His Wicked, Wicked Ways: The Unrest of Errol Flynn

One of the last pics of Errol Flynn before he died

The year was around 1982. We only had three channels to watch on TV. Even then, mom limited what we watched. However, my parents had just purchased a new device that would revolutionize our television viewing. The device? A Curtis Mathes VCR. From then on, my sisters & I learned the names of the classic titans of the screen: Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Alan Ladd, Bob Hope, and the list goes on and on and on. In addition, we saw nearly any Disney movie that came out. High on our favorite Disney list was the Apple Dumpling Gang along with the Love Bug series of movies.

One day, mom brought home a movie that soon became one of my favorite of all time. The movie? The 1939 version of The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland captivated my ten year old mind. Mesmerized by the swashbuckling antics of Flynn along with the aura he put off on the screen, I looked out for other movies in which Flynn starred. Captain Blood, Sea Hawk, Dodge City, & the Santa Fe Trail to name just a few were movies that I enjoyed.

The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1938

As I became an adult, I learned that Errol Flynn lived quite a life. By his own words, he lived a very wicked life. And he was unashamed to state it.

Recently, I learned that Flynn had written an autobiography. Although he died before it was published, I was surprised to learn the name of the title – My Wicked, Wicked Ways. Now that I have read the book, I am not surprised. He truly lived a wicked, wicked life. Due to his choices, he also lived a sad, confused, and chaotic life.

This is a review of that book. Full disclosure here – I am writing as one who grew up in a Christian family. I was taught the Bible and had the blessing of attending a Christian school. For nearly the past twenty years, I have served in ministry pastoring and leading people to follow God’s will for their life by taking heed to God’s Word. And this is why I was so surprised that the very first page of the book (before the introduction and before the prologue) published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons had the following Scripture verses at the bottom of the page:

Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,  Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,

Romans 1:29-30

There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.

Isaiah 57:21

Many sorrows shall be to the wicked.

Psalm 32:10

Never have I read of an account or story of someone’s life that has so conclusively proved those verses than the life of Errol Flynn. Although reaching the zenith in his industry (Hollywood), having any woman nearly that he wanted all of his life, and earning millions of dollars, Flynn lived, and from all accounts, died a tortured, tormented, and confused soul. After reading of his life and exploits, he has no one to blame for his choices other than himself.

I cannot recommend the book other than as a case study in someone who has decided to live for himself and for himself alone. He truly was a selfish individual as he was married three times, had children, and continued to have multiple sexual relationships all his life. As someone who admired his persona on the screen, I am quite saddened at the life he lived off of the screen. While reading this book, one cannot but sense the confusion and despair of one who searched for life’s meaning in sexual relationships, alcohol, and curiosity.

Without further ado, allow me to share some insights from Flynn’s own words in the book:

I have been in rebellion against God and Government ever since I can remember. As a result, I am tormented, as if I have been missing something that others have. You can have fame, fortune, be an international character, and wonder whether some little guy who has faith has something bigger than anything you have ever had.

Errol Flynn, Prologue

I’m that “little guy who has faith” Errol. And yes, I will attest that I have something bigger than anything you ever had. I have a loving wife of nearly twenty-five years, children in whom we have invested and loved dearly, a calling in which I have found much satisfaction. I don’t say this with glee. Just an astute observation regarding the author’s own words.

Listen, Errol, I would cheerfully kill or poison any ba***** who I knew was peddling drugs – any kind. And I would slowly strangle the other killer of the mind, the body, the soul, who openly sells alcohol. It’s as criminal as any drug, the only difference being you can buy it at any street corner. As a doctor, I’d prefer to see a sign at the corner reading ‘Your Favorite Cocaine Dealer’ sooner than ‘Your Favorite Liquor Dealer.’

Dr. Gerrit H. Koets (long time friend of Flynn), p.141

Alcoholism is one of the slowest though most certain forms of suicide.

Errol Flynn, p. 345

Alcohol is a far greater killer than all opiates. You can buy alcohol on any street corner throughout the world. It gets your brain, your liver. It destroys your morals, destroys your vitality, kills the sexual potential, and you become sluggish. It is a great pity that Prohibition failed…As one of the heartiest drinkers in the world, I speak with a voice of authority.

Errol Flynn, 1952, p. 409

I preach against alcohol. I have seen it ruin too many families, marriages, and relationships to be kind to it. Flynn, although a lover of alcohol (especially later in his life), often spoke against its stranglehold and effects it has on a person. As noted in the quote above, he wished that Prohibition had succeeded. He truly was addicted to the stuff.

