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Flynn, Errol (1909-1959)  
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According to Bret and some other biographers, Flynn had an affair with supporting actor Ross Alexander (1908-1937) during the filming of Captain Blood. Speculation about their possible relationship seems to be supported by the tenderness and intensity of their onscreen performances. Adding to the script, Flynn constantly refers to Alexander as "dear" and "darling." Intentionally or not, some of the scenes by Flynn and Alexander have a aura: for example, Flynn's massage of Alexander's leg, interrupted by the question "What's going on between you two?," as Lionel Atwill enters the set.

A number of Flynn's other screen performances also have homoerotic dimensions, including, for instance, his flirtatious conversations with a decidedly uncomfortable Fred MacMurray in Dive Bomber (1941). However, it should be kept in mind that, while these possible " readings" suggest the complexity and richness of his acting, they do not provide firm evidence about Flynn's own sexual orientation or experiences.

Between 1936 and 1942, Flynn was at the pinnacle of his career. He starred in nineteen major films for Warner Brothers during this period. Costing over $2,000,000, the technicolor film Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) was the most expensive film made up to that point. It became one of Flynn's signature roles.

Intending to star Flynn and Warner leading lady Bette Davis in Gone with the Wind, David O. Selznick signed a very lucrative contract with Warner Brothers for their services. When the deal fell through because Davis refused to act with Flynn (whom she considered untalented), Jack Warner forced her to work with him in two movies: the soapy melodrama The Sisters (1938) and the lavish historical romance The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939).

Although Flynn detested the genre, he was compelled to star in several Westerns during his time at Warner Brothers, beginning with the hugely successful Dodge City (1939). In They Died with Their Boots On (1942), Flynn expanded the limits of his usual adventurer roles by conveying the complexities and contradictions of General Custer.

Feeling increasingly constrained by his swashbuckler vehicles, Flynn pleaded with the studio to allow him to undertake other types of films. In The Perfect Specimen (1937; costarring Joan Blondell) and Four's a Crowd (1938, costarring Olivia de Haviland and Rosalind Russell), he demonstrated exceptional comic timing, as well as the sophisticated wit admired by his friends. Many film historians maintain that had Flynn been allowed to perform in more movies of this type, he would have challenged Cary Grant's status as the dominant male star of screwball comedies.

In 1937, already tired of studio efforts to control all aspects of his life and eager for an actual (as opposed to filmed) adventure, Flynn traveled with his old friend Dr. Erben to Spain, then in the midst of a devastating civil war. Although most of his friends insist that Flynn was apolitical, he professed strong support for the Republican cause. It is virtually certain that Flynn was unaware that Erben, though Jewish, was a card-carrying Nazi working as a spy. Erben photographed German dissidents in Spain and gathered other information for the German government.

Flynn placed himself in many dangerous situations, as he and Erben sought to photograph battles in and around Barcelona and Madrid during March and April. At one point, Spanish newspapers published stories of his death, and the Spanish government sent condolences to his wife. Because of his association with Erben, the FBI doubted Flynn's loyalty and placed him under constant surveillance during World War II.

Despite the fiasco of the trip to Spain, Warner Brothers' studio succeeded in creating a very positive public image for Flynn throughout the period 1936 to 1942. A continuous stream of publicity emphasized correlations between his personality and his screen roles. Flynn's youthful adventures were fully exploited for this purpose. In addition, every effort was made to create the impression that he was actually as rigorously virtuous and as conventionally upright as he appeared to be on screen.

For younger viewers, this conception was reinforced by several series of elementary and high school textbooks of such classic works as The Charge of the Light Brigade, which extensively referenced Flynn's screen performances. Until 1942, studio publicists managed to conceal from public view Flynn's seemingly insatiable sexual appetites and the heavy drinking that increasingly affected both his general health and his performances.

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