My Dear, Won’t You Have a Glass of Champagne?

Errol Flynn, 1950s
Errol Flynn, 1950s

Errol Flynn lived at the Garden in 1935, at the start of his meteoric rise to fame as Hollywood’s go-to swashbuckler. In 1950 Warner Brothers released Flynn from his contract, a blow that sent him into a descent as rapid as his ascent had been 15 years earlier.

His personal life was also a mess, but then it had always been messy – even before it was doused with the accelerant of sudden wealth and fame. He was a prodigious drinker, a narcotics user and quite likely a sex addict.

He’d married twice after divorcing Lili Damita, the French actress he met at the Garden, and, in addition to his and Lili’s son Sean, had had three more children, all girls. He was a notorious philanderer, and the one-night stands continued both during and between his marriages.

In 1943 Flynn had accused of statutory rape in two separate cases. After a sensational trial, he was found not guilty on all charges. He was also investigated by the FBI in the 1930s and ’40s on suspicion he abetted a Nazi spy before and during World War II. Much later, the spy admitted that he and Flynn were friends and that Flynn had come to has aid several times but denied that Flynn was a Nazi agent.

The drinking had already taken a toll, aging him well beyond his 41 years. His ravaged appearance made it hard to find work. He was saddled with alimony and child-support payments and other debts.

He was forced to sell his acreage on Mullholland. He returned to the Garden of Allah to live. Flynn settled into a daily routine at the Garden.

A little after noon most days his assistant would place a bottle of champagne and two glasses on a table among the chaise lounges by the pool. An hour later, Flynn would appear wearing a blue blazer with white or grey pants and an ascot.

He would stop and mingle with his friends and neighbors who were lounging by the pool. Before too long, he would approach a beautiful young woman and ask, “My child, will you have a glass of champagne?” Before the afternoon was over, Flynn and the young woman would adjourn to his villa.

In February 1957 Flynn flew to New York to appear on a primetime game show, “The Big Surprise,” hosted by Mike Wallace. It was NBC’s answer to CBS’s enormously popular “$64,000 Question.”

Contestants were asked questions related to facts about people they knew and places where they had lived. In each round, they were given a choice between an easy and a hard question. If they missed an easy question, they would lose all the money they had accumulated. If they missed a hard question, they only lost half. Although Flynn did not win the big prize, he collected $32,000. A few nights later he met Frank Ehrhart for a drink in the bar at the Garden of Allah. Ehrhart asked Flynn why he didn’t go for the big money.

“They guaranteed me the entire amount,” Errol replied, with a grin. “Half of it under the table. It was all fixed.”

Darling Woodsie

Errol Flynn and Beverly Aadland
Errol Flynn and Beverly Aadland

Later that year Flynn began a scandalous and very public affair with an aspiring dancer named Beverly Aadland. He’d spotted her on the Warner Brothers lot and invited her to an audition that evening to be held at a friend’s mansion in the Hollywood Hills. Aadland was eager to accept, she said, but but first she had to ask her mother. Flynn would learn later that she was just 15 years old.

Despite having been charged with two counts of statutory rape just seven years earlier, Errol kept the date with Beverly that night. There was no audition, of course. The part had already been cast.

But Beverly stayed. “The scene was lovely,” she recalled years later. “A great fire was roaring in the fireplace. There were thick bearskin rugs on the marble floors. Outside the lodge, deer would come to the great front window. The lighting was soft. Errol invited me down on the rug.”

A love affair developed. She reminded him of a wood nymph, so he called her his “darling Woodsie.” The girl’s mother, Florence Aadland, was surprisingly amenable to the romance, which was, after all, illegal. More importantly to her, the consummate stage mother, it was an opportunity. She wrangled a promise from Flynn to help Beverly with her career.

To his credit, he kept the promise, or at least tried to. It may be apocryphal, but he’s said to have pitched himself and Beverly to director Stanley Kubrick for the lead roles in “Lolita.” James Mason and Sue Lyon got the parts instead.

Using the Garden of Allah as home base, Errol and Beverly traveled extensively for a few years. They visited Jamaica, where Flynn owned a ranch, and toured Africa and Europe. They were mentioned in gossip columns at home and abroad, and were photographed out dining and drinking in hotspots in London and Paris. Somewhere along the way, Errol proposed to Beverly. In a rare show of discretion, they decided to wait until she was 17 to announce their engagement.

In 1958 Errol’s third (and then-current) wife, actress Patrice Wymore agreed to divorce him. When the process server arrived at the Garden with the divorce papers, Beverly ran out of Flynn’s villa wearing nothing but a towel and danced for joy around the pool. An interlocutory divorce was granted late in the year. One of the conditions was that both Errol and Patrice were prohibited from marrying for a year.

In 1959, Flynn wrote a screenplay for Woodsie, “Cuban Rebel Girls,” which he also directed and produced, The story revolved around young American volunteers who joined Fidel Castro’s uprising against the government of Fulgencio Batista. Errol had a small part as a journalist who advises Castro. They shot it in Cuba just months after the revolution had ended. The project was certainly timely, but at 68 minutes, it was shorter than most features. Because of that – but mostly because of the poor quality – “Cuban Rebel Girls” bombed. Errol and Beverly appeared together that year on “The Red Skelton Show,” but the big career Flynn had promised for Beverly never materialized.

In October 1959, they sailed north from California to Vancouver in his yacht, the Zaca. Errol had found a buyer for the boat in Vancouver. After they arrived, they partied for a few days. It was at a social occasion on October 14 that Errol began to feel unwell. He was taken to the home of a doctor, where he seemed to improve while still complaining of intense back pain. The doctor and his wife invited a few friends over to meet the movie star.

He was regaling his new friends with stories about Hollywood when he stopped suddenly and asked if he could lie down. The doctor showed him into a bedroom, where Flynn laid down on the floor. A few minutes later Beverly found him lying there in shock. His face was blue and his heartbeat was dangerously faint. He was rushed to the hospital. He died there on October 23. The cause of death was myocardial infarction, coronary thrombosis, coronary atherosclerosis, liver degeneration, liver sclerosis and diverticulosis of the colon. He was just 50 years old.

Florence Aadland wrote a book about her daughter’s affair with Errol Flynn. Titled The Big Love, it was later adapted for the stage, with Tracy Ulmann playing Florence. In 2013, Kevin Klein and Dakota Fanning portrayed Flynn and Aadland, with Susan Sarandon as Florence, in “The Last of Robin Hood,” a movie based on their relationship. It failed at the box office, however, grossing just $290,000 worldwide.

Before he died Errol Flynn reflected on his life and career. “I earned $7 million brandishing a sword, riding a horse and screaming ‘Charge!’” he said. “I did not deserve it, but I certainly didn’t mind spending it. The public has always expected me to be a playboy and a decent chap never lets his public down.”