Our Errol Flynn was born in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, in 1909, meaning that his decision to leave for New Guinea, at twenty, to become a tobacco farmer/forest mining rapist, sounds rather daring – and rebellious. Australia’s education system and Flynn didn’t always bring out the best in each other, and he also fell out with his mother, his girlfriends, and even his longsuffering employers…or 80% of Australia. Flynn, to be sure, was always looking for answers – but that’s not why people adore him.
The Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) was well-read too. In Papua New Guinea, Flynn consumed books like Al Gore’s houses consume energy. “For even way down there, I got hold of the literature of Communism,” he wrote in his controversial biography, My Wicked, Wicked Ways. “In that day, 1928 through 1931 or so, there were some big names out of Russia, Radek, Zinoviev, Stalin. The Sydney library even sent Karl Marx to me, and I’ll wager I’m one of the few people in the world who ever read that bore from beginning to end.”
Marxism? “Living as I did in New Guinea myself, it seemed the answer to the world’s problems.” And, unlike Margaret Mead, Flynn called a savage a savage, or a cannibal:
Around me was this palaeolithic world that seemed so backward and so in need of some kind of ethic. Marx it seemed had the answer. In short, I was one of the breed of the young men who filled the Western world at that time. But now, rereading him, I still find him the dullest sonofabitch you can ‘opiate’ yourself with.
Agreed. I declare that the devil-may-care Tasmanian was one of our funniest actors, and perhaps the world’s greatest tourist. Others will charge that he was our naughtiest. “How many wives again?”
Adventure was in Flynn’s blood, but his independent nature is what separates him from Hollywood’s Martini Marxists (past and present). Flynn was not a star for the stars, but a star, plain and simple, because he lived a life uncommon. Or a life: F is for “Flynnanigans.”
Thus, to read about Flynn’s “Flynnanigans” is to be reminded of how politically polite today’s actors and actresses are. I mean, imagine, if you will, the establishment’s reaction if Cate Blanchett, dumped on “global warming” campaigns like Flynn dumped on Hollywood’s religion, Martini Marxism. My gut tells me that Kevin Rudd would finally ask her to stop selling magic mud beauty products.
From New Guinea, of course, Flynn landed in the Mother Country, England, with a few more foreign adventures and acting roles in his suitcase of experiences. There, he wiggled himself into the theatre world, and the hearts and beds of needy women. Then, it was off to the United States, where he made it on the big screen, to complete the fairytale adventure. From all of which, the puzzling question arises: Aren’t all anti-Communists meant to be “evil” Republican tobacco farmers?
I also see Flynn’s brave side. While Hollywood stars are quick to mock farmers in Kansas, they rarely make public statements against their “politically superior” peers. Flynn was noticeably different. In his view, for instance, Charlie Chaplain’s “aloof snobbery” was painful. The talented but bitchy communist-sympathizing actor saw himself as “God’s gift to the world” and that was that: “It always struck me as a queer paradox that Chaplain, who should know more about humility, having invented the great feet-apart clown, should never have adopted the same humility in his private life” outside Red Russia’s happy camps.
Odd. But he made time for rebels. “On a trip to England I happened on an old pal, Clark Gable” the Eisenhower/Nixon Republican. “We stayed at the same hotel for three days together” jokes never too far away. “If anyone should ask, ‘What do two actors talk about when they meet?’ the answer is ‘Themselves.’”
And women? Flynn was never in the running for The Faithful Husband of the Year Award. Or the Southern Baptist’s sobriety trophy. In his words: “Favourite occupation: A prolonged bout in the bedroom.” My. “The greatest calamity: Castration.” He dreamed of reaching seventy, but God gave him fifty. His calamity? His weak heart.
“So why do people still adore him?” I hear you ask. I can’t answer that in 800 words. It’s very much like the Cuban question. Or the drug question. Or my favourite brainteaser: “Why do today’s socialists wear Prada and read Pravda?” But, in any case, wearing Robin Hood tights, and making fantastic jokes never hurt a man’s popularity. Flynn always made his points with a smile too: “Someone, I don’t know who – it might even have been me – said, ‘Any man at the age of twenty-five who is not a Communist has no heart: any man who still is at the age of thirty-five has no head.”
Ben-Peter Terpstra is a writer – he also blogs here