In Like Flynn


Errol Flynn often joked, “I like my whiskey old and my women young.” But when he first saw young Beverly Aadland, in 1957 on the Warner Bros. studio lot, she was not impressed by the aging movie star. He invited her over to read for a play—a ruse for her seduction. Flynn once boasted that “all over the world I was, as a name and personality, equated with sex.” But that evening, the star of The Adventures of Don Juan learned that Aadland was only 15 years old.

The original Tasmanian devil, Flynn was born in Hobart, the Tasmanian capital, on June 20, 1909. He became an overnight sensation with the release of Captain Blood, in 1935, and the hits that soon followed, such as The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and The Sea Hawk (1940), cemented the actor’s status as America’s favorite swashbuckler. In 1942, however, at the height of his career, Flynn was charged with statutory rape: Seventeen-year-old Peggy Satterlee claimed Flynn had assaulted her aboard his yacht, the Sirocco, during a trip to Catalina Island, near Los Angeles. Satterlee told authorities that Flynn had nicknamed her J.B., for “jailbait.” Betty Hansen, also 17, claimed that a tennis match with Flynn was followed by a “swim-and-sex party,” at which “Flynn had undressed but kept his socks on throughout,” according to gossip bible Hollywood Babylon.

Warner Bros. went all out to protect its box office champion. The studio’s attorney hired detectives to get the dirt on the two girls, and he had nine women placed on the jury for insurance. Hansen admitted she had allowed Flynn to remove her clothes, and the lawyer went in for the kill: “Didn’t you want him to take them off?” When Hansen replied, “I didn’t have no objections,” Flynn’s case was all but won. After 13 hours of deliberation, he was found not guilty. Satterlee said after the verdict, “I knew those women would acquit him. They just sat and looked adoringly at him as if he was their son or something.” Flynn’s first post-acquittal film, ironically titled Gentleman Jim, was another box office smash.

The Flynn portrayed by Kevin Kline (pictured above) in the new movie The Last of Robin Hood, which details his later affair with Aadland, is definitely a broken man. His debonair good looks, ravaged by booze and drugs, are gone, and leading roles are getting harder to find. His relationship with the 15-year-old (played by Dakota Fanning) may have begun with sex, but it soon becomes obvious that Flynn desperately needs Aadland for emotional support and companionship. (As she later told People magazine, “When it was all over, and he realized I was a virgin, there was a complete change. He started to cry. He was very unglued, extremely apologetic.”) To deflect public suspicion, Aadland’s stage mother, Florence (masterfully depicted by Susan Sarandon), acts as a chaperone on their dates. One fascinating scene dramatizes a meeting between Flynn and director Stanley Kubrick, who was interested in having Flynn play Humbert Humbert, a man in love with a 14-year-old girl, in his film version of Lolita. Kubrick would not agree to Flynn’s demand that Aadland play the title role.

Perhaps Flynn risked the dangers of dating a teenager because he knew his days were numbered. A 1942 medical exam had revealed that he suffered from an enlarged heart, tuberculosis and various venereal diseases. Morphine and heroin became his drugs of choice to relieve his chronic back pain. When Olivia de Havilland, who made eight movies with Flynn, ran into him in 1958, she was shocked at his appearance. “He had changed so much,” she said. “His eyes were so sad.”

Aadland later remembered, “I think I started out being a plaything, but in 24 hours I no longer was. He began to take me everywhere. It really was that quick. If he were alive today, I would still be with him.” In Canada in 1959, the 50-year-old Flynn suffered his fourth heart attack; he died with Aadland at his side. An official from the coroner’s office said Flynn had the body of a “tired old man—old before his time, and sick.” Flynn’s autobiography was published just months after his death. He’d wanted to call the book In Like Me. Instead it was published under the more fitting title My Wicked, Wicked Ways.

Photo courtesy of Everett