by his first wife, French actress Lili Damita. As irrepressible as his famous dad, Sean was a B-movie actor, a '60s dropout, a Parisian hipster, a photographer, and finally a war correspondent. Driven, says Meyers, by a need to surpass his father's legend, Sean in 1970 concocted a plan to get himself captured by the Vietcong for a sensational "inside" story; it went terribly awry, and he was probably killed by the Khmer Rouge after being imprisoned for 14 months. The notion thathis father's swashbuckling fame led the son astray is a tad overworked here, although the account of Errol's life and accompanying portrayal of mid-century Hollywood do make for some very evocative pages.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743210904
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 5/28/2002
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.42 (h) x 1.11 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: Sean's Life, 1941-1965
I

On April 6, 1970, the war photographer Sean Flynn -- the brave, charismatic son of Errol Flynn -- rode his motorcycle into a roadblock, was captured by the Vietcong and vanished forever into the jungle. When Errol died at the age of fifty in 1959, Sean was eighteen years old. He was brought up by his mother, the French actress Lili Damita, and rarely saw his father, whom Lili divorced when Sean was an infant. Errol became a remote, even mythical figure, yet his dynamic personality and notorious reputation had a great influence on Sean's life. Like his father, Sean was handsome, charming, athletic, courageous and artistically talented. He inspired the friendship of men and the adoration of women. Sean also inherited his father's love of risk, and in adult life he tried to free himself from Errol's overpowering legacy by establishing his own heroic reputation.

Errol rebelled against the puritanism and hypocrisy of the 1930s, '40s and '50s. Sean, a privileged child of his generation, became part of the '60s hippie rebellion. He wore long hair, listened to rock music, was influenced by Eastern religion, smoked pot, took hallucinatory drugs and had a free-wheeling sex life. But Sean was not a mere hedonist. He constantly searched for extreme experiences and became part of an elite group of journalists who risked their lives to record the battles in Vietnam. For Sean, the greatest "high" was danger, the thrill of risk an end in itself.

Errol and Sean Flynn both had a daring, rebellious approach to life and epitomized reckless romanticism. Like Errol, Sean left home to travel the world and became an actor and journalist. Sean went to New Guinea because Errol had lived there. Like their mutinous Bounty ancestor Edward Young with his Tahitian girl and Errol with his teenage "wood nymph" in Jamaica, Sean planned to flee "civilization" and establish an idyllic life on the tropical island of Bali. Sean inherited Errol's belief in his own invincibility and escalated the level of risk. The young Errol was accused of murder; Sean actually killed a man in combat.

Their family drama concerns image-making and moral corruption in Hollywood and Vietnam. It portrays the overwhelming urge to self-destruction by a father who didn't give a damn about anything, including himself, and a son who felt compelled to follow in his footsteps. In a revealing autobiographical moment in The Dawn Patrol (1938), one of his better films, the character played by Errol observes: "My father, a professor of biology at Queen's University, says: 'Man is a savage animal who, to relieve his nervous tension, tries to destroy himself.'" Being Errol's son propelled Sean toward his fate, and his final, gallant, suicidal gesture carried the Flynn tradition to its inevitable conclusion.

II

The unusual circumstances of Sean's birth and the mutual hatred of his parents complicated the troubled relations of father and son. Errol's best moments with Lili Damita were over before they married. At thirty-nine, fearful that time was running out, she tricked him into getting her pregnant after they'd been estranged for many years and burdened him with the responsibility of an unwanted child. Insisting that he should pay for his pleasures, she exclaimed: "Fleen, you think you've screwed every dame in Hollywood, but now I've screwed you, my friend. You will have a child!" Lili's deception and Sean's close ties to a woman Errol hated made the father resent his son. Lili -- still in love with Errol and always very jealous -- remained bitterly vindictive after he'd rejected her and shattered her ego. She devoted many years of her life to pursuing him through the divorce courts and trying to destroy him.

Wanting to protect her son from the malign influence of his father and the movie world, Lili moved across the country to Palm Beach, Florida, when Sean was still a baby. She called Errol despicable and, by frequently changing her mind and canceling the arrangements, made it difficult for him to visit the child. Though Errol put pressure on her by withholding money, she made sure that her impressionable son saw very little of his father when he was growing up.

Sean was deeply attached to Lili, who became a powerful presence in his life. She provided a solid bourgeois background: taught him polite behavior, gave him a good education and supplied him with money. But Sean also had a lot of Errol in him. Despite Lili's efforts, he naturally identified with and admired his godlike father, who seemed all the more appealing during Sean's visits to Errol's glamorous surroundings. They went to nightclubs in New York and sailed in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. Like most boys, Sean saw himself as a replica of his father. But Errol had been demonized in the eyes of his mother and the press.

Errol was never able to establish with Sean the same strong bond he had with his own father. A paradoxically indifferent yet devoted parent, he was incapable of looking after Sean, but saddened to lose him. When estranged from his second wife, Nora Eddington, he struggled for the possession of his younger daughter, Rory. He told Nora: "You can't take my two kids away from me. You must leave me one. Lili took Sean away. I won't have it happen again." When Sean was ten Errol invited him to the set of Kim and, as if he were acting in the movie, dressed him up as a little Indian boy, complete with dark skin, turban and a little Errol-like mustache. Fascinated by guns and playing with a pistol in a desk drawer, the young Sean once fired an accidental shot at Errol. As a teenager, Sean spent a month or two of his summer holidays aboard Flynn's yacht, the Zaca. After a typical brawl on the boat, Sean suddenly appeared from below with a revolver and reassured Errol: "You didn't have a thing to worry about, Pop. I had them covered all the time."

The sophisticated and worldly Errol taught Sean in his own way.

He gave him boxes of condoms and, as a rite of passage, took him to classy brothels in France and Italy. The actor George Hamilton, Sean's school friend, noted how the good manners he'd learned from Lili merged with Errol's eagerness to give him sexual experience. Hamilton once met father and son at Errol's favorite New York nightclub, El Morocco. "Sean was sitting with a hooker his dad had picked up for him" and was always "the perfect gentleman, even with a whore."

