Film actors approach the roles they play in a variety of ways. During the early days of Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, and James Dean, the “method” brought in a new wave of acting that was different, alive, and drove acting into the future. Decades have passed and Meryl Streep and Daniel Day Lewis have come to seemingly embody the method. True? I don’t know. Do they approach their roles in similar ways? I don’t know this either. No idea. What I do know is that whatever they do to prepare works.
Some of the following words are from the Preface of Errol & Olivia.
Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, two actors from the Golden Age of Cinema, approached their craft in different ways. One became a “superstar” before the term was coined while the other became a major star. Over seven years they worked together on eight films, films that are as alive today as when they premiered in darkened movie theaters. They were lovers on film (sometimes star-crossed) while their lives followed different paths. This isn’t to say that they didn’t desire to become united (at one time or another both of them did), but just like you and I, reality and events—small and large—prevented them from becoming a couple.
Looking back, Olivia realized that if their lives had joined it may have ruined her life, while also stating that they had become linked forever in their films. Over the years I have been fortunate to enter her life, if only briefly. We have talked about Mr. Flynn (among other things) and let me tell you that when she allows her memories to close in on her times with Errol and what might have been her eyes moisten. They are alive with emotion. Certainly her feelings and memories have changed over the decades, but it is based upon a time that was real.
The question is: How do you document two lives joined by film but separated by life? This is a difficult task, for there is more—much, much more—documentation about Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland than all the Indian wars people I have written about put together. How do I sift through all of it (an impossible task), categorize it, analyze it, put it into a working order, and then bring these years to life?
Not only a book about Ms. de Havilland and Mr. Flynn, but their films and their times. As with all my books, the telling will not be a white-wash. What happened, happened. It is my job to present it in readable, and hopefully, page-turning prose.
The easy way out is to peruse the multitude of secondary books written about them. But there is a problem here, for more often than not some of these writers have repeated a growing avalanche of errors, or worse, have created events that never happened. Unfortunately most of these books written about them are not cited, and of the few that are, the citations range from the meager to the creative (read whatever you want into “creative,” but the word is not used in a positive way here). There is one exception, one notable exception.* Add the adage, “If it’s printed, it must be true,” and this is an uphill battle from the get-go.
|* If you only read one biography about Mr. Flynn, read Thomas McNulty’s Errol Flynn: The Life and Career (2004), for it is by far the best biography to date. Unfortunately, a definitive biography about Ms. de Havilland has not yet been written.|
By the way, memoirs are a totally different genre than biography. They don’t require notes, but are ideally a truthful retelling of the author’s life (or in some instances a retelling of a person from the point of view of someone who knew them). My experience dealing with Indian wars memoirs, or attempted memoirs, by people I have written about, is that memories fade and change over the years. Opinions change. When these people were able to check facts, they did. Information is much more readily available today. In the 1860s and 1880s, much less so. Meaning? If they couldn’t check the facts, they didn’t and worked from memory. Ask yourself, what did you do in September 2001. Do you remember? Could you write about it? Have your memories changed? Will you research that month? Is there any documentation by you? My guess is maybe yes to some but not all of the above. When people who write memoirs drift from what critics will nail as errors, these “errors” happen for a number of reasons: 1) The event is too far in the past to remember accurately, 2) Little or no research was attempted to revive the memory (that is, if documentation even exists), 3) The memory is good, but the retelling is altered to protect the teller and/or the subject, and 4) Memories and viewpoint have changed over time. In the case of Mr. Flynn, all of the above applies, along with something that was introduced to him in the 1930s.
Now add a few words about an Errol Flynn book that was originally published in 1975 and recently republished to the mix. This author, who goes after Flynn big time for being untruthful, bases much of his conclusions on unnamed authorities who met Flynn for an hour or two, knew him for a week or two, and in a few instances knew him sporadically for a handful of years in the late 1920s and/or early 1930s. Friends, these events, if indeed they happened, occurred years before Flynn became famous in a world far removed from his rough and tumble or cultured beginnings in New Guinea or Australia. Add that many of these memories saw life for the first time 40+ years after they reportedly happened, and you’ll realize why I think some of them are questionable.
How many people have you met and shared a drink with or shared an intimate evening with never to see again? Do you remember them four years later, or more importantly 40 years after that brief moment in time? Go ahead and name them. The bullshit can really hit the fan here, so spit it out! Name names and specific dates. Don’t worry, for I’ll call you an unnamed authority and your quoted comments will reside in Neverland where historians will never find them. I hate to say this, but my previous sentence is a lie, for if true your comments are invalid and never to be used by this writer. Alas, ladies and gentlemen, if you agree that citing unnamed or named quotes that can never be checked for correctness (because they never can be found) is a valid way to destroy Flynn’s memories is good history, I’ve got some ocean-front property in Arizona I want to sell you. At a good price, mind you.
The above said, I should add that that this unnamed writer did disprove some of Flynn’s memories of Australia and New Guinea and did leave hints where to search if you desire to authenticate prose that is questionable and printed quotations that flow trippingly off the printed page. That is, if you have a large bankroll and a lot of time to burn following trails that may lead nowhere. If indeed you are able to track down documentation that confirms two, three, or even four of the author’s statements and quotes, he should be heartily thanked for a few more sections of his book will be validated (a book, which, by the way, is a good read).
Ooh, baby, is the above a mouthful! And you wonder why it takes me so long to write a book. Actually, the question should be: Is the Flynn-de Havilland story doable? I don’t know. Will I attempt it? Now that’s a dumb question, for the manuscript is well under way and you can place money on it being competed.
Good news here, for progress is now semi-continuous on Errol & Olivia, a manuscript that deals with the life and times of Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland during the years they worked together at Warner Bros (1935-1941). Their chemistry was real and alive on screen but their relationship wasn’t what most people think. Both had lives that went in different directions, and even though at times one or both of them wanted something more, this could never happen. This manuscript won’t be a gloss-over; nor will it be fiction. Rather, it will be an examination of two people that were driven by what happened to them during their time together in Hollywood, and it will be written in the same manner as my previous books.
Research and writing now overlap as I have dedicated a good slice of time to the project. I’m also spending as much time as possible with good buddies and Flynn experts, Robert Florczak, David DeWitt (close up for a flash of time, but alas, now long distance), and Thomas McNulty (also long distance). You still have to wait for Errol & Olivia to see the light of day for there is still much to do before the manuscript is complete, but I guarantee that the final product will be different and will be worth the wait. Patience is the key.
This will be a living page, one that I intend to update whenever prompted by a thought, a discovery, a writing breakthrough, … whatever. Although I’ll be using the blog to publicize the winding road of discovering Errol, Olivia, and their lives and relationship, you may enjoy revisiting this page from time to time, for it will log progress in one location and will hopefully build anticipation.