In one part of the book, Flynn notes how he fell in love with the painting “The Man Is at Sea” by Vincent Van Gogh. He eventually acquired it and shares how the picture was emotional to him because of its reality and symbolism. He then goes on to draw a sad personal note re: the symbolism in the painting:

I too had been at sea in my youth, in one way, and destined to be at sea intermittently ever afterward. I was also at sea in my effort to find out what things mean. I am still at sea.

Errol Flynn, p.307
Flynn with The Man Is at Sea

His quote reminds me of the verse the publishers left off quoting on the first page of the book. They quoted Isaiah 57:21. They would have done well to quote verse twenty also.

But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.

Isaiah 57:20

Truly Errol Flynn lived a life of wickedness which resulted in a life of trouble and unrest. A life with no rest.

There is an anecdote in the book after Flynn’s well-publicized rape trial in Los Angeles in which he describes his philosophy of life. Today, this philosophy has been described as YOLO – You Only Live Once. I quote Flynn here:

For what went on trial, there in the Los Angeles Courthouse, was my personality and above all my way of life. Certainly, it was a much more complicated thing than has ever been presented by the press, the magazine writers, the clowns who joke about me on radio and television, and the fellows around saloons who tell salacious stories.

Bear in mind that at this time although married, I was technically a bachelor, a man living alone. I had no evil practices. I did no one any injury. I wasn’t even drinking much. I would have champagne around and if people wanted it they could have it, and I’d take a bit with them, but that was it. I was thirty-four, in my prime; women liked me, I liked them; nobody got hurt. I thought, Let’s have fun, let’s live by the sunshine, let’s swim and play; let’s make love, let’s cruise in the Pacific, let’s have pleasant parties, gay chatter,; let’s work, let’s make pictures, let’s entertain the people, let’s be artists, if we can.

This was my balls, my way of living, breathing and exulting in this short swift act called Creation. Am I supposed to live as other people? Are they supposed to do what I do? Do I have to be made made over into their image, and they into mine?

…in brief, I like people. I like to enjoy the thrill of living every day, every hour of the day, for we are here only this once, and let’s feel the wind while we may.

Errol Flynn, pp. 321-322

Essentially, Flynn’s philosophy was “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” Many before him have lived this way, many after him, and many do today. What a shortsighted view of life! God’s Word tells us something completely different. We have this life and then eternity to look forward to (or to be afraid of) depending upon the final judgment:

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment;

Hebrews 9:27

I submit to you that there is a much better philosophy of life to follow than the one that Flynn lived out. Jesus summed it up two thousands years ago in the gospel of John:

The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

Jesus in John 10:10

The very last section of the book (approximately 100 pages) begins with a blank page with a squarish question mark on it. In this last section, we see the author wrestle with the questions of life. I appreciate his audacious honesty in describing the questions and mysteries that had eluded him thus far in life.

One day I called my valet. “Alexandre,” I said, “I want you to put this monogram on each of my suits underneath the handkerchief pocket.”

“Why”” he asked.

“That is a good question,” I said. “Why? That is what I want to know and I can’t find out why. So I want this monogram sewed unto onto all of my suits.”

I had drawn a squarish question mark…

?

This, my own confusion, became my trademark. My own questioning of myself. Why? How does a man become what he becomes? Whom does he become? I do not know. I didn’t know then.

But it pressed on my thinking so much that I felt I must carry this symbolism to gratify my own curiosity or torment, or to make people think.

I still wear a question mark beneath my handkerchief pocket on all of my suits. I am still wondering why.

Errol Flynn, p.342

It’s not often that you find the honesty of a man who (although he might not have known it) was near the end of his life. Speaking of life, in this same section of the book, he speaks about being at the pinnacle of the world, and yet it was nothing.

There I was, sitting on top of the world. I had wealth, friends, I was internationally known, I was sought after by women. I could have anything that money could buy. Yet I found at the top of the world there was nothing.

