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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Just Out --- Errol Flynn Slept Here

Errol Flynn slept here, there, and thither over fifty short years. That’s part of the joke that undermined recognition of talent seemingly unique to this actor. Others said it perhaps to diminish him, but Flynn really was about the only guy (in talkies) who could play believably with sword and sash. To Perform Well On a Horse may be the highest goal to which thesps can (should) aspire for all the times we've seen it done badly. How does one apportion credit between the man who declaims well on a stage and one who rides pell-mell off a canyon wall and delivers those words from astride old Dobbin? It’s time action men got their due, and I’m for placement of Errol Flynn among Best Stars (?), Best Personalities (??) --- no, let’s make that Best Actors of a Golden Age when athleticism came of something other than daily workouts under personal trainer tutelage. Having tipped my hand as a Flynn devotee (and that’s gone on forty years), may I convince those of you who aren’t that Errol Flynn Slept Here is a book you must have? Hopefully yes, for here’s one that goes beyond star worship from a fan’s afar and takes you into Flynn's private sanctum (in this case his legendary home on Mulholland) where the authors' exhaustive, and on-site, research finally reveal secrets Errol might better have taken to whatever his eternity amounts to (what is Heaven’s reward for celebrities?). Imagine if you dare what probing eyes might discover upon close inspection of your own homes, then factor in an outrageous public lifestyle Errol Flynn indulged throughout a largely debauched Hollywood career. Robert Matzen and Michael A. Mazzone found the trap doors, two-way mirrors, and casino outbuilding (that which also hosted orgies and cockfights). Both perused the house and shot rolls of film before it was torn down and replaced with a dwelling for Justin Timberlake (could anything sum up our cultural slide better?). The book, like Flynn’s life, is part comedy, much tragedy, and all insight. It’s then and now in that way good writers have of linking up a glamorous movie past with decay and waste such fame enabled when its objects had not judgment nor any sort of governors on offscreen behavior. I’m hackneyed perhaps in saying that Flynn’s dream house became his nightmare, but his was a loss I felt for being attached to a dwelling customized to suit myself. The struggle he maintained to keep that hilltop overlooking Burbank (you could and can see the Warners lot) was real-life equivalent to ordeals fought by Robin Hood, General Custer, and various Sea Hawks he played, but Flynn lost this one in a courtroom and was banished to a floating residence (his yacht the Zaca) he’d barely managed to salvage. I’ll be trite again: The man’s own saga was twice as dramatic as anything he did in movies. Matzen and Mazzone are the first to view it all from Errol’s own poolside. The book is coffee table sized and 184 pages. These authors have seen and read everything about Flynn that’s come before and have not duplicated any of it. Errol Flynn Slept Here is in effect their own Mulholland House, for by composing and laying out the entire thing themselves (and seeing to its publication), Matzen and Mazzone present here exactly the book they’ve dreamed of for the thirty plus years I’ve been friends with both (and yes, the result's a dream come true for those of us who like Flynn as they do). I asked Bob Matzen to detail a little of what all that entailed, just in case any Greenbriar reader might like to follow their example and self-publish a book of his/her own:

My wife Mary and I have both managed print projects for many years. She is a senior editor and project manager of high-end training materials; I do a lot of writing and print work for NASA. So we have both worked extensively with designers, we both know something of print specs (Mary knows more than I do) and we've both taken things all the way through the print process. We got the help of two designers to lay the book out for us with an art deco theme, something that fit Flynn's personality and the times. Then we had a professional production person create style sheets for us to work with in Quark XPress, a software program used to create books. The production person gave Mary a crash course in Quark, and Mary taught me, and we then proceeded to drop the entire book into Quark XPress files working on a Mac G-5 with external backup drives. We created the book chapter by chapter in spreads (a left-hand page and a right-hand page), and when it was laid out, we knew how much copy we needed to add to fill up a chapter, because every chapter has to end on a right-hand page. My idea all along was to have a lot of sidebars in the book--chunks of copy that told a story within a story. Some were one column, some were a page, but most covered an entire spread. And of course we wanted lots and lots of photos, color and black and white, and the design was burgundy and green on every page, so we wanted a four-color print job throughout, which is the most expensive way to go. Every photo had to be scanned at extremely high resolution, Photoshopped, and converted to tiffs for insertion in Quark.

