Recently, I sat on my balcony, reading for a little while, catching up on things I'd forgotten I already knew about Errol Flynn, my childhood film hero. The night before, I’d watched one of his films for the... Nth... time.
I say “childhood hero”--He's still one of my heroes; even though I now live a considerable distance hence, from that state of being one might recognize as “childhood”. That is, except in some of the nether regions of my brain and imagination. Peter Pan told me to... “Never Grow Up”. How does one argue with Peter Pan? It simply isn't done. So I've made every attempt to respect the age-old wisdom embedded in that bit of childish advice. So much so, that sometimes the little boy won't take no for an answer. He manages to find his way back into my very bones. So...
I listen to this...kid. That's when I hear myself saying, “Yeah, of course I can jump-fall from that bridge...whaddaya kidding?...no problem.” That I'll have to do it all through rehearsal—then for eight shows a week for (? weeks or months)--who's counting? Little boys only count marbles, or pennies, or bug collections, or how many warts there are on frogs.
Besides, bellicose bragging issues forth easily, when you simultaneously envision young ladies gasping, breathless, with awe, from the audience, mind you, as you backward-swan dive, twisting in mid-air, to land with a mighty THUD in the correct "attitude"--and place... Stage Center, mind you....then, attempt (ever-threateningly) to rise, and, with your last pitiable and painfully convincing exhalation (too painfully real, no matter the extra padding you added after the matinee) you.......die...spectacularly--in more ways than one.
Finding a scapegoat for your self-imposed prison of perpetual pain is easy. Since at that point the “kid” who got you into this is nowhere to be found—you curse Flynn. It's his fault. Both a blessing and a curse, he was instrumental, from the time I was five, as to my choice of career (s) (s). Who else is there to blame?
When I was really (as in actually) very young (speaking strictly in the chronological sense of course) we lived in New Jersey for about a year. (There's some kind of irony here but I haven't quite processed it fully yet. You see, NJ is where I live now. I'll have to get back on this.) We moved to Jersey because of something to do with some employment adventure my dad was exploring. I didn't pay much attention to the details of such humdrum, life or death, things then—I was just a kid. I knew better. Did I mention that we were only there for a year? Like I said, I knew better.
I was about five years old then. And it was there that I saw an Errol Flynn swashbuckler for the first time--on television. It was part of a week-long tribute to classic movie stars aired on a local station. That’s back when, after the Eleven O'Clock News, if you fancied sitting up all blurry-eyed for a while, you always had a fairly eclectic choice as to which old movie to pick from lots of free network stations. “Free” Cable was yet to come—and go. Back then “cable” was something they used to hold up the Brooklyn Bridge.
So by now you’re asking yourself, maybe, “What the heck's a five year old--with blurry eyes, poor, neglected kid--doing up at the midnight hour watching old Errol Flynn flicks until some ungodly time outside of a five year old's proper waking hours? I mean...where’s the kid’s parents, fercryinoutloud ?”
Answer: They were asleep; and I’ve always been a “night owl”–especially if I knew it was “Errol Flynn Week”. Oh, I’d go to bed alright, at a reasonable hour–even to sleep–when I was told to. But I’d always manage to wake up in time to catch one of his movies if I knew it was going to be shown. And they went on into the later-than-wee hours. It was, for want of a more superstitous sounding description...uncanny, the number of Errol Flynn movies I managed to check off on my “viewing schedule” during that year.
Sense memory is headed up by recollections of the cold linoleum floor in that front room of the railroad apartment we lived in. I sat on it anyway--had to; close enough to the tv set so the sound level wouldn't wake up they who might not understand.
