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INHERITED RISK by Jeffrey Meyers


Errol and Sean Flynn in Hollywood and Vietnam

by Jeffrey Meyers

Pub Date: June 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-7432-1090-5
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

From veteran biographer Meyers (Orwell, 2000, etc.), an account of swashbuckling film legend Errol Flynn and his ill-fated son Sean.

Gifted with good looks, charm, and a winning smile, Errol (1909–59) was a Hollywood Bad Boy: seducer of underage girls, accused statutory rapist, neglectful husband and father, brawler, drunk, and drug addict. His onscreen feats of chivalry and derring-do in films like Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood were matched in real life by dissolution, self-centeredness, and sexual cruelty. Yet Errol was also a real-life adventurer and eccentric who had once sailed around the world, wrote novels and screenplays, read the classics, kept a pet monkey, and inserted himself into both the Spanish Civil War and Castro’s Cuban revolution. Meyers clearly appreciates the audacity that made Errol the rogue of Hollywood’s golden age and is drawn to the elder Flynn’s intellectual and political endeavors, but he’s impatient with his subject’s excesses as the story inevitably hastens on to the next round of debauchery and to the film legend’s untimely death, at age 50, from drink, drugs, and exhaustion. The other side of this dual biography concerns Sean (1941–71), the son Errol barely knew by his first wife, French actress Lili Damita. As irrepressible as his famous dad, Sean was a B-movie actor, a ’60s dropout, a Parisian hipster, a photographer, and finally a war correspondent. Driven, says Meyers, by a need to surpass his father’s legend, Sean in 1970 concocted a plan to get himself captured by the Vietcong for a sensational “inside” story; it went terribly awry, and he was probably killed by the Khmer Rouge after being imprisoned for 14 months.

The notion that his father’s swashbuckling fame led the son astray is a tad overworked here, although the account of Errol’s life and accompanying portrayal of mid-century Hollywood do make for some very evocative pages.