The Life & Career
By Thomas McNulty
McFarland & Company, Inc.
Yes, I know the title of this review column is Pulp Fiction and this review is straying off that thematic path. I beg your indulgences, as this particular subject matter is near and dear to my heart thus influential in my own taste for action adventure literature. It will allow you a small glimpse of what shaped this reviewer in his youth.
Growing up in the 1950s, with the advent of television, I was a fortunate member of that generation that had access to old Hollywood movies in the comfort of my own living room. Television was pretty much our story telling electronic babysitter and it was before it that I discovered the greatest cinematic swashbuckler of them all, Errol Flynn.
To this day I consider his 1938 “The Adventures of Robin Hood” one the all time great adventure romances ever made. From the splendor of its Technicolor hues to the fast paced script and direction, the beautiful Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian, the dastardly charming Basil Rathbone as the villainous Sheriff of Nottingham and of course Flynn as the quintessential Robin Hood. You can imagine a preteen young boy being mesmerized by such a tale of action and adventure all propelled by a brutally handsome rogue who, against all odds, would win both his cause and the hand of the fair lady. It was heady stuff; the same stuff that all adolescent dreams are made of.
Over those formative years, I would soon come to enjoy and applaud Flynn in his other great swashbuckling sagas such as “Captain Blood”, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, “They Died With Their Boots On” and another personal favorite, “The Sea Hawk.” That he was the idol of millions of young men around the world should come as no surprise to anyone who loves movies. But like all fabrications, the older I became, the more fact, as delivered by the gossip rags, began to intrude on fiction and the real person of Tasmanian born Errol Flynn began to emerge in my awareness. Learning the harsh reality that the actor was but a poor reflection of the heroes he portrayed on the silver screen was one of life’s bitter lessons to be learned. Yet, despite these “truths” my fascination and admiration of his films never lessened. After he passed away at a relatively young age in 1959, I often wondered who Errol Flynn really was. Thanks to biographer Thomas McNulty, we now have the answer to that question in this remarkable, exhaustively researched book.
At last we have a complete telling of the man’s life, from his early days in Tasmania to his struggling school years in England and finally his return to the Land Down Under and the fateful meetings that ultimately led him to a career in action. And as his personal journey zig-zags across the globe, so did Flynn’s love the sea and traveling. We learn that throughout both his successes and failures, it was forever the siren call of the horizon that forever propelled him onward, always eager and curious to find that strange and exotic land beyond. He was a self-taught philosopher, the talented writer and the cold and heartless womanizer all rolled into one complicated psyche. He would spend his entire life trying to self-analyze and fathom that mystery until, in the end, he was resigned himself to truth that whatever answers exist, they are not revealed to us in this life.
As a biographer, McNulty accepts his responsibility to tell us the entire story of the man, not the screen legend. He does so unerringly, often times clearly uncomfortable with the facts he is relating such the FBI’s voluminous files on Flynn and J. Edgar Hoover’s personal disdain for Flynn’s immorality. Here are the stories of his alcoholism and even worst self-destructive drug addiction to heroin. And yet this same lost soul remains a loving father devoted to his children. At the same time McNulty dispels the countless myths and fabrications that were created by Flynn’s enemies while also denouncing the actor’s own tall-tales with which he often used as a shield against the ever intruding press reporters. Here was a man who both desired and then despised his own celebrity.
“Errol Flynn – The Life and Career” is a truly amazing biography worthy of a place in any true film lover’s library. Errol Flynn was arguably one of the greatest romantic actors ever to shine on that giant silver screen and his place in cinematic history has been shamefully underrated. McNulty’s book goes a long way in correcting that wrong and argues soundly that more critical attention demands to be focused on this truly unique and talented man. Let’s hope the academic community is listening.