When Errol introduced him to his teenage girlfriend Beverly Aadland, only a year younger than his son, Sean thought Beverly was supposed to be his date. When Beverly provoked a wrestling match between father and son, Errol was keen to show off. He pinned Sean to the floor, but as Sean tried to throw him off he knocked Errol's weak left knee out of commission. Errol loved to tease Sean about Beverly. He laughed and scolded: "Don't talk that way to your mother!...Don't look so amazed, son. This little girl may well be your mother some day!"

Despite the glamorous surroundings, Sean saw his father in the bad years. Inwardly torn, profoundly unhappy about his career and fearing he was a total failure, Errol drank heavily, took drugs and became a physical wreck. He tried to be a "groovy dad," but didn't want Sean to follow in his footsteps or become stained by his notorious public image. He admitted that he wasn't much of a parent and hardly knew his children. But when Sean became old enough to be a good companion, Errol -- then living in Europe and Jamaica -- tried to spend as much time with him as he could. He rather optimistically concluded that "Sean and I were destined to become close pals and he now...looks like me but better." Alluding to his unhappy relations with Lili, he added: "Out of this impossible snarl of two volatile people there came something good anyway."

Sean, torn between antagonistic parents, was profoundly ambivalent about his father. After Errol's death he said, "Dad and I were friends," though they rarely saw each other, and praised his father's "zest for life." But, striving to establish his own identity, he also tried to distance himself from his father. Ignoring Lili's past efforts to keep them apart, Sean expressed resentment about Errol's loving neglect. He claimed that he didn't want to talk about Errol, but obsessively returned to him in a series of hostile statements about this remote yet overwhelming figure:

I never knew my old man. And that is OK because he never knew me.

I've hardly seen any of his films, apart from Captain Blood. We really didn't know each other.

[The past] is all dead and buried and I want to forget it. I never saw any of Flynn's pictures -- certainly not Captain Blood, which I am told was a lot of junk...Flynn means nothing to me. I'm me and I don't want people to keep digging up his name. I'm not particularly proud of it...We weren't very good friends.

My mother brought me up practically single-handed...It would have been nice to know my old man some. So many people tell me they knew him well. But I wonder sometimes how many did. How many knew my old man at all. [Living in his shadow] used to worry me but now I think of it more as a funny thing. I didn't know my father well, he was a busy man.

When Sean met David Niven in the south of France in the early 1960s, he shocked the actor by exclaiming: "I know you were a friend of my father. Please don't mention his name to me." A reporter who interviewed Sean when he started making his own movies recorded that "Sean is bitter about his father -- whom he won't discuss but who keeps slipping into his thoughts and conversation nevertheless. 'If anyone brings up his name, I'll just get up and walk away!' he told me. 'That's all people want to hear -- what Errol did. How should I know? He sired me, that's all. He left mother a year after I was born, and although he won visitation rights, he hardly ever exercised them.'"

In 1957 a television actor observed the sixteen-year-old Sean, who hadn't seen Errol for some time, come backstage to greet him: "It was really sad. The two just looked at each other, almost as though they were strangers. Then they shook hands, sort of formally. At one point the boy put one arm out, as if to indicate he was willing to embrace his father, but Flynn just fumbled the moment and talked, a little incoherently. I'm afraid he was stoned out of his mind." While trying to shape his own individuality and make his way in the world, Sean grieved for Errol. He was also bitter about the loss of a father who'd been mainly absent during his childhood and had died in the arms of his teenage girlfriend. By imitating him and attempting to surpass his reckless behavior, Sean tried to forge a bond with his dead father.

III

Sean Flynn was born in Beverly Hills on May 31, 1941, while Errol, deliberately distancing himself from the happy event, was sailing his boat, the Sirocco, off the California coast. (Significantly, Errol gives the wrong date for Sean's birth in his autobiography.) The following year Lili divorced Errol and moved to Palm Beach, a prosperous town of socialites and millionaires. Raised as a Catholic, Sean grew up in a two-story, Oriental-style house at 136 Woodbridge Road -- now adjacent to Donald Trump's estate. When he was two years old the adventurous boy got his foot caught in a drainpipe and had to be sawn free by the local firemen.

Sean attended an elite Palm Beach private school from the first through eighth grades and was remembered there as a beautiful child with perfect manners. Since Lili doubted whether a single mother should bring up a son (and Errol was then living in Europe), she sent Sean to the Black-Foxe Military School in Hollywood, California. The once-coddled boy, unhappy under this two-year spartan regime, would beg Lili: "Can I come home and see my friends?" The following year he transferred to Palm Beach Country Day School.

In 1957 -- when he was sixteen and began seeing Errol during his summer holidays -- the preppy-looking Sean appeared on British television in "The Strange Auction" episode of the Errol Flynn Theatre. In the fall he returned to the East Coast and spent the next three years at Lawrenceville, a first-rate private school near Princeton, New Jersey. He liked the school, which was closer to home, much better than Black-Foxe. Passionate about sports, hunting, fishing, parties, girls and, later on, photography, Sean (like Errol) had no interest in academic studies and never applied himself in school. After two months at Lawrenceville, he proudly told Lili that the coach "thinks I have that rare quality of being a 'natural athlete.'" He worked hard to make All-American in swimming because he thought it "would impress his father," and during his senior year made the varsity swimming, soccer and track teams.

After seeing Errol in New York in October 1957, during his first term at Lawrenceville, Sean wrote him: "I just got back here a while ago and you don't know how damned awful it is [at boarding school]. Naturally, I had a good time with you and both Johns, so that made coming back all the harder...When you get a chance try and drop your old son a line...At least there is some good news -- at least my teachers think so -- I passed all my exams but one. This sounds unimpressive, I know, but I expected to drop three." In a letter to Lili that month, Sean (having followed his father's exploits in the gossip columns) alluded to Errol's third wife, Patrice Wymore, whom he'd married in 1950 and supplanted with Beverly Aadland in 1957. He thought of Lili as constant (she did not remarry till after Errol's death), his father as mercurial: "I had a good time in New York with dad -- and it seems what the papers say is true. That he doesn't love Pat any more."

In April 1958 the Lawrenceville dean dolefully reported Sean's poor mid-term grades -- 74 in English, 62 in French, 61 in Chemistry, 57 in Math -- and issued an official warning about his academic status: "We are indeed sorry that his work continues to be in such shape as to warrant Scholastic Warning...The real problem is not one of ability so much as it is a problem of motivation...As you can see Sean is currently in the bottom quarter."

