Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Custer, & Sand Creek

Website & blogs © Louis Kraft 2013-2018
Contact Kraft at writerkraft@gmail.com or comment at the end of the blog


Captain Louis Edward Nolan carried the orders that launched the infamous charge of the Light Brigade. Flynn’s Captain Geoffrey Vickers is based upon Nolan.

Those of you who think that Errol & Olivia will never see the light of day—shame on you, for it is perhaps the most important book that’ll I’ll ever write. Certainly it will be the most challenging, and that is because of what must be mixed into the telling of the story of E&O. This isn’t an easy mix of detail for if nothing else their eight films are a mix of reality and fiction. In their eight films together, three of Flynn ‘s characters were originally based upon the pirate Henry Morgan, Louis Edward Nolan, and the gunman Wyatt Earp.

In three others, he played J. E. B. Stuart, Robert Devereux, and George Armstrong Custer, while only one of Olivia’s characters was based upon a real person—the magnificent Elizabeth Bacon Custer.

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Elizabeth Bacon Custer in 1864 or 1865. Libbie, as Custer and all her friends called her, was an exceptional human being. She could accept Custer, her man, her love, for what he was, and for 57 years after Custer’s death at the Little Bighorn, she preserved his image. When, in 1867 Custer risked all to confirm that his Libbie hadn’t become a victim of cholera, when he appeared and they they spent a wondrous day making love, she would forever call it that “one perfect day.”

Of course, Maid Marian and Robin Hood are based upon legend. I have read that Flynn’s character, Robert Lansford, in Four’s a Crowd is also based upon a real person during the early part of the 20th century. To date, unfortunately, I have not been able to confirm this.

In case you aren’t aware of it, my toying around while creating blogs is in realtime in my life looking for directions that may drive the manuscript. How do I dig, how do I explore? I’m constantly on the alert for a Flynn/de Havilland connection. Did he smile at her, did she slap him, did he inappropriately touch her and better did she enjoy it? But here, I’m constantly searching for the spine of their films–the screenplays. Make no mistake, Warner Bros. paid their screenwriters a lot of money to create. These writers were constantly under high pressure to write sparkling dialogue and plots that advanced at lightning speed. Screenwriting is an artistic craft, but like all writing it is a collaborative effort. Don’t doubt this, for I know this from what seems a lifetime of seeing words printed. The only time wherein I can take full credit is when I speak, for then it isn’t the written word; rather it is how well I have prepared and how well I keep my concentration for I don’t know what I’m going to say until I say it. I’m never more alive than at these moments, … the only exception being when I’m with a special lady.

We all need that “one perfect day.”

Doubt it not, Errol craved to explore Olivia’s delights and she in return wanted to taste him. It would never be, and that alone is enough to write a book. But there’s so much more that it’s mind-boggling. The major question here is how do I mix and match facts in a way that results in a page-turning manuscript that captures Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland?

From the moment they saw each other during the tests for Captain Blood in 1935 their physical attraction for each other was in place, and it would drive their lives in eight films. It wasn’t to be, but that doesn’t distract from their reality or the film performances they created. The Lord only knows how many books have been printed about “how to act.” Probably 90 percent of them are avoidable (at all times). Simply put, acting is grabbing your gut feelings, your soul, your inner being and bringing it to life on stage or on film. This isn’t easy to do, but Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland did it. And that is why their scenes together are so alive with life. A simple fact with one bottom line—great acting.

They made eight films, three westerns, two swashbucklers, one comedy, one historical-adventure w/tragical overtones, and one historical tragedy. In all of these films one thing shined though and sizzled with life, their real-life feelings and desires for each other.

I discovered pirate Errol Flynn in The Sea Hawk and his shy love for Brenda Marshall while a boy. Soon after I found again him in They Died With Their Boots On. He was George Armstrong Custer and Olivia de Havilland was the love of his life, his Libbie. Although unknown at the time, these films would dictate my future.

They would dictate how I would view womanhood and love, they would dictate my view on life, and ultimately they would dictate my career (if one can consider “writing” a career).

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This image, slightly reworked and the beginning of art, was taken during the filming of Errol and Olivia’s last full working together as actor and actress. The scene didn’t exist when they shot their famous and often thought their last screen performance when they shot the so-called “diary scene.” There’s a great story behind this scene; it will be in the book.

Of Flynn and de Havilland’s films, They Died With Their Boots On is the most important for the simple reason that it celebrates their acting capabilities on film. They had aged, had accepted each other as human beings while knowing that their earlier desire for each other would never come to pass. This was a major accomplishment in their lives for it allowed them to not only move forward but gave them a relationship that was real and not based upon physical desire. They could pinch and squeeze and hug and caress and not feel threatened, … they could accept each other as a man and a woman that had desires that would never reach fruition.

When two people realize this about each other it allows them to become friends for all time regardless when they see each other. It gives them a love that transcends time regardless if they had ever been intimate.

You are again front and center to how I research a writing project. I must grasp for my players’s souls as I attempt to know them. Know this, I can only write about what I discover. Errol and Olivia are much more accessible than Ned Wynkoop and his Louise or George Armstrong Custer and his Libbie. Why? How? Simple, … there is a million more documents related to E&O as opposed to Ned & Louise or GAC & Libbie. As a writer/historian I must explore everything I can find on E&O, digest it, figure out what happened that dictated their life, times, and relationship.

This isn’t an easy project, and worse, it’s loaded with false leads and out and out lies. On the plus side as OU Press stalls with its progress in moving toward completion with a signed contract for Sand Creek and the Tragic End of a Lifeway, E&O gains momentum as research and writing move forward. My desire to complete E&O is huge, and if the press’s passive approach to their desire—me completing a final Sand Creek manuscript from date of signed contract—stalls to the point of E&O driving toward manuscript delivery, I won’t sign the Sand Creek contract unless it is rewritten to state that my delivery will be three years after the conclusion of the E&O manuscript.  There are two major driving forces behind the above statement. The most important of which is at the moment I am working on E&O five-six days per week, and I’m having one hell of a good time.

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You are looking at one of the images that will appear in Errol & Olivia. Most likely all the images will be colored artwork. Since I like breaking rules, this is the current plan (and let me tell you right now that if this comes to pass I will take some heat, venomous heat). Most likely the book will include 30 images when printed. Will soon submit a series on Flynn’s westerns for magazine publication, and the submission will include this image. (art © Louis Kraft 2013)

1) FIRST AND FOREMOST, I could dedicate the rest of my book-writing future to writing about Flynn and de Havilland. 2) Although there is a novel wherein Kit Carson will play a major character and a major novel with Ned Wynkoop the leading player, in the nonfiction world, after Sand Creek, only a manuscript on Kit Carson looms in my future. Although I have written and spoken about George Armstrong Custer for years, all pitches to do a second book on him have been greeted with negative response. To date all talks about a nonfiction book on Carson have also met with negative response. I want to write a nonfiction book on Carson, and I want to tie my professional life to Wild Bill Hickok (but in a theatrical way). If these projects falter (if Sand Creek stalls only the publisher can address the reason why, for both they and I have worked diligently to move this book to reality), by default E&O, all future book projects on Flynn and one on de Havilland may well be my future.

If so, ‘taint too bad of a future.

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