What else is a five year old dreamer to do? Especially if he just happens to be awake, and knows there’s some really cool sword-fighting, and pretty girls to win over, and horseback riding .... and...and...and... jumping from bridges and balconies and castle walls and stuff ? You know, all that dashing and daring-do business? And if there’s one thing Errol had in his magic bag of tricks, it was dashing and daring-do. Wait, that's two... make that three things. He always got the pretty girl, too. I thought then, that it was because they liked the way he handled a sword...impressive, it was. I guess I was right--in a way. (apply brakes to metaphor..X.here)
And I promise, that's the first and last attempt at off-color humor at his expense. Justified or not, he had more than enough of it dished his way. Perfect strangers picked fights with him for no reason, just so they could (hopefully) brag to women that "I beat up Errol Flynn". --Sick.
I've read the books. I know all the tawdry stories—some true of course, some half true, some not true at all. I've read the balance sheets on Flynn. Whatever anyone chooses to think, good or bad, ledgers can never tell the whole story. Anyway, a half truth is a whole lie. And one thing about Flynn was all true: He was, and is, legend.
What's important to me is that whoever Errol was on the screen, that's who Errol WAS--IS to me. --That guy. Really him. He was--still is--The Good Guy ; the embodiment of the devil-may-care, classic, honest, and dependable hero. That was his job, and he did it well. With all of his so-called nefarious activities and personal problems (some of which probably did outdo his on-screen exploits) you still had to like him. You wanted the guy as a friend. Simply put, he was charismatic magic. I know because when the opening credits rolled last night, the deja vu thing hit me just like it had every time before; like I'd walked into a brick wall, (strangely, a brick wall made of linoleum)—then through it—into The Adventures of Don Juan, 1949.
This time, the pretty girl was his stunning Swedish co-star Viveca Lindfors as Queen Margaret of Spain. A truly beautiful, porcelain-skinned specimen of womanhood, Viveca had eyes that flashed lightning, as she would cut them at this ne’er-do-well (but soon to be her hero too) Don Juan de Maraña.
Throw in Flynn’s perrenial side kick Alan Hale (the real life Dad of the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island-Alan Hale, Jr.) Enter the Villain: Robert Douglas, as The Duke de Lorca, a really fine bad guy who handles a cryptically evil phrase and a sword with equal dexterity; a lovable midget court jester, Jerry Austin, whom Don Juan befriends and teaches the art of fencing; a sumptuous and witty Max Steiner score, Elizabethan Era palaces and costumes, a little balcony climbing—and--include, in the denouement, one of the finest fencing sequences ever filmed. What's the sum?
--Something they can’t seem to get right anymore–an action/adventure film with dialogue--credible dialogue, spoken credibly. Flowery? Yes—but fragrantly and charmingly witty, written to blossom beautifully from the mouths of those who can handle it? Also Yes.
No matter anyone’s opinion of Errol personally-- I think he did this kind of thing better than anyone before him, anyone since, and surely better than anyone of his time–a short fifty years. I believed him at five years old. Ask me if anything's changed.
Maybe it’s because he wasn’t really “acting”--all that much, anyway. Maybe it was one of those “real dreams” for him as well. If it was, he lived it to its fullest. Surely, at the very least, he did what was his job—did it extremely well. In some things he was--by far--far from perfect. In one thing he was perfect—by far.
Hero isn't an easy role to play-- especially when you're only a kid yourself. But he more than managed it. Something. Somehow. Somewhere. Being the Hero when you can be—Anywhere, is what counts.
Then, like every shooting star, having done the best at what appears to be exactly what it was made for doing--he went out.
“They sure don’t make ‘em that way anymore”, I said to my son. We watched together, as Flynn and Hale rode off into the proverbial sunset. This was one of my son's nth times too. Note the lower case “n ”. He practically knows the script word for word. I think he thinks he's going to catch up with me. Someday he will. I hope he can share the same race, someday, with his own son. I know he will.
Because every so often, someone nudges a little boy; rescues him from a dreamless slumber. “Time to get up.… we’ve a lot of work ahead of us kid…hurry…we’ve got things to dream, you and me...Wake up, Sport... ”
For Then, Now, Yesterday, and Always, Thanks Errol.