When things failed to improve by the end of the academic year, Errol's father, Professor Theodore Flynn, who taught in Belfast but kept in touch with Sean, attempted to buck him up with the same well-intentioned but guilt-inspiring advice he had once given Errol: "Your education is costing a good deal and you must make your mother and father feel that it has been well spent." Two months later, while Sean was cavorting with Errol, the Assistant Headmaster told Lili that Sean had flunked a class in her own native language (they didn't speak French at home). His disastrous scholastic performance would force him to spend three years at Lawrenceville (instead of two) and he would not graduate until he was nineteen: "He started out last year as a Fourth Former (11th grade) but was demoted during the year when he dropped his Physics. Then in June he failed French III (second year French). This, therefore, leaves him two courses short of senior status, and there is no way in which he can make up this work between now and next June." Defining himself through his father's image, Sean later recalled that "my school grades were always lousy. I'm just not a scholar...I'm what you might call a hedonist, a young man specializing in pleasure."

Steve Cutter, Sean's closest friend in Palm Beach, vividly recalled Sean's character, interests and travels during his teenage years. In his view, the overprotective and indulgent Lili devoted her whole life to Sean, trying to shelter him in an elite country-club atmosphere. Strikingly handsome (but not at all arrogant or conceited), Sean was outgoing, charming and gracious, down-to-earth, self-assured and adventurous. Fascinated by motorcycles and cars (which he knew how to repair) and addicted to the car races at Sebring, at various times he owned a Triumph motorcycle, a 1957 Chevy convertible, an MG-TD with a special color and an Austin-Healey 4-cylinder racing car. Attracted to danger, he tried scuba diving, went spear fishing with an aqualung and loved drag racing. An expert with guns, he shot rats -- using a flashlight to illuminate the moving targets -- at the Purina feed plant, hunted wild boar in the Everglades and planned to explore the Mato Grosso in Brazil.

In the late 1950s Sean and Steve went to Havana, where American teenagers could lose their virginity with adolescent whores and revel in drinking, gambling and the degenerate life. At the casinos they gambled and lost, called home for more money, lost again and then lost everything. After their parents refused to send another dollar, they survived (according to Steve) by pimping for their favorite whorehouse and rounding up American tourists for "the best sex in town." When they finally came home, Lili's doctor examined them to make sure they hadn't caught the clap.

In the fall of 1960 the nineteen-year-old Sean entered Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, funded by tobacco money and one of the best universities in the South. Infinitely more sophisticated and experienced than the other students, he was already a minor celebrity. There was excited gossip, especially among the eager girls, about Sean Flynn coming to Duke, which was populated by good ol' Southern boys and flirtatious Southern belles. He charmed his way to the presidency of the freshman class with the slogan "You're In With Flynn" (a variant of the notorious tag, "In Like Flynn," that had been once attached to Errol), and with an election ad that listed the phone numbers of all the girls' dorms. After his isolation among the socialites of Palm Beach and the phonies of Hollywood, his indoctrination by military school and by his parents, Sean (unfamiliar with ordinary, sincere people) told a friend that "he had never met a 'real' person until he got to Duke University. He knew all that stuff about being a man was bullshit, but...its importance had been drilled into his head from the time he was a child."

Errol had suddenly died the year before Sean started college. Chuck Adams, an acquaintance at Duke, recalled that Sean seemed to love and adore his father. In college Sean read Errol's phenomenally successful autobiography, My Wicked, Wicked Ways, which appeared a few months after his death. Inspired, perhaps, by his father's youthful career as an actor and impressed by Errol's book, Sean got a small part in an undergraduate production of Born Yesterday. He appeared on stage in a white suit and loafers with no socks, an outfit that instantly became a college fad. He dated striking-looking women and used them to draw attention to himself when they made a dramatic entrance at parties and dances. More gorgeous, even, than Errol, Sean became an idol in his freshman year at Duke.

Sean seemed bright and serious, went to classes and did some work. But his performance was once again inadequate, and at the end of his first term he was put on academic probation. At the same time, he was offered a role in a movie that was too tempting to refuse. Though he seemed to enjoy college life and could have stayed on if he worked harder, he was torn between staying in college and accepting the offer. Compelled to emulate his father instead of pursuing his own career, Sean decided to leave and made the sudden leap from college idol to movie star.

But, in his heart, Sean knew it wasn't right for him. He confided to his close friend and Duke classmate Sally Hobbs that he didn't really want to go to Hollywood. Yet he felt, in an old-fashioned way, that "he had to do honor to the validity of his father's life...try the same things out himself." When Sally questioned him more closely, to clarify his thoughts and help him make a decision, Sean gave a shocking (and surprisingly prescient) forecast of his future:

"What if you go out there and do this movie?"

"I'll probably stay out there and get into that whole moviemaking scene."

"After that, what?"

"I'll probably get very bored with it."

"After that?"

"I'll go sailing around for a while."

"After that?"

"I'll go to Africa and do some hunting."

"Then what?"

"Then, I'll probably find some way to get myself killed."

In 1960, the brown-eyed, blond-haired Sean, six feet, three inches tall and 180 pounds, was at the peak of physical perfection. But he'd lost his student deferment, and was in danger of being drafted and sent to Vietnam. Lili arranged for a doctor-friend to get Sean a medical deferment for a bad back or heart palpitation. On March 3, 1961, Time reported that Sean had left Duke "to hunt [mountain] lions in Arizona while waiting for Blood Jr. to coagulate."

Sean had played a bit part in Where the Boys Are (1960), starring his boyhood pal, George Hamilton. Toward the end of 1961 he left Hollywood to make movies in Europe. He spent the next four years in Paris, living in his late grandmother's apartment on the Rue Nicholas Chuquet, off the Boulevard Wagram. Sean told an English reporter that he'd made The Son of Captain Blood (1962) to earn $10,000 and that Lili (who'd given up acting when she married Errol) was dead against his film career: "She always hated acting right up until she retired." But Sean got his film contracts through Lili, who paid a lot of money to keep him in movies and out of Vietnam. For Sean, the movies were the best way to escape his overbearing mother, academic problems at Duke and military service. He never took them seriously.

