To millions he was the original A List heart-throb. But to the FBI he was a dangerous deviant.
The swashbuckling actor’s legendary lovemaking was fully documented by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s minions, who seemed to revel in Errol Flynn’s sexual slipups but never quite managed to catch him doing anything illegal.
The Bureau’s conclusion: Flynn was “a highly sexed individual... a person of low moral character with absolutely no regard for women... Flynn has had an affair with every woman who has ever worked on the Warner Bros. lot... from grandmothers on down.”
The man who boasted that he’d bedded upwards of 10,000 ladies — and titled his memoir My Wicked, Wicked Ways — would probably take that as a compliment. How did he do it? In addition to his debonair demeanor, he had help, as the Bureau discovered when they interviewed a former Flynn employee in 1945:
“When originally associated with Errol Flynn he was given a pass to the Warner lot and frequently brought young girls to Flynn on the set... [His] general reputation during this period was that of a personal pimp for Flynn.”
What got the actor in hot water was his penchant for teenage girls. For someone who spent idle hours loitering around schools, ogling nubile young maidens, it was only a matter of time before the law caught up with him. And in 1943, it seemed it had.
That year, Flynn was arrested for the statutory rape of two 17-year-olds, Peggy Satterlee and Betty Hansen. Hansen testified that they’d made love by every porthole on Flynn’s yacht, the Sirocco (whose flag aptly bore the symbol of a crowing rooster), and that the actor had kept his socks on throughout.
When the actor was acquitted, the FBI believed justice had not been served. “There was no doubt regarding Flynn’s guilt,” states an undated Bureau memo, “and that he has been guilty of this act many times previously.”
One of those times occurred in 1940, aboard a train heading East for the premiere of Flynn’s film Santa Fe Trail, with tragic consequences. According to released FBI files, a confederate of Flynn’s served a female actress a Mickey Finn — a drugged drink — after which “she was allegedly raped by Flynn, who is said to have made bets with friends on the train that he could accomplish this feat.” The actress attempted suicide and had to be flown home.
Olivia de Havilland, Flynn’s Santa Fe Trail costar, was another target. She’d spurned his advances for years, and he was “desperate” to add her to his list of conquests, says Flynn biographer Charles Higham.
During their filming of 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, an amorous Errol even got violent: “One night he followed her from the film set — she still in her Maid Marian outfit and he still attired as Robin Hood,” says Higham.
“He staggered drunk to her door and tried to kick it in as Olivia cowered petrified in a corner.” Flynn retreated only after her roommate threatened to call police.
Even during the statutory rape trial, with his career at stake, Flynn couldn’t keep his eye from wandering. It landed on Nora Eddington, a leggy underage redhead who operated the courthouse cigar stand. After the trial ended, they wound up in Acapulco together.
A flurry of memos headed “WHITE SLAVE TRAFFIC ACT” trace the Bureau’s furious hunt for evidence linking Flynn sexually with Eddington. An informant who spent time with them aboard the Sirocco reported that “the subject [Flynn] was attentive to the victim [Eddington], but no improper act ever took present [sic] within the sight” of him. However, the informant added, Flynn and Eddington would at times leave the launch and go to nearby beaches.
Another informant spoke with the night watchman at the Riviera Hotel, where the couple were staying in separate cottages.
“To his knowledge,” says the report, “the subject and victim had never occupied the same room and he had never observed either of them going to the other’s room. He did state, however, that on one occasion the subject and the victim left the hotel at about 7 p.m. and did not return until the next morning.”
Not the stuff on which to build an airtight case. So a December 11, 1943, teletype signalled the end of the chase: “EVIDENCE NOT SHOWING SEXUAL INTERCOURSE IN MEXICO.”
Back in the U.S., Flynn made Eddington his second wife (his first marriage, to Lili Damita, an actress five years his senior, ended in 1942), but after six years and two children, Eddington became disgusted and flew the coop. “I knew he was sleeping with other women,” she said later. “He was rotating them in the same bed we used.”
Flynn didn’t wait long to embarrass his third wife, actress Patrice Wymore. French policemen gate-crashed the couple’s 1951 wedding reception to arrest him for raping a 17-year-old girl. Asked for a dossier on the actor, the FBI simply reported that their efforts to nab Flynn on similar charges had come to nothing.
Flynn got off this time, too. The girl charged that the rape had occurred in the shower compartment of the Sirocco. A judge took one look at the cramped space and dismissed the case. “So many girls claim they’ve been aboard, but surely I know those I’ve taken to the boudoir,” crowed Flynn.
Wife Patrice was further humiliated eight years later when her husband died in the arms of his mistress, Beverly Aadland, who was barely 17. Although only 50, doctors said Flynn, who was a prodigious drinker, had the body of an 80-year-old.
With his premature demise, the actor fulfilled one Bureau informant’s prophecy: “Flynn was a man perverted in his sexual desires [who] ultimately will cause Warner Bros. a considerable amount of difficulty if he doesn’t kill himself in the process.”