As we were working on the book, we began a nationwide search for a printer. We worked with our production person on the exact kind and weight of paper we wanted, 80-pound coated stock, and how we wanted it to be bound. Early on we had thought we'd do a softcover, but we could see how incredibly well the book was coming together; to do it justice, we had to go hardcover, which meant spending roughly 2.5 times the money we had budgeted for softcover. We wanted a high-gloss dust jacket as well, and our designer worked with us on many designs. This was in some ways the hardest task, because we couldn't find the cover design we wanted. At one point she said, "let go all of your beliefs in what the cover should be, and let me try something new." And she came back with THE cover design. Flynn and Lupino are in full color because symbolically, Lupino is the one woman that Flynn should have married and didn't, the one woman he adored. She was at Mulholland a lot in the 1940s. Damita poses seductively in front of the house that she would claim from Flynn in lieu of back alimony payments. And Rick Nelson, the devoted Flynn fan, looks great in an unpublished candid in the corner. So we had a design and specs for the dust jacket, and specs for the internal pages, and for the number of pages, and we entered this information in an online printing industry exchange, and received bids from all over the world. It was important to us that the book to be printed in the USA, and we asked for samples from our finalists to assure a quality product. We feel we were very fortunate with our final choice, Bookmasters of Ashland, Ohio.

After months working in the Quark XPress file, we turned it over to our production expert and she fixed little problems we had created with photos, captions, and columns. We gave it a couple of final proofs, and then sent it off, nervous as cats that we had missed something. We saw proofs in a week and got our first finished samples seven weeks after that. Then in early February, four pallets of hardcover books, 146 cases, and 6,800 pounds, arrived at our door. And that's how we published our own book.

Errol Flynn Slept Here demonstrates what now can be achieved on one’s own desktop. The book is as handsomely mounted as any film book I’ve come across this or any year. The photo reproduction is superb. One thing I’d mention is that virtually all these images are rare and previously unseen. They represent the best of numerous Flynn archives (including Greenbriar’s own). I’m betting even seasoned fans will find much that is surprising and unfamiliar (my recurring question during recent conversations with the authors … Where did you find that?). The book isn’t confined to Flynn’s own residency at Mulholland. Others attempted living there. Varied incidents convinced some that this was a house possessed. Rick Nelson’s family saw/heard any number of visions/bumps that convinced them Errol was still Master Of Mulholland, never mind his having been gone and buried decades by the time they arrived. There’s a chapter called "This Old Haunted House" that spins tales of latter day visitation from a swashbuckler’s beyond. Maybe there was good reason for tearing the joint down. Rick Nelson’s stay has its own gothic flavor, considering the singer’s isolation there and tragic premature finish. Matzen and Mazzone got his sons’ cooperation and their spin on weirdness round and about those troubled grounds. Christian songwriter and performer Stuart Hamblen also lived a number of post-Flynn years at Mulholland. The book finds him posed beside a mini-freezer into which a dead mountain lion’s been stuffed. If Flynn had a born-again counterpart, this flamboyant character might have been it. Maybe Errol was soul mate of a kind with all these subsequent owners. In any event, he seems to have made his ongoing presence felt with each. As is clear enough here, I found values to this book well beyond those of ordinary star gazing and Hollywood memory banking. That house he built had a life as compelling as Flynn’s own, and I salute these authors for having turned an even hand toward documenting both. Errol Flynn Slept Here can be ordered now from Matzen’s website and his price is $34.95. For what you’ll get, it’s both a bargain and an undoubted collector’s item to come.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Curse this impatience of mine, John! If my mouth hadn't started watering halfway through your post and sent me scurrying to Amazon -- if I'd only read to the bottom, I could have gone to Matzen's Web site and saved myself five bucks. Ah well, the book's a bargain in any case, and sure to go up in value in years to come. I can't wait to read it; I remember musing years ago on the irony of Stuart Hamblen, the composer of "It Is No Secret What God Can Do" and 1952 candidate for president on the Prohibition Party ticket, living in Errol Flynn's old house.