IV

Working very hard, Sean made seven profitable movies in Spain, Italy, Germany and France between 1962 and 1965. The Son of Captain Blood (1962) and Duel at the Rio Grande (1963) were costume dramas; Stop Train 349 and Mission to Venice (both 1963) were spy thrillers; Temple of the White Elephant (1964) was an Asian melodrama; Seven Magnificent Pistols (1965) and Twin Pistols (1966) were spaghetti Westerns.

The Son of Captain Blood was the brainchild of Casey Robinson and Harry Joe Brown, who'd written and produced the original Captain Blood that had made Errol a star in 1935. Sean first met them at Errol's funeral. Ann Todd -- a serious English actress who'd appeared in The Seventh Veil and was recently divorced from the director David Lean -- played his mother. The overheated movie poster gives a good idea of its cataclysmic content and exploitation of Sean as the son of Errol.

The Most Daring Adventure that ever swept across the Seven Seas:

See an earthquake shatter an island

See a tidal wave drown an entire city!

See Sean Flynn's debut in the same kind of devil-may-care role that made his father, Errol Flynn, famous

See the mighty sword-play of cut-throat crews slashing their way across the seas!

Starring: Sean Flynn (the son of Errol Flynn), Ann Todd

A Harry Joe Brown Production. Story and screenplay by Casey Robinson.

Directed by Tulio DeMicheli. A Paramount release.

Unlike Errol, who'd worked in an English repertory theater, Sean had no professional training and lacked his father's cinematic flair, but he looked good in costume and moved well on screen. Though young and inexperienced, he gave a creditable performance in a poor film. The sympathetic Time magazine critic rolled out all the clichés and wrote that "he has an all-American body and a mild Irish charm. He seems to be a Hollywood buccaneer and climbs upon the rigging like his daddy used to do." Variety compared Sean to Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and Jr., and thought he was a promising actor: "The resemblance [to the Fairbanks] is striking. Flynn fils, when he learns to act, could become a popular screen personality in romantic adventurer roles. He's handsome, dashing and appears to have inherited his father's athletic prowess, judging by his agile swordplay and generally graceful moves. As a thespian, however, there's an enormous amount of room for improvement."

While making his best film, Stop Train 349 (also called Delay in Marienborn), Sean, rather naively patriotic, used the negotiating skills he had learned from his mother. Writing from Paris, he told Lili: "The second script had some very un-American dialogue...I told them under no circumstances would I do the film, invoking all the sang-froid which I'm sure you would have -- and they gave in." This Cold War B-movie -- which starred José Ferrer, only two years after he'd played the Turkish Bey in Lawrence of Arabia -- portrays the Communist manhunt of an East German refugee, hiding on an American military train that's traveling from Berlin to West Germany. Variety noted that Sean did his best with a weak script: "the verbal duels between the train commander, Sean Flynn, and the Russians lack the necessary dramatic punch...Flynn, however, makes a convincing showing." The New York Times was much more critical: "The on-the-spot production...should have been a solid trenchant thriller, pinpointing the essence of the Berlin Wall in one human's flight to freedom." But its defects included the "inept, fumbling direction of Rolf Haedrich and the callow, wooden acting of young Mr. Flynn in the focal role."

Sean had a film agent and was offered a contract by Twentieth Century-Fox. But, still struggling to find his own identity, he felt overwhelmed by Errol's ghost. In 1963 he told Lili: "I've been hearing enough about Flynn without encouraging more," and didn't want to hear anything else about him till "I feel a little more secure myself." Sean never liked Hollywood, turned down Fox's lucrative offer and later described his months there as the "most miserable time of my life."

V

In the early 1960s Sean, like the young Errol, had become a glamorous figure: an accomplished hunter, rider, boxer, fencer, tennis player, swimmer and skin diver. He spoke fluent French, passable Spanish and Italian, and drove an expensive Porsche. More detached and aloof than Errol, he didn't talk very much. He had the impeccable manners and slight accent of a Southern gentleman. Like an ex-military schoolboy, he would say: "Yes, ma'am" and "No, sir" and would politely hold the door open for a prostitute. He had many attractive girlfriends, including the actress Tuesday Weld. For his birthday celebration at a Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles, two beautiful starlets presented him with a live piranha and the balls of a bull, just killed in Tijuana.

In the Paris flat, which Lili maintained, Sean had Errol's wooden clothes valet, his yacht pennant and his two Purdy shotguns. He also owned a carbine, a .44 Winchester, a .357 magnum and a Thompson machine gun. Slightly embarrassed about living on Lili's largesse, Sean did some work as a fashion photographer and tried to make himself useful. He carried her cash at the casinos in Biarritz, brought money to her bank in Switzerland and picked up a duty-free car along the way. He also tried to reassure Lili, who constantly worried about him and was as overprotective as ever. After a skiing trip in February 1963, he wrote: "I did sprain an ankle (wait a minute, Mother, don't rush out and buy a plane ticket to Paris) -- I'm ALL RIGHT." When Lili sent an electric sheet to warm him up in the cold Paris flat, he candidly told her: "My girlfriend took it as an insult, but then French girls always feel that way, n'est ce pas, ma?"

While shooting Kim in India, Errol had also shot a leopard. In the winter of 1963, Lili paid for Sean's next venture: hunting big game in Pakistan and Africa. She also sent news of his exploits to the local newspaper, which proudly published a photo of Sean crouching next to his trophy. Under the headline "Palm Beach's Sean Flynn Slays Man-Eating Tiger," they quoted Sean's comment: "I was given 100 rupees bounty and a certificate from the government expressing extreme gratitude for slaying the tiger which had taken the lives of three woodsmen. In addition, the certificate includes a government invitation to return." In 1965 he became a safari guide in Tanzania and spent a year training to be a white hunter, but lost interest before he got his license. In Africa, as in college and in movies, he left before completing the project. Admitting that he'd been frightened as well as pleasurably excited by the danger of killing wild animals, Sean said: "The feeling I was going to get killed never left me."

