It is no exaggeration to say that actor Errol Flynn experienced more drama and adventure in his real life than in playing the infamous English hero Robin Hood in the Warner Brothers 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood. In his autobiography My Wicked, Wicked Ways, Flynn shares a litany of perilous tales that keep him teetering between life and death. Though many of the situations he describes seem far-fetched and fabricated, the stories shed light on the social climate and prevailing attitudes of the time. Truth or fiction, Flynn proves to be a product of his time, reflecting about his environment that encompasses the days leading up to post-Prohibition and moves through World War II and the Golden Age of Hollywood.
He leaps between being a loathsome miscreant and a mindful gentleman, vacillating his speech between a conversational tone with the reader and narrating his experiences as though the dictation comes from a private journal. Though he speaks bluntly, there are gaps in his stories that cause the reader to doubt the credibility of his account. He expresses a number of contradictory factoids. One minute he is experiencing opium for the first time with a beautiful whore Ting Ling in Hong Kong. A few pages later, he tells that he never touched opium until he read The Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas de Quincey. He claims the book awakened his curiosity about the erotic sensations spurred on by the hallucinogen. The reader has to question if the excitement in Quincey’s book influenced Flynn to conjure up similar stories to enliven his own autobiography.
Other contradictions come up when in Spain, he is given a machine gun to kill Germans at the cusp of World War II. He tells that he couldn’t kill another man but a few chapters previously, he spoke about killing a New Guinea native who threatened his life. He speaks about fighting for animal rights when horses, during filming, are killed after taking a hard fall and breaking a limb or a neck; yet, he endorses cockfighting on his Hollywood estate.
He proved to be a mindful father to his children but a self-absorbed cad and neglectful husband to his wives and mistresses. Though his exploits and penchant for seducing beautiful women and stealing from time to time does not endear the audience to him, Flynn shows a sense of justice that will remind readers of the Robin Hood character he became best known for playing. Standing up for those who couldn’t stick up for themselves whether because of their low social status or from lack of knowledge about know how to protect themselves from the wiles of predators. Sometimes the reader sees Flynn as such a predator in the games he initiates.
His descriptions focus on the character of his friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances. He is non-judgemental about his male friends whom he accepts misbehavior from, even when they put his life in danger. Conversely, he is very judgemental about women, sizing up their figures and mannerisms. He expects women to be classy even though he doesn’t hold himself to the same standard.
His vignettes about meeting political leaders such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, and England’s King George VI highlight these figures individual perspectives about the world around them and their regard for family and human life. He views political figures as possessing a large degree of diplomacy. Whereas, with his friends he views them as having an insatiable appetite to embark on wild adventures with him and conquer new horizons. As non-judgemental as Flynn believed himself to be, he shows that he has certain expectations about political leaders, friends, and women in general.
Flynn reveals an analytical mind which he credits to his scientist father, always questioning people’s motives and learning about human nature through the works of scholars and philosophers. Paradoxically, he never investigates his animosity towards his mother or how such hateful feelings affected his view of women. He had no remorse about seducing women and leaving them by the wayside yet, he didn’t like it when women reciprocated the same treatment towards him. He doesn’t garner sympathy from his audience who view such distribution of karma as he got what he gave.
Half of the book is spent describing his time in New Guinea, attempting to get rich quick through such schemes as owning a tobacco plantation and later prospecting for gold. He reveals to have attempted to win big at the gambling tables in the casinos of Hong Kong but the fickle winds took him to England where he makes a living as a stage actor in London’s theatre district. From there, he makes the jump to Hollywood where he hones his legacy as a rake, admired by manly men and desired by women born with a proclivity for romantic fantasies.
Errol Flynn proves to be versatile, adapting to new environments quickly and making friends wherever he goes including when he is in a holding cell charged for statutory rape. He treads the line between honesty and con artistry, oscillating between the two, forcing the audience to rely on their own sense of judgement to know when he is being honest and when he is embellishing the stories.
He admits to weaving elaborate fabrications to get jobs, obtain favors, and live up to the expectations foisted on him. Truth or fiction, Flynn’s autobiography provides to be insightful about the human conflicts of his day, the political turmoil that swept across the globe, and the burgeoning film industry that influenced his attitude, behavior, and choices.
The reader comes away learning about the world that Errol Flynn had been born into, the environment that raised him, and the influences that shaped his character and mindset. Flynn concentrates on the social climate that spans his lifetime, discovering human vices known to the world and holding steadfastly to man’s visceral sense of justice. He is a man who is easy to loathe and easy to love.