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.
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
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
2 thoughts on “His Wicked, Wicked Ways: The Unrest of Errol Flynn”
Thanks for sharing this. I discovered Errol just over a year ago when I watched The Adventures of Robin Hood. I was enthralled by his charm, his charisma, and his heroics on screen. I immediately bought My Wicked Wicked Ways and read it over several months. It was an emotional roller coaster to read. Though I’m still an Errol Flynn fan, I’m saddened by the life of debauchery and hedonism that he lived. I too grew up in a Christian home and continue to walk with God, though I found Errol’s struggle with hedonism all too relatable. I’m torn because I revere him for his fearlessness, his love of adventure, the loyalty he showed to his friends, and the love he had for his children, but I’m troubled by the immorality he so often stopped toward and made a home for himself in.
I hope you take comfort, as I have, in the fact that Errol mentions reading the Bible toward the end of his life and carrying both a Bible and a bottle of booze in his briefcase whenever he went. He began to ask some excellent questions about his own mortality toward the end of his life. Oftentimes, we must hit rock bottom before we realize our need for God the Father. I imagine Errol, always an avid reader, strumbling across Ezekiel 18:21-23 and having a life changing encounter with God.
“But if wicked people turn away from all their sins and begin to obey my decrees and do what is just and right, they will surely live and not die. All their past sins will be forgotten, and they will live because of the righteous things they have done. “Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign Lord. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live.”
Ezekiel 18:21-23 NLT
Who knows? His autobiography does not cover his entire life. Maybe Errol had a God encounter in the last few months of life. After all, Manasseh, the most evil king of Judah repented for his sins toward the end of his life and was shown mercy by God. All things are impossible with God.
I think Errol made it. As escaping through the flames as they say, but maybe even in his dying moments Christ was there, manifest, reaching in to grab Errol’s hand. Maybe some would think I’m being too hopeful with such a seemingly lost man, but those are the ones God wants the most. Ultimately only Christ knows the heart.