Book review: Errol Flynn: The Untold Story

Errol Flynn: The Untold StoryErrol Flynn: The Untold Story by Charles Higham.
My rating: 2 of 5 stars.

First things first.

I couldn’t get that bloody tune out of my head the whole time I was reading so it’s only fair you have to deal with it now too. It seems likely songwriters Reyne and McDonough had read Higham’s book, because the lyrics specifically make reference to the meat of the work: the supposition that the Tasmanian thespian dipsomaniacal klepto satyromanic was also a dyed-in-the-wool anti-Semite and Nazi.


The only problem with Higham’s thesis is that it isn’t supported by anyone else. This shouldn’t be a surprise given how much space in his obituary is given over to descriptions of how lurid (read: full of shit) his multiple biographies were.

It’s a terribly written book. Through the book, Higham heaps shit on Flynn’s own autobiographies, claiming they’re complete fabrications. If that’s true, it’s a shame he followed so closely in Errol’s footsteps, because little of what the book is sold on – the Nazi connection – is supported by anything other than the pub braggart’s go-to: some bloke. The bloke in question, Herman Erben, was a Nazi, but even the author admits that there’s no actual evidence pinning the charge to Flynn. It’s supposition and sells books, and I shouldn’t be surprised given that my copy features an enormous swastika on the front.

(Hooray for ’80s cover design subtlety!)

Higham comes across as a bit like the kid who has a girlfriend in another town, so you wouldn’t know her, but his Dad works for Nintendo and totally knows that there’s a secret code you can put in to make Mario have no pants. You know the type: full of shit. From the outset, Higham foregrounds himself in the work, making it out to be some kind of forensic investigation rather than a lurid beach-read full of tales of drugs and dongs. He heaps shit on Flynn (and Australia) with aplomb, even as he makes basic errors with place names.

The rest of the book is a breathless account of Flynn’s racking up of debts and coke, of travelling and pursuing the goal of being a supreme pants-man. His passion for travel is certainly conveyed, but Higham can’t help but piss on the guy, even as he tells stories in which Errol wins the girl/beats up all the guys/makes a fart joke all at once. It’s as if he’s Hercules, all tales of extension. Hell, he’s even psychic, knowing he’d end up beneath the sod without a headstone at Forest Lawn.

(That’s without going into how precognition stopped him from buying land at Pearl Harbour. I know, right?)

The best thing I learned from this book, though – and I hope it’s not a load of horseshit – is that that his publisher’s title for his memoir (My Wicked, Wicked Ways) pales in comparison to his preferred title, In Like Me.

In the end, though, I enjoyed the book despite myself. But that’s more than likely because of its focus. Flynn was larger than life, and you could pin anything to him and it’d seem credible. Larrikin and OK actor? Yep. Horrible womaniser who jerks off on a neighbour’s front door to express his pique? Sure, why not. Boner of Tyrone Power? OK. Drug runner and nature-film director at the same time? I believe it.

I don’t like him after what I’ve read – a better title would be Errol Flynn: Dickhead, especially where the cruelty to animals parts figure – but I did power through the bloody thing, so I applaud Higham in the afterlife for creating something so terrible, yet so compulsive.

He want to pounce/Like an animal
To girls he just can’t say no.

It’s like terrible fast food: possible to love it and hate it (and yourself) at the same time.

My Goodreads profile is here.

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