When he left Africa and headed for the greater dangers in Vietnam, Sean, like the young Errol, had slept with many women, traveled widely, tried several careers, could handle a gun and knew how to survive in the wilderness. The young man, packing an extraordinary amount of experience into his twenty-four years, had reenacted and exhausted most of Errol's adventures. Sean had certainly not escaped his father's all-pervasive influence, and his arrival in the war zone was announced by the headline: "Son of Robin Hood in Viet Nam."

Copyright © 2002 by Jeffrey Meyers

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First Chapter

Chapter One: Sean's Life, 1941-1965


I

On April 6, 1970, the war photographer Sean Flynn -- the brave, charismatic son of Errol Flynn -- rode his motorcycle into a roadblock, was captured by the Vietcong and vanished forever into the jungle. When Errol died at the age of fifty in 1959, Sean was eighteen years old. He was brought up by his mother, the French actress Lili Damita, and rarely saw his father, whom Lili divorced when Sean was an infant. Errol became a remote, even mythical figure, yet his dynamic personality and notorious reputation had a great influence on Sean's life. Like his father, Sean was handsome, charming, athletic, courageous and artistically talented. He inspired the friendship of men and the adoration of women. Sean also inherited his father's love of risk, and in adult life he tried to free himself from Errol's overpowering legacy by establishing his own heroic reputation.

Errol rebelled against the puritanism and hypocrisy of the 1930s, '40s and '50s. Sean, a privileged child of his generation, became part of the '60s hippie rebellion. He wore long hair, listened to rock music, was influenced by Eastern religion, smoked pot, took hallucinatory drugs and had a free-wheeling sex life. But Sean was not a mere hedonist. He constantly searched for extreme experiences and became part of an elite group of journalists who risked their lives to record the battles in Vietnam. For Sean, the greatest "high" was danger, the thrill of risk an end in itself.

Errol and Sean Flynn both had a daring, rebellious approach to life and epitomized reckless romanticism. Like Errol, Sean left home to travel theworld and became an actor and journalist. Sean went to New Guinea because Errol had lived there. Like their mutinous Bounty ancestor Edward Young with his Tahitian girl and Errol with his teenage "wood nymph" in Jamaica, Sean planned to flee "civilization" and establish an idyllic life on the tropical island of Bali. Sean inherited Errol's belief in his own invincibility and escalated the level of risk. The young Errol was accused of murder; Sean actually killed a man in combat.

Their family drama concerns image-making and moral corruption in Hollywood and Vietnam. It portrays the overwhelming urge to self-destruction by a father who didn't give a damn about anything, including himself, and a son who felt compelled to follow in his footsteps. In a revealing autobiographical moment in The Dawn Patrol (1938), one of his better films, the character played by Errol observes: "My father, a professor of biology at Queen's University, says: 'Man is a savage animal who, to relieve his nervous tension, tries to destroy himself.'" Being Errol's son propelled Sean toward his fate, and his final, gallant, suicidal gesture carried the Flynn tradition to its inevitable conclusion.


II

The unusual circumstances of Sean's birth and the mutual hatred of his parents complicated the troubled relations of father and son. Errol's best moments with Lili Damita were over before they married. At thirty-nine, fearful that time was running out, she tricked him into getting her pregnant after they'd been estranged for many years and burdened him with the responsibility of an unwanted child. Insisting that he should pay for his pleasures, she exclaimed: "Fleen, you think you've screwed every dame in Hollywood, but now I've screwed you, my friend. You will have a child!" Lili's deception and Sean's close ties to a woman Errol hated made the father resent his son. Lili -- still in love with Errol and always very jealous -- remained bitterly vindictive after he'd rejected her and shattered her ego. She devoted many years of her life to pursuing him through the divorce courts and trying to destroy him.

Wanting to protect her son from the malign influence of his father and the movie world, Lili moved across the country to Palm Beach, Florida, when Sean was still a baby. She called Errol despicable and, by frequently changing her mind and canceling the arrangements, made it difficult for him to visit the child. Though Errol put pressure on her by withholding money, she made sure that her impressionable son saw very little of his father when he was growing up.

Sean was deeply attached to Lili, who became a powerful presence in his life. She provided a solid bourgeois background: taught him polite behavior, gave him a good education and supplied him with money. But Sean also had a lot of Errol in him. Despite Lili's efforts, he naturally identified with and admired his godlike father, who seemed all the more appealing during Sean's visits to Errol's glamorous surroundings. They went to nightclubs in New York and sailed in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. Like most boys, Sean saw himself as a replica of his father. But Errol had been demonized in the eyes of his mother and the press.

Errol was never able to establish with Sean the same strong bond he had with his own father. A paradoxically indifferent yet devoted parent, he was incapable of looking after Sean, but saddened to lose him. When estranged from his second wife, Nora Eddington, he struggled for the possession of his younger daughter, Rory. He told Nora: "You can't take my two kids away from me. You must leave me one. Lili took Sean away. I won't have it happen again." When Sean was ten Errol invited him to the set of Kim and, as if he were acting in the movie, dressed him up as a little Indian boy, complete with dark skin, turban and a little Errol-like mustache. Fascinated by guns and playing with a pistol in a desk drawer, the young Sean once fired an accidental shot at Errol. As a teenager, Sean spent a month or two of his summer holidays aboard Flynn's yacht, the Zaca. After a typical brawl on the boat, Sean suddenly appeared from below with a revolver and reassured Errol: "You didn't have a thing to worry about, Pop. I had them covered all the time."

The sophisticated and worldly Errol taught Sean in his own way.

He gave him boxes of condoms and, as a rite of passage, took him to classy brothels in France and Italy. The actor George Hamilton, Sean's school friend, noted how the good manners he'd learned from Lili merged with Errol's eagerness to give him sexual experience. Hamilton once met father and son at Errol's favorite New York nightclub, El Morocco. "Sean was sitting with a hooker his dad had picked up for him" and was always "the perfect gentleman, even with a whore."

When Errol introduced him to his teenage girlfriend Beverly Aadland, only a year younger than his son, Sean thought Beverly was supposed to be his date. When Beverly provoked a wrestling match between father and son, Errol was keen to show off. He pinned Sean to the floor, but as Sean tried to throw him off he knocked Errol's weak left knee out of commission. Errol loved to tease Sean about Beverly. He laughed and scolded: "Don't talk that way to your mother!...Don't look so amazed, son. This little girl may well be your mother some day!"