And by the way, in the last pic, is that the notorious Beverly Aadland with Errol?

12:26 PM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

John: Many thanks for the heads up on this book. I ordered it immediately after reading your post.

I didn’t know about his strong feelings for Ida Lupino. I guess something had to blossom on the set of “Escape Me Never”, one of Flynn’s duller films (though thankfully graced by a superb Korngold score, his last.)

As a long-time Errol Flynn fan, this book sounds like a winner. I agree with you, that not only was he one of the great stars of the Golden Age, but one of its best actors.

In addition to his famed swashbucklers, excellent, very different performances can be found in “The Dawn Patrol” and “Silver River”, one of his most underrated roles. I hope the latter makes it to DVD soon, it deserves a wider audience.

I’ve tried to introduce 30- and 40-something friends to old movies, with middling success, but they respond very well to Flynn. Like all screen greats, he was an original. There’s never been anyone like him before or since. I wonder if Justin Timberlake knows who he is?

12:36 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

That's a very young Brigette Bardot with Flynn in the last photo.

Flynn was a terrific actor; I second the idea of releasing "Silver River" on DVD.

1:24 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

TIME WARNER plans to release SILVER RIVER. My info is that the materials are rough and need major work, thus the delay.

9:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heartily agree with your call for giving Errol Flynn his due. After all there were plenty of actors (hell, actresses) who could perform Hamlet well but damned few who could handle Rafael Sabatini's empurpled prose, swash-buckle, and make you believe in the characters he played. As was said in the film MY FAVORITE YEAR when the faux Flynn (played by Peter O'Toole) said he was no hero the reply was, "Yes you were … nobody's that good an actor!"

Flynn really was that good an actor. One of my favorite evenings in a cinema was sitting behind a row of very young girls watching a double bill of CAPTAIN BLOOD and THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD. The appreciative and very vocal reactions of the gals made when Errol was particularly romantic, aggressive, or just plain Flynn-ish were quite entertaining. Apparently there was not a dry seat in the house. That was an "entertainment-enhanced" evening to be sure.

Spencer Gill (

8:01 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

My favorite film to prove he really could act is Gentleman Jim. He sends up his own cockiness and then provides a real sense of maturation over time... which has to be acting, given his life.

1:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I only have to see Jack Benny's face to start laughing -- (not that there's anything inherently funny about his looks, but like W.C. Fields, there is just a natural "funniness" about him, I guess).
Our family goes back with "Uncle" Errol almost to the beginning of his career in Hollywood, when my grandfather worked on the scores of "Prince and the Pauper" and "Four's a Crowd", and of course had one of his biggest success with "Some Sunday Morning" for "San Antonio".
The stories of Errol that I have heard throughout my life thru the family have been myriad. Dad, of course, was quite close to him, working for "Errol Flynn Productions" as a developer of projects. Dad was with him throughout most of the time he was shooting "Forsythe Woman" at Metro, I gather (he told me about having to take a phone-call from L.B. once while Errol was in the shower), and later worked-on "Montana" doing "additional dialogue".
Dad always said that more than anything else, Errol wanted to be taken seriously as an actor, and always under-estimated his own talents. He did get a chance to prove it toward the end, in "Sun Also Rises".
My mother also knew Errol quite-well, and adored him. When I was born, Errol sent a congratulatory-wire to the hospital to Mom and Dad signed "The Baron", which was the name he was known by. I'm told all the nurses wanted to take care of me as word got around in the ward that I was "The Errol Flynn Baby".
That was over fifty-years ago, and was how I made my entrance into the world. It's been downhill ever since.