Errol Flynn, p. 348

In the gospel of Mark, Jesus speaks to this regard:

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

Jesus, in Mark 8:36

Although toward the end of his days (remember, he only lived to be fifty years old due to his lifestyle), he was not about to change or to listen to anyone else regarding how to live his life. Notice his philosophy from some diary entries listed in the book five years before his death:

I am in my mid-forties. They say I am a sight to behold, compared with my looks a few years back…it seems absurd, ridiculous and laughable that somebody should tell me how to behave during my brief span here on this earth. I feel like rebelling every time I think of it. A rough, bemused, rugged individualist, I was born this way and that is the way I will die. I have no clear-cut system of philosophy. I want none. I want no design for living. I want no one to tell me how to live. I will take it from day to day. I follow no leaders, no set of rules, and don’t anyone lay down rules for me.

Errol Flynn, 1954, p.413

This philosophy saddened me. The reason it saddened me is that the end of this philosophy is not a good end. Flynn’s life and early death proved his statement completely. Life to him was a conundrum…something that could not be figured out. And he sure wasn’t going to listen to anyone – God, government, parents, friends, wives, etc – telling him how to live his life. Reminds me of a particular verse from the wise man in the book of Proverbs:

There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.

Solomon, Proverbs 14:12

Towards the very end of the book, Flynn quotes some frank diary entries. We get to glimpse into the mind of this tortured soul. I think you will agree with me from some of the lines he writes:

I have a zest for living yet twice an urge to die…

The pursuit of gold, pleasure, and danger motivate most of my springs…

I want faith and am faithless…

I love myself and hate myself…

I want to be loved but I may myself be incapable of really loving…

I laugh a lot, and I weep secretly more often than most men.

Errol Flynn, p.416-417

On the last few pages of the book, Flynn boils down his thoughts wistfully and puts them to the page. You can judge him yourself if this is the writing of a happy, peaceful man:

I am living with this brand – even relatively happily – but I wish it hadn’t happened. I do not know whether I have conveyed it – or tried not to convey it – but I have been cut by my own sword so deeply that I am ready for whatever befalls. Flynn is not always In. Sometimes he is far far out – at the bottom of the chasm, at the bottom of the cleft…

I am unable to understand myself. Still not knowing who I am. Still hunting for my soul.

Errol Flynn, p.437

In the 37th chapter of Psalms, David gives testimony as an older man. He contrasts the righteous man in verse 25-26 with that of the evil men he has seen in verses 35-36. He then tells us the man to watch…to pattern our life after…to learn from:

I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found. Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.

Psalm 37:35-37

My childhood screen hero is not a role model. Not one single bit. In fact, his life is a warning to each and every one of us. Live your own life and you will pay the consequences. If you don’t believe me, just read again the author’s own words that I have quoted verbatim.

Yes, the wise man rings true regarding the way of the transgressor (the wicked):

…the way of transgressors is hard.

Proverbs 13:15b

10 out of 10 people…

bballsonRecently, my youngest son kept asking me to play him one-on-one in basketball. I finally acquiesced and accepted his offer. Knowing that all dads eventually will be bested by their sons as they grow bigger and faster (while we dads grow older & slower), I determined that this would not be the time that he would be able to beat me.

I did everything I could to beat him: I used my bigger body to get in the paint, I used the traditional “sky-hook (he laughed at me),” I tried my trusty jump shot at the corner of the free-throw which failed me spectacularly. When it came down to it, he is just too good of an outside shooter and I am too out of shape. The result is that he bested me in a game of one-on-one. All of my boys can now beat me at multiple sports!

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We Are All Broken People

Broken HeartI sat in the courtroom trying to hold back the tears that were welling up in my eyes. Before me the judge was proceeding over the finality of a divorce for a couple that I know. I have not had the privilege (or curse) of being in a courtroom often in my life. And I had never been in a family courtroom for a divorce proceeding. I honestly felt like I was at a very sad funeral, but only worse.

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Yes I Am Biased (and so are you)!

combine_imagesThe radio in my little Hyundai Elantra only picks up FM radio stations (the AM band is defunct). For someone who enjoys hearing the news, sports, or talk radio, this is maddening. The reason it is maddening is because I find myself listening to NPR (National Public Radio) for all things news when I am driving. It’s the only station on the FM spectrum in our area with any news.

The election coverage this past year topped all discussions for many people who I know. Myriads of opinions were hurled from the far right, the far left, the center, and every other sphere of the political universe. One day while listening to NPR, I had to chuckle when one of their announcers clearly said that they represented reporting that was “unbiased.” Anyone that has listed to NPR for any length of time knows that they are anything but unbiased. They typically lean left and far left in many areas. To be fair, they do have some interesting reports that have nothing to do with politics, but when they enter the political scene, the “bias meter” unashamedly dips towards the left.

