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Flynn, Errol (1909-1959)  
 
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Flynn's Final Years at Warner Brothers, 1942-52

In the early 1940s, several events coalesced to shatter Flynn's carefully crafted public image. At the beginning of World War II, the actor applied for United States citizenship, but he was unable to enlist in the military because of chronic health problems, including recurring bouts of malaria and a diagnosis of tuberculosis. However, eager to preserve Flynn's status as a heroic adventurer, Warner Brothers rigorously concealed from the press all information about his medical condition. Therefore, Flynn's failure to participate in the fighting puzzled and disturbed his fans. Flynn was deeply upset by numerous editorials in newspapers of the Hearst Corporation that questioned his patriotism.

In September 1941, Lili Damita left Flynn and took their son, Sean, with her; in November, she initiated divorce proceedings, accusing him of intolerable cruelty. Because Flynn and Damita had quarreled violently for years, most of their acquaintances thought the divorce a good resolution to a bad situation. However, the general public was shocked by the breakup of what had been publicized as a perfect marriage. The settlement, finalized in May 1942, entitled Damita to substantial monthly payments for the rest of her life. In later years, this settlement would contribute to Flynn's economic woes.

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On October 18, 1942, the District Attorney's office of Los Angeles filed formal charges against Flynn of statutory rape of two women, Betty Hansen (eighteen at the time of the accusation, but seventeen in September 1941 when Flynn was alleged to have had intercourse with her) and Peggy Satterlee (only sixteen at the time of the accusation). All aspects of the trial were reported by international media.

Defending Flynn, Hollywood lawyer Jerry Geisler discredited the character and credibility of both women. For instance, he established that the District Attorney's office had offered them immunity from prosecution for oral sex and abortion (both criminal offenses at the time) in exchange for bringing charges against Flynn.

Although Flynn was acquitted on February 6, 1943, the implication of his guilt remained, and most people did not view him with the same degree of respect that they had previously. Not surprisingly, many women moviegoers were disturbed by the trial, but fan mail suggests that at least some of them were also intrigued by the revelations about his sexual escapades. Further, publicity surrounding the trial gained Flynn grudging admiration among many GIs for his sexual prowess and ability to escape responsibility for his actions. Thus, enlisted men coined the phrase "In like Flynn" to describe examples of sexual boldness and success.

During the course of the trial, Flynn discreetly began an affair with Nora Eddington (1924-2001), who was working at a tobacco stand in the courthouse. When she became pregnant in August 1943, Flynn married her in order to provide their child with a "legitimate" name. Eager to pursue the lifestyle of a bachelor, Flynn publicly denied rumors about the marriage, until the birth of his daughter Deirdre on January 10, 1944 was reported by the Hollywood press. They subsequently had another daughter, Rory.

Eddington eventually moved into Flynn's home, and his children remember him as an excellent father. However, with his restless spirit, Flynn could not be contained within the limits of a conventional household. Thus, he continued to pursue sexual liaisons with countless women (and, likely, some men) and indulged in heavy drinking with his male buddies. According to family and friends, his desire for adventure caused him to experiment with drugs; his resulting addiction to morphine created many problems for him in his later years. Increasingly frustrated by Flynn's behavior, Eddington divorced him on July 7, 1949.

Initially, Warner Brothers was wary that the trial for statutory rape would destroy Flynn's box office appeal. However, Gentleman Jim (1942), rushed into release before the trial began, proved to be highly successful. Still, the features that Flynn made during his final decade at Warner's generally did not attract the same degree of enthusiastic fan response that his earlier films had. Furthermore, most of his pictures were given lower budgets than previously, and he was even assigned to several cheaply produced "B" movies.

An exception to this trend was The Adventures of Don Juan (1949), which was intended to give Flynn one last chance at a big budget epic. As he had in Captain Blood and other swashbuckling films, he displayed considerable prowess in sword fights and stunt work, though he looked considerably older than he had in the earlier epics. Most significantly, Flynn infused self-conscious humor into the role of Don Juan--creating the archetypal "camp" image of the insatiable lover. Although his performance in Don Juan remains a favorite among many gay viewers, not least because of Flynn's self-conscious satire of Romantic cliches, American audiences in general were disappointed by the film, which did, however, do exceptionally well in Europe.

In the course of filming Don Juan, Flynn's binge drinking and morphine addiction had begun to spin out of control. His prolonged absences from the studio delayed production and greatly inflated costs. After this point, Warner Brothers regarded him as a liability, though they retained him under contract until 1952.

Despite a significant number of inconsequential films, Flynn also gave some outstanding screen performances during the period 1942 to 1952. For instance, in Uncertain Glory (1944), he subtly portrayed a criminal who sacrificed his life to redeem hostages held by the Nazis. Avoiding conventional sentiment, he revealed the petty and cunning aspects of the character, as well as his idealism.

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