I’ll organize revolt: exact a death for a death, and I’ll never rest until every Saxon in this Shire can stand up, free men, and strike a blow for Richard and England! — Errol Flynn as Robin Hood in The Adventures of Robin Hood
ERROL FLYNN led a reasonably swashbuckling lifestyle long before he achieved fame as an actor known for his period action-adventure roles in such films as Captain Blood (1935), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).
Born on the isle of Tasmania, the vigorously handsome and athletic young man was a constant disappointment to his egghead father Theodore, a noted Australian professor of marine biology and zoology. Plagued by wanderlust that led him to continually run away from home, and further bothered by an irreconcilable relationship with the law, Flynn turned his back on his father’s scholarly plans for him to take to the South Seas, after several career turns as a government employee, a plantation overseer, and a slave trader failed to keep his attention.
While leading a tour expedition to New Guinea, Flynn occasioned upon Australian film producer Charles A. Chauvel, who subsequently cast him as “Fletcher Christian” in the low-budget film In the Wake of the Bounty (1933). Flynn discovered he had a far more robust attention span for acting, and after learning how to swashbuckle believably during a year’s stint of stage repertory in London, he landed a contract with Warner Bros.
Flynn achieved nearly overnight stardom when he had the great fortune to replace actor Robert Donat in Captain Blood; from then on, he commanded one of the highest salaries in Hollywood. Dynamic and roguish on-screen, Flynn was also something of a roué off-screen; his penchant for vodka, morphine, and dangerously young women earned him a deserved reputation for living precariously high on the hog. In a much-celebrated trial in 1942, the star answered charges for the statutory rape of two jailbait teenyboppers. The “Charming Rogue,” as he came to be called, was acquitted amidst speculation that the trial had represented an unscrupulous attempt by corrupt city officials to extort large sums of money from the studio heads (apparently, pending charges on both plaintiffs had been dropped to gain their cooperation in bringing the actor to trial). Surprisingly, instead of hindering his career, the hubbub surrounding the trial fueled his popularity–especially with female fans–to ever higher levels.
In the fifties, the quality of Flynn’s performances and projects began to deteriorate in direct proportion to his dissipating health. Though he gave creditable performances in 1957’s The Sun Also Rises and 1958’s Too Much Too Soon (in the latter, he portrayed the similarly self-annihilating screen star, John Barrymore), most of the films in which he appeared at the tail end of his career were mediocre at best.
Years of excessive living took their final toll in 1959, when the actor suffered a fatal heart attack.