When I was fourteen years old Errol Flynn, the Hollywood swashbuckling actor, was my hero.
With stunning looks he had everything going for him. He lived his life to its utmost, philandering, drinking – and pulled a prank involving a plastic penis during the filming of Adventures of Don Juan which made him as notorious off-screen as he was celebrated on it.
Women were entranced in his presence and the great seducer became the envy of men all over the world. His libido was like the engine of an express train which whistled through the countryside to its next destination with the systematic comfort and energy expected of it.
Rumour has it, given his strong sexual impulses, the well-heeled lothario spent a good deal of his time hopping on three legs. Some would say, perish the thought. Surely, not I!
But we understand now that his lifestyle might have played havoc with his finances. A British menswear shop has revealed that it hired private detectives to pursue the star for debts amounting to thousands of pounds for underwear and pyjamas.
Flynn shopped often at Montague and Jeffrey in Northampton early in his career when he performed with the town’s repertory company in the 1930s. Jonathan Williams, whose grandfather was Bernard Jeffrey, said of Flynn: ‘My grandfather knew Errol and would supply him with pyjamas, pants and socks which were never paid for. Before my grandfather died he told me how Errol would run up large debts all over the place and would promise to pay but never did. We do have a letter from him promising to pay his debt. The exact amount is not specified.’
Flynn wrote to the shop’s private detective: ‘If you would care to wait about a week longer, I will be able to pay your account in full. The only reason it has not been settled previously is inability, not disinclination.’
Mr Williams added, ‘Everyone knows about Errol’s legendary manhood but my grandfather never mentioned anything about it. I don’t know if he had to alter any of his clothing.’
The rumours were the result of a prank Flynn played on Vincent Sherman, the director, who entered a dressing room to see the actor lower a towel and reveal a thirteen-inch prosthetic penis.
Flynn, who died in 1957, rose to global fame in 1938 when he starred in The Adventures of Robin Hood and became an American citizen in 1942.
In those days Hollywood stars were only paid a fraction of the fees they can now command. The bubble continues to grow and some of the leading actors in Hollywood are now worth millions as the film industry becomes bigger and more powerful than ever before.
The story of Errol Flynn’s debt is understandable. He was comparatively speaking living on a shoestring while maintaining a plush hedonistic lifestyle that required an incessant flow of a large income. However, he managed to enjoy his life to its extremity and must have been familiar with the old saying ‘better die a beggar than live a beggar’.