Best, R.J.

4:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For me, the Yes Errol Flynn Could Really Act Award goes to The Dawn Patrol and especially Too Much, Too Soon -- where his delineation of pal John Barrymore's decline must have cut awfully close to the bone (as Barrymore's role in Dinner at Eight must have done for the Great Profile himself). Honorable mention, certainly, to Errol's performance in The Sun Also Rises. I've never seen Silver River, but comments here have whetted my appetite for that DVD release.

5:59 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Thanks to all for these Flynn appreciations. RJ, do you still have that telegram??

More on Flynn in the next post ...

7:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will pay hard cash to get my hands on it! Wait, you haven't heard the worst: people -- grown adults -- have been known to break down and weep at this story: Dad had done a great favor for John Huston to help ensure he would be "okay'd" as director on "Maltese Falcon" before J.L. left for Europe. Dad spent a lot of time -- between messenger duties -- on the set. At the end of shooting, Huston gifted Dad with his personal copy of the shooting script, had it signed by most of the Principals, along with (his)notations, doodles, so-forth. When Dad married my mother in the late forties and moved - out, it was tossed with a number of other shooting scripts "borrowed" from the studio. Enjoy!

As I am now starting to finally see there may be something to Mr. Lane's admonitions on a book, I deliberately "held back" in the last-comment on some of the better Flynn stories that didn't make-it into Dad's book. Flynn had a great one, taking Mr. Lane's cue, on his friend Barrymore, but I'll save that for now. Yes, he did an outstanding job on "Too Much, Too Soon", and his self-deprecating performance in "Sun Also" has an almost "Fieldsian"-air about it, wouldn't you say? He certainly helps to lighten what is at times a rather heavy load!

My mother told me many times that right after marrying Dad in Feb. '48, Dad took her to this Major Taffy-Pull one night up at Mullholland Dr. One of those things we see stills of here at Greenbriar and say, "G'wan!" Buddy Rogers, she said, invited her to play golf with him the following day (She didn't). Dad said, the first thing he saw upon walking thru the door was Clark Gable and Ronald Colman deep in conversation standing by the fireplace in Flynn's living room. Just one of those little Hollywood affairs. Anyway, Mom was like 18 years old at this time, newly-married and she said, very frightened at the prospect of "meeting Flynn". Her fears were dis-spelled the moment they met. He took her by the arm, wrapped it around his, and said, "You just call me "Uncle Errol".
We all called him "Uncle Errol". This was one guy I would love to have known. The only time we actually met, Errol was living, so I'm told, at the old "Garden of Allah" and I was an infant.
I overlooked mentioning Rick Nelson. During the 70's we would meet from time to time at "Gallery showings" and various events here in L.A. and I got to know him -- slightly. The nicest, gentlest, most soft-spoken man, totally attitude-free, you'd ever want to know!
The closest I can-come to that wire is on my birth certificate, my father's employer is listed as "Errol Flynn Productions"

9:33 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

About that discarded script, RJ ... I could cry ... and imagine how your father felt years after the fact!

I've only heard good things about Rick Nelson. He would have been a very interesting person to talk to.

... and what do you suppose Gable and Colman con-fabbed over?

9:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like to think Gable was assuring Colman that he (Gable) had voted for him (Colman) in the upcoming Academy Awards. "And take it from me, Ronnie, it always comes when you least expect it..."

1:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm tired of people assuming Flynn was gay.I'm hardly a homophobe, but these people are obviously too young to know about all of Errol's girls.

2:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He should have married Ida Lupino?
What kind of joke is this? You don't marry your pal, you marry (or should) marry your true love.

And we kind of know who THAT is.

6:43 PM  

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