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Flynn, Errol (1909-1959)  
 
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Dismissed in August 1926 from a prestigious grammar school in Sydney, he worked in a large import-export firm until September 1927, when he was fired for borrowing money from petty cash. Flynn attempted to support himself for a while as a semi-professional boxer, but, in September 1928, he went to New Guinea in hopes of finding a fortune by prospecting gold. Although his claim produced little gold, Flynn remained in New Guinea for nearly four years, trying his hand at all sorts of legal and illegal activities, including training as a cadet patrol officer, growing tobacco, and even engaging in the slave trade. While in New Guinea, he contracted malaria, which would plague him for the rest of his life.

On a visit to Sydney in 1929, he and some friends bought a fifty-year-old yacht, Sirocco. Despite their lack of experience, they decided to sail it 3,000 miles back to New Guinea; their adventures formed the basis of Flynn's novel, Beam Ends (1937).

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In 1930, Dr. Hermann F. Erben, a medical researcher in tropical diseases and an adventurer, hired Flynn to sail up the Sepik River in order to make a documentary film about those parts of the interior of New Guinea that were still largely unexplored by Europeans. As the captain of the Sirocco, Flynn appeared occasionally in the film. In 1932, impressed by Flynn's dashing appearance, motion picture director Charles Chauvel offered him the role of Fletcher Christian in the first Australian sound feature film, In the Wake of the Bounty (1933), about the history of Pitcairn Island.

Intrigued by this experience, Flynn resolved to develop a career as a professional actor in Britain. In 1933, accompanied by Erben, he spent several months traveling to Europe through the Philippines, Asia, and North Africa. Unable to find employment in film studios in London, he accepted a position at the Northampton Repertory Company, where he worked from December 1933 to June 1934. Playing a variety of roles, he gained increased skill as an actor.

By fall 1934, Flynn was working as an extra at Warner Brothers' Teddington Studios in London. Impressed with his good looks and charm, Irving Asher, the head Warner executive in Britain, gave him a starring role in Murder at Monte Carlo (1935). At Thrasher's persuasion, Jack Warner viewed a copy of the film and promptly offered Flynn a six-month contract at the American studio. On board ship to New York, Flynn met Lila Damita (1905-1994), a French-born movie star, then under an extended contract to Warner Brothers. They initiated an intense but stormy relationship and married on June 19, 1935.

Initially, Flynn had difficulty getting assignments at Warner Brothers. His first American appearance was as a corpse in the Perry Mason film, The Case of the Curious Bride (1935). In Don't Bet on Blondes (1935), he appeared for about five minutes as a society playboy.

Success in Hollywood, 1935-1942

Flynn got his big break in May 1935 when he was offered the lead role in Captain Blood, conceived from the start as a major production, based on a Rafael Sabatini novel (1922), which had been made into a very successful silent film in 1924.

After negotiations broke down with preferred leading actors Robert Donat, Leslie Howard, and Clark Gable, Warner Brothers conducted an extensive talent search among contract players. From their first look at a screen test made of Flynn (who was being considered for a small role), both studio boss Jack Warner and director Hal Wallis agreed that he perfectly exemplified the masculine but debonair adventurer. Originally intended for Bette Davis, the female lead ultimately was given to an equally unknown actor, Olivia de Haviland, who would costar with Flynn in seven other movies.

Opening in December 1935, Captain Blood established Flynn as a major star. Drawing upon his own experiences as an adventurer, he was able to breathe life into the screen image of the swashbuckler. Doing virtually all of his own stunts, he displayed his strength, skill, and grace in fencing and other athletic activities.

As Peter Blood, Flynn plays a seventeenth-century English doctor, wrongly convicted of treason. Sent to Jamaica, he is sold into slavery on a plantation owned by Olivia de Haviland's uncle. Leading a successful rebellion, Blood becomes the captain of a pirate ship manned by other former slaves. After a series of adventures, Blood provides valuable services to the British crown; he is rewarded with the governorship of Jamaica, where he takes up residence with his new bride (Olivia de Haviland, of course).

This story of an unjustly accused hero who redeems himself through selfless actions is one that would be repeated in numerous other Flynn movies, set in diverse historical and contemporary contexts, including medieval England, nineteenth-century India, the western frontier, contemporary American small towns, and various battlefields in World War II.

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