Despite the glamorous surroundings, Sean saw his father in the bad years. Inwardly torn, profoundly unhappy about his career and fearing he was a total failure, Errol drank heavily, took drugs and became a physical wreck. He tried to be a "groovy dad," but didn't want Sean to follow in his footsteps or become stained by his notorious public image. He admitted that he wasn't much of a parent and hardly knew his children. But when Sean became old enough to be a good companion, Errol -- then living in Europe and Jamaica -- tried to spend as much time with him as he could. He rather optimistically concluded that "Sean and I were destined to become close pals and he now...looks like me but better." Alluding to his unhappy relations with Lili, he added: "Out of this impossible snarl of two volatile people there came something good anyway."

Sean, torn between antagonistic parents, was profoundly ambivalent about his father. After Errol's death he said, "Dad and I were friends," though they rarely saw each other, and praised his father's "zest for life." But, striving to establish his own identity, he also tried to distance himself from his father. Ignoring Lili's past efforts to keep them apart, Sean expressed resentment about Errol's loving neglect. He claimed that he didn't want to talk about Errol, but obsessively returned to him in a series of hostile statements about this remote yet overwhelming figure:


I never knew my old man. And that is OK because he never knew me.


I've hardly seen any of his films, apart from Captain Blood. We really didn't know each other.


[The past] is all dead and buried and I want to forget it. I never saw any of Flynn's pictures -- certainly not Captain Blood, which I am told was a lot of junk...Flynn means nothing to me. I'm me and I don't want people to keep digging up his name. I'm not particularly proud of it...We weren't very good friends.


My mother brought me up practically single-handed...It would have been nice to know my old man some. So many people tell me they knew him well. But I wonder sometimes how many did. How many knew my old man at all. [Living in his shadow] used to worry me but now I think of it more as a funny thing. I didn't know my father well, he was a busy man.


When Sean met David Niven in the south of France in the early 1960s, he shocked the actor by exclaiming: "I know you were a friend of my father. Please don't mention his name to me." A reporter who interviewed Sean when he started making his own movies recorded that "Sean is bitter about his father -- whom he won't discuss but who keeps slipping into his thoughts and conversation nevertheless. 'If anyone brings up his name, I'll just get up and walk away!' he told me. 'That's all people want to hear -- what Errol did. How should I know? He sired me, that's all. He left mother a year after I was born, and although he won visitation rights, he hardly ever exercised them.'"

In 1957 a television actor observed the sixteen-year-old Sean, who hadn't seen Errol for some time, come backstage to greet him: "It was really sad. The two just looked at each other, almost as though they were strangers. Then they shook hands, sort of formally. At one point the boy put one arm out, as if to indicate he was willing to embrace his father, but Flynn just fumbled the moment and talked, a little incoherently. I'm afraid he was stoned out of his mind." While trying to shape his own individuality and make his way in the world, Sean grieved for Errol. He was also bitter about the loss of a father who'd been mainly absent during his childhood and had died in the arms of his teenage girlfriend. By imitating him and attempting to surpass his reckless behavior, Sean tried to forge a bond with his dead father.


III

Sean Flynn was born in Beverly Hills on May 31, 1941, while Errol, deliberately distancing himself from the happy event, was sailing his boat, the Sirocco, off the California coast. (Significantly, Errol gives the wrong date for Sean's birth in his autobiography.) The following year Lili divorced Errol and moved to Palm Beach, a prosperous town of socialites and millionaires. Raised as a Catholic, Sean grew up in a two-story, Oriental-style house at 136 Woodbridge Road -- now adjacent to Donald Trump's estate. When he was two years old the adventurous boy got his foot caught in a drainpipe and had to be sawn free by the local firemen.

Sean attended an elite Palm Beach private school from the first through eighth grades and was remembered there as a beautiful child with perfect manners. Since Lili doubted whether a single mother should bring up a son (and Errol was then living in Europe), she sent Sean to the Black-Foxe Military School in Hollywood, California. The once-coddled boy, unhappy under this two-year spartan regime, would beg Lili: "Can I come home and see my friends?" The following year he transferred to Palm Beach Country Day School.

In 1957 -- when he was sixteen and began seeing Errol during his summer holidays -- the preppy-looking Sean appeared on British television in "The Strange Auction" episode of the Errol Flynn Theatre. In the fall he returned to the East Coast and spent the next three years at Lawrenceville, a first-rate private school near Princeton, New Jersey. He liked the school, which was closer to home, much better than Black-Foxe. Passionate about sports, hunting, fishing, parties, girls and, later on, photography, Sean (like Errol) had no interest in academic studies and never applied himself in school. After two months at Lawrenceville, he proudly told Lili that the coach "thinks I have that rare quality of being a 'natural athlete.'" He worked hard to make All-American in swimming because he thought it "would impress his father," and during his senior year made the varsity swimming, soccer and track teams.

After seeing Errol in New York in October 1957, during his first term at Lawrenceville, Sean wrote him: "I just got back here a while ago and you don't know how damned awful it is [at boarding school]. Naturally, I had a good time with you and both Johns, so that made coming back all the harder...When you get a chance try and drop your old son a line...At least there is some good news -- at least my teachers think so -- I passed all my exams but one. This sounds unimpressive, I know, but I expected to drop three." In a letter to Lili that month, Sean (having followed his father's exploits in the gossip columns) alluded to Errol's third wife, Patrice Wymore, whom he'd married in 1950 and supplanted with Beverly Aadland in 1957. He thought of Lili as constant (she did not remarry till after Errol's death), his father as mercurial: "I had a good time in New York with dad -- and it seems what the papers say is true. That he doesn't love Pat any more."

In April 1958 the Lawrenceville dean dolefully reported Sean's poor mid-term grades -- 74 in English, 62 in French, 61 in Chemistry, 57 in Math -- and issued an official warning about his academic status: "We are indeed sorry that his work continues to be in such shape as to warrant Scholastic Warning...The real problem is not one of ability so much as it is a problem of motivation...As you can see Sean is currently in the bottom quarter."