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Perseverance

Relevant thoughts from the founder of Run for God

Run for God Blog

The other day I came across a quote that really made me stop and think. That’s really hard to do in the age of social media. It seems that everyone is posting motivational quotes these days, but this one really caught my attention. The quote was simply…

“In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins, not through strength but by perseverance.”

If you really stop and think about this quote for a moment you will quickly see just how true it is and how it can be applied to so many areas of our life.

I have the honor of coaching several kids and young adults in the sport of triathlon and we talk about this principal often. It’s the principal that in the long run, consistent hard work will trump pure strength and talent every time. Over the years, many people have come up…

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Books I Read in 2016

books2016Francis Bacon once said, “Some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly.” 2016 was a year in which this maxim was true for me.

For a few years now, I have taken up the yearly book challenge offered by Goodreads, a  free book-lovers site now owned by Amazon (if you sign up, please friend me). At the start of the year, one sets a goal of how many books he/she wants to read and during the year the site tracks their progress. For a book/word geek like me, Goodreads is legit (that’s the current term my teenagers are using for anything off the charts)! It tracks interesting statistics like how many books one has read, how many total pages read during that year, what the average rating one gave to books throughout the year, etc. There is even a statistic that charts the publication date (year) the books that one has read.
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Christmas Is About People

hope-2Tears started welling up as I heard my sister tell me about a friend of hers that committed suicide this week. Yes, the week before Christmas this thirty-two year young woman with three precious girls took her own life. I could feel my heart bursting for those innocent little girls. The mayhem that this decision made will echo for a lifetime in the lives of those closest to this woman. Questions like “Why?”, “How did it come to this?”, “Why didn’t we see this coming?”, and dozens of other questions will be asked.

Christmas is a difficult time for many people. Unfortunately, too many of us see Christmas as sending out the “perfect Christmas card,” putting up the “perfect Christmas decorations,” making certain the Christmas desserts appear perfect on that decorative plate for the upcoming Christmas party, and other mainly trivial items surrounding Christmas.

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When Your Future Looks Hazy

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This morning, my wife and I have arrived on the campus of the Christian college that our daughter will be attending as a freshman this fall. Of course, the excitement that we have for her and her future is off the charts!

The entire process of checking in, finding one’s dorm assignments, getting a mug shot for your ID card (my first card was a real picture laminated & pressed onto an ID card – yes, very ancient!), carrying one’s entire belongings into a dorm room, meeting new roommates, figuring out how you are going to share that small room with three other roommates and all of their stuff, and trying to process the myriad of other tidbits of information is exhilarating for an 18-year-old moving away from home for the first time.

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Your Opinion Is Only Wanted When Requested

OpinionI stood there shaking my head. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Earlier this year, I was having a conversation with a pastor who was about five years my junior (approximately 38 years old). He was telling me that recently his parents (his dad is also a pastor) just up and told him that they didn’t like or agree with his wife’s choice of clothing.

Really? This still happens? Incredulous as it may seem and sad to say, but it happens more often than not. For some time, I have pondered this dynamic. The reason I use the word dynamic as a noun (i.e., a basic or dynamic force, especially one that motivates, affects development or stability) here is simple. These type of conversations or should I say “imperatives”  usually do not end well but they definitely affect the development and stability of relationships. Why does a well-intentioned Christian feel the need to tell other Christians (especially adult family members) how they should live, especially in preferential matters?

I have a confession to make – I’ve been that person in the past. And I’m continuing to purge this divisive, disruptive, even devilish spirit. The following are reasons I believe that Christians act this way:

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Entertained & Saddened

One year ago today, one of the world’s most beloved entertainers, Robin Williams, took his own life. Very few entertainers have cut across such a wide swath of age groups while entertaining the masses. From Aladdin to Peter Pan to Mrs. Doubtfire, Williams put his very own mark on every movie or act that he performed.

Several months ago, my wife and I had stopped at some yard sales in a small town near our home. While perusing a box of older VHS movies, I came across the movie Dead Poets Society. I had never watched the movie but remember hearing about it years ago. I purchased it for $1 and several weeks later watched the movie. Although we could debate some of the finer philosophies presented throughout the movie, one thing was undeniable. Williams was brilliant in playing his part as an English teacher encouraging his subjects to not just endure another English class but to seize life and live it for all its worth.

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