A family perspective on swashbuckler Errol Flynn

Rory Flynn's book about her father, Errol Flynn, shows a side of the famous actor the public and critics never knew.

Former part-time Malibu resident Rory Flynn shares family memories in a new book about her father, Errol Flynn.

By Dena Feingold / Special to The Malibu Times

Personified and often typecast as a swashbuckler and the ultimate action hero, and later, as a philanderer, actor Errol Flynn is now portrayed as a loving husband and devoted father in “The Baron of Mulholland: A Daughter Remembers Errol Flynn.” Written by still photographer and former Malibu resident Rory Flynn, the coffee table book is an intimate view of memories of her famous father seen through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl, and the special relationship that she shared with him.

Errol Flynn left England to come to the States in the early 30s. He starred in more than 50 movies, among them “Captain Blood,” which launched him into stardom, and “The Adventures of Robinhood.” The moniker, the Baron, was given to him by director Raoul Walsh, who directed Flynn in “They Died with Their Boots On,” also starring Olivia de Havilland. The actor’s marriage to Rory’s mother, Nora Eddington, was the second of three. Rory Flynn’s half brother, Sean Flynn, disappeared in Cambodia during the Vietnam War working as a freelance photojournalist. She also has a younger sister, Deirdre, and her half sister Arnella, from Errol’s last marriage to actress Patrice Wymore. Arnella died in 1998.

Spending summers in Malibu while growing up, the Flynn family would rent the same house every year on Old Malibu Road.

In the self-described “anti-dirt” book, Flynn recalls a memory of her dad rescuing a dolphin that had been cut by a boat. “This happened at Corral [Canyon] Beach at the end of Old Malibu Road,” Flynn said. “I remember being quite scared because I thought it was a shark, only seeing the fin, but my dad knew right away [that it was a dolphin] and walked into the water to sooth the poor thing until the animal rescue people came.”

Because there have been so many biography-type books written about the star, including one he penned himself “My Wicked, Wicked Ways,” Flynn said she saw writing this book as an opportunity to show a side of her father that has not been seen before. “I was careful to put in his letters,” Flynn said. “For when seen in his own handwriting, you know that you are getting a glimpse of the man and not hearsay.”

Regardless of her family memories, Flynn admits her dad was absent a great deal from her life, but was always made to believe he was a special dad, unlike any other father. “We missed him and we had to understand divorce at an early age,” Flynn said. “Our dad was away making movies and therefore he could not be with us.”

Memories of her father being a great dad came flooding back while writing the book; however, Rory does not dispute the claim that her father was a reputed womanizer and philanderer. [In addition to his way with women, Flynn was also known for his heavy drinking and drug addiction.] “My father was an adventurer and he loved women-more than that, they loved him,” Flynn said.

“He was the only dad I had-when we were all together he made us feel like we were his world,” she added. “He gave us 200 percent of his attention.”

Divided into four sections, the pages consist mainly of the family’s private collection of photographs, letters and postcards, along with images culled from newspapers and magazines. “My mother passed away just before 9/11 and left me her love letters from my father,” Flynn said. “All the photos are from my grandmother who took the old Brownie-type photos that you see [throughout the book].”

The first section titled “The Romance” chronicles Errol Flynn’s relationship with Rory’s mother, and pays homage to Hollywood’s Golden Age. “I tried to use only photos that had not been seen before, but that became impossible because I was telling the love story of my mother and father, their union and their family,” Flynn said.

The “Mulholland Drive” part of the title is based on the home the actor built in the Hollywood Hills, which was filled with animals, some of which Errol Flynn adopted from films in which he starred. She also devotes a section to her late brother, Sean, whom her own teenaged actor son is named after.

Flynn’s favorite section of the book, “The Last Dance,” portrays her dad’s spirit and heart. “It took me quite a while to put it together-it took many photos to jog back these memories, so actually I got to relive them again,” Flynn said.

While writing this chapter, Flynn said she was able to see her life with her father but from a wiser prospective. “I was very angry at my dad for dying when I was only 12 years old, and kept that anger for a few years,” she said.

Flynn said she feels that her father’s films were the least interesting part of a fascinating man. “He was an expert at living; he had many lovers, never had a dull day, sailed all the oceans, wrote best-selling books, and saw for himself wars and revolutions and wrote about them.” Flynn said. “He spent millions and died broke in the arms of his young, beautiful girlfriend-what more can one ask for?”

Errol Flynn died at age 50 from a reported heart attack.