When things failed to improve by the end of the academic year, Errol's father, Professor Theodore Flynn, who taught in Belfast but kept in touch with Sean, attempted to buck him up with the same well-intentioned but guilt-inspiring advice he had once given Errol: "Your education is costing a good deal and you must make your mother and father feel that it has been well spent." Two months later, while Sean was cavorting with Errol, the Assistant Headmaster told Lili that Sean had flunked a class in her own native language (they didn't speak French at home). His disastrous scholastic performance would force him to spend three years at Lawrenceville (instead of two) and he would not graduate until he was nineteen: "He started out last year as a Fourth Former (11th grade) but was demoted during the year when he dropped his Physics. Then in June he failed French III (second year French). This, therefore, leaves him two courses short of senior status, and there is no way in which he can make up this work between now and next June." Defining himself through his father's image, Sean later recalled that "my school grades were always lousy. I'm just not a scholar...I'm what you might call a hedonist, a young man specializing in pleasure."

Steve Cutter, Sean's closest friend in Palm Beach, vividly recalled Sean's character, interests and travels during his teenage years. In his view, the overprotective and indulgent Lili devoted her whole life to Sean, trying to shelter him in an elite country-club atmosphere. Strikingly handsome (but not at all arrogant or conceited), Sean was outgoing, charming and gracious, down-to-earth, self-assured and adventurous. Fascinated by motorcycles and cars (which he knew how to repair) and addicted to the car races at Sebring, at various times he owned a Triumph motorcycle, a 1957 Chevy convertible, an MG-TD with a special color and an Austin-Healey 4-cylinder racing car. Attracted to danger, he tried scuba diving, went spear fishing with an aqualung and loved drag racing. An expert with guns, he shot rats -- using a flashlight to illuminate the moving targets -- at the Purina feed plant, hunted wild boar in the Everglades and planned to explore the Mato Grosso in Brazil.

In the late 1950s Sean and Steve went to Havana, where American teenagers could lose their virginity with adolescent whores and revel in drinking, gambling and the degenerate life. At the casinos they gambled and lost, called home for more money, lost again and then lost everything. After their parents refused to send another dollar, they survived (according to Steve) by pimping for their favorite whorehouse and rounding up American tourists for "the best sex in town." When they finally came home, Lili's doctor examined them to make sure they hadn't caught the clap.

In the fall of 1960 the nineteen-year-old Sean entered Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, funded by tobacco money and one of the best universities in the South. Infinitely more sophisticated and experienced than the other students, he was already a minor celebrity. There was excited gossip, especially among the eager girls, about Sean Flynn coming to Duke, which was populated by good ol' Southern boys and flirtatious Southern belles. He charmed his way to the presidency of the freshman class with the slogan "You're In With Flynn" (a variant of the notorious tag, "In Like Flynn," that had been once attached to Errol), and with an election ad that listed the phone numbers of all the girls' dorms. After his isolation among the socialites of Palm Beach and the phonies of Hollywood, his indoctrination by military school and by his parents, Sean (unfamiliar with ordinary, sincere people) told a friend that "he had never met a 'real' person until he got to Duke University. He knew all that stuff about being a man was bullshit, but...its importance had been drilled into his head from the time he was a child."

Errol had suddenly died the year before Sean started college. Chuck Adams, an acquaintance at Duke, recalled that Sean seemed to love and adore his father. In college Sean read Errol's phenomenally successful autobiography, My Wicked, Wicked Ways, which appeared a few months after his death. Inspired, perhaps, by his father's youthful career as an actor and impressed by Errol's book, Sean got a small part in an undergraduate production of Born Yesterday. He appeared on stage in a white suit and loafers with no socks, an outfit that instantly became a college fad. He dated striking-looking women and used them to draw attention to himself when they made a dramatic entrance at parties and dances. More gorgeous, even, than Errol, Sean became an idol in his freshman year at Duke.

Sean seemed bright and serious, went to classes and did some work. But his performance was once again inadequate, and at the end of his first term he was put on academic probation. At the same time, he was offered a role in a movie that was too tempting to refuse. Though he seemed to enjoy college life and could have stayed on if he worked harder, he was torn between staying in college and accepting the offer. Compelled to emulate his father instead of pursuing his own career, Sean decided to leave and made the sudden leap from college idol to movie star.

But, in his heart, Sean knew it wasn't right for him. He confided to his close friend and Duke classmate Sally Hobbs that he didn't really want to go to Hollywood. Yet he felt, in an old-fashioned way, that "he had to do honor to the validity of his father's life...try the same things out himself." When Sally questioned him more closely, to clarify his thoughts and help him make a decision, Sean gave a shocking (and surprisingly prescient) forecast of his future:

"What if you go out there and do this movie?"

"I'll probably stay out there and get into that whole moviemaking scene."

"After that, what?"

"I'll probably get very bored with it."

"After that?"

"I'll go sailing around for a while."

"After that?"

"I'll go to Africa and do some hunting."

"Then what?"

"Then, I'll probably find some way to get myself killed."

In 1960, the brown-eyed, blond-haired Sean, six feet, three inches tall and 180 pounds, was at the peak of physical perfection. But he'd lost his student deferment, and was in danger of being drafted and sent to Vietnam. Lili arranged for a doctor-friend to get Sean a medical deferment for a bad back or heart palpitation. On March 3, 1961, Time reported that Sean had left Duke "to hunt [mountain] lions in Arizona while waiting for Blood Jr. to coagulate."

Sean had played a bit part in Where the Boys Are (1960), starring his boyhood pal, George Hamilton. Toward the end of 1961 he left Hollywood to make movies in Europe. He spent the next four years in Paris, living in his late grandmother's apartment on the Rue Nicholas Chuquet, off the Boulevard Wagram. Sean told an English reporter that he'd made The Son of Captain Blood (1962) to earn $10,000 and that Lili (who'd given up acting when she married Errol) was dead against his film career: "She always hated acting right up until she retired." But Sean got his film contracts through Lili, who paid a lot of money to keep him in movies and out of Vietnam. For Sean, the movies were the best way to escape his overbearing mother, academic problems at Duke and military service. He never took them seriously.


IV

Working very hard, Sean made seven profitable movies in Spain, Italy, Germany and France between 1962 and 1965. The Son of Captain Blood (1962) and Duel at the Rio Grande (1963) were costume dramas; Stop Train 349 and Mission to Venice (both 1963) were spy thrillers; Temple of the White Elephant (1964) was an Asian melodrama; Seven Magnificent Pistols (1965) and Twin Pistols (1966) were spaghetti Westerns.

The Son of Captain Blood was the brainchild of Casey Robinson and Harry Joe Brown, who'd written and produced the original Captain Blood that had made Errol a star in 1935. Sean first met them at Errol's funeral. Ann Todd -- a serious English actress who'd appeared in The Seventh Veil and was recently divorced from the director David Lean -- played his mother. The overheated movie poster gives a good idea of its cataclysmic content and exploitation of Sean as the son of Errol.


The Most Daring Adventure that ever swept across the Seven Seas:

See an earthquake shatter an island

See a tidal wave drown an entire city!

See Sean Flynn's debut in the same kind of devil-may-care role that made his father, Errol Flynn, famous

See the mighty sword-play of cut-throat crews slashing their way across the seas!

Starring: Sean Flynn (the son of Errol Flynn), Ann Todd

A Harry Joe Brown Production. Story and screenplay by Casey Robinson.

Directed by Tulio DeMicheli. A Paramount release.


Unlike Errol, who'd worked in an English repertory theater, Sean had no professional training and lacked his father's cinematic flair, but he looked good in costume and moved well on screen. Though young and inexperienced, he gave a creditable performance in a poor film. The sympathetic Time magazine critic rolled out all the clichés and wrote that "he has an all-American body and a mild Irish charm. He seems to be a Hollywood buccaneer and climbs upon the rigging like his daddy used to do." Variety compared Sean to Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and Jr., and thought he was a promising actor: "The resemblance [to the Fairbanks] is striking. Flynn fils, when he learns to act, could become a popular screen personality in romantic adventurer roles. He's handsome, dashing and appears to have inherited his father's athletic prowess, judging by his agile swordplay and generally graceful moves. As a thespian, however, there's an enormous amount of room for improvement."

While making his best film, Stop Train 349 (also called Delay in Marienborn), Sean, rather naively patriotic, used the negotiating skills he had learned from his mother. Writing from Paris, he told Lili: "The second script had some very un-American dialogue...I told them under no circumstances would I do the film, invoking all the sang-froid which I'm sure you would have -- and they gave in." This Cold War B-movie -- which starred José Ferrer, only two years after he'd played the Turkish Bey in Lawrence of Arabia -- portrays the Communist manhunt of an East German refugee, hiding on an American military train that's traveling from Berlin to West Germany. Variety noted that Sean did his best with a weak script: "the verbal duels between the train commander, Sean Flynn, and the Russians lack the necessary dramatic punch...Flynn, however, makes a convincing showing." The New York Times was much more critical: "The on-the-spot production...should have been a solid trenchant thriller, pinpointing the essence of the Berlin Wall in one human's flight to freedom." But its defects included the "inept, fumbling direction of Rolf Haedrich and the callow, wooden acting of young Mr. Flynn in the focal role."

Sean had a film agent and was offered a contract by Twentieth Century-Fox. But, still struggling to find his own identity, he felt overwhelmed by Errol's ghost. In 1963 he told Lili: "I've been hearing enough about Flynn without encouraging more," and didn't want to hear anything else about him till "I feel a little more secure myself." Sean never liked Hollywood, turned down Fox's lucrative offer and later described his months there as the "most miserable time of my life."


V

In the early 1960s Sean, like the young Errol, had become a glamorous figure: an accomplished hunter, rider, boxer, fencer, tennis player, swimmer and skin diver. He spoke fluent French, passable Spanish and Italian, and drove an expensive Porsche. More detached and aloof than Errol, he didn't talk very much. He had the impeccable manners and slight accent of a Southern gentleman. Like an ex-military schoolboy, he would say: "Yes, ma'am" and "No, sir" and would politely hold the door open for a prostitute. He had many attractive girlfriends, including the actress Tuesday Weld. For his birthday celebration at a Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles, two beautiful starlets presented him with a live piranha and the balls of a bull, just killed in Tijuana.

In the Paris flat, which Lili maintained, Sean had Errol's wooden clothes valet, his yacht pennant and his two Purdy shotguns. He also owned a carbine, a .44 Winchester, a .357 magnum and a Thompson machine gun. Slightly embarrassed about living on Lili's largesse, Sean did some work as a fashion photographer and tried to make himself useful. He carried her cash at the casinos in Biarritz, brought money to her bank in Switzerland and picked up a duty-free car along the way. He also tried to reassure Lili, who constantly worried about him and was as overprotective as ever. After a skiing trip in February 1963, he wrote: "I did sprain an ankle (wait a minute, Mother, don't rush out and buy a plane ticket to Paris) -- I'm ALL RIGHT." When Lili sent an electric sheet to warm him up in the cold Paris flat, he candidly told her: "My girlfriend took it as an insult, but then French girls always feel that way, n'est ce pas, ma?"

While shooting Kim in India, Errol had also shot a leopard. In the winter of 1963, Lili paid for Sean's next venture: hunting big game in Pakistan and Africa. She also sent news of his exploits to the local newspaper, which proudly published a photo of Sean crouching next to his trophy. Under the headline "Palm Beach's Sean Flynn Slays Man-Eating Tiger," they quoted Sean's comment: "I was given 100 rupees bounty and a certificate from the government expressing extreme gratitude for slaying the tiger which had taken the lives of three woodsmen. In addition, the certificate includes a government invitation to return." In 1965 he became a safari guide in Tanzania and spent a year training to be a white hunter, but lost interest before he got his license. In Africa, as in college and in movies, he left before completing the project. Admitting that he'd been frightened as well as pleasurably excited by the danger of killing wild animals, Sean said: "The feeling I was going to get killed never left me."

When he left Africa and headed for the greater dangers in Vietnam, Sean, like the young Errol, had slept with many women, traveled widely, tried several careers, could handle a gun and knew how to survive in the wilderness. The young man, packing an extraordinary amount of experience into his twenty-four years, had reenacted and exhausted most of Errol's adventures. Sean had certainly not escaped his father's all-pervasive influence, and his arrival in the war zone was announced by the headline: "Son of Robin Hood in Viet Nam."

Copyright © 2002 by Jeffrey Meyers

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Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

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