Call it a tall tale, a shaggy dog story or any of the other variations, this is a movie that uses exaggeration and fable to tell a story that centres around another romantic tall tale. And it works much better now, ten or more years later, with distance from the marketing and celebrity media atmosphere that surrounded it when released.
The Autobiography of Errol Flynn (1959)
by Errol Flynn
I just finished reading, and thoroughly enjoyed, My Wicked, Wicked Ways: The Autobiography of Errol Flynn, originally published somewhere around 1959, available now through Cooper Square Press (part of Taylor Trade Publishing group).
Heavens, what a helluva good read. Is anything he says true? Well, maybe. Probably, at least some of it. But that’s not really the point, not for me.
It reads as if it’s the transcript of a recording of a great raconteur, a teller of tall-tales whose favourite tale is his own life. You get the sense of a man who is totally self-absorbed but, somehow, has such a winning personality you love him for it.
I originally picked up the book because I was interested in finding a unique character I might make use of in a story, a model for a supporting player. I had a vague notion that Errol Flynn might have some of the qualities I was looking for.
Well, geez … did I ever get my money’s worth in Flynn. It’s not simply a matter of a long, episodic tale of the picaresque variety, but also one of style. The words, syntax … everything that goes into creating a “voice” in writing, is here.
For me, the incidents are less important than the personality that comes across (although the incidents are quite remarkable). Together, personality and incidents, it makes for an incredibly entertaining book.
The breezy tone of the adventures carries through for roughly the first two thirds of the book. The fantastic, tall-tale quality is richest as Flynn recounts his early life and his various adventures as he travelled the world, especially Tasmania, Australia and the south seas.
His accounts of his Hollywood life are equally entertaining while also being salacious and gossipy. The raconteur quality comes forth through what the book relates and how Flynn relates it.
Although the book overall is chronological, he bounces back and forth in time. This almost mimicks on the page the way someone tells a story orally as one thought prompts another.
Sometimes the jumps in time and subject are almost non-sequiters. Yet it never seems excessive or sloppy, simply stylisticly casual.
As the book winds down you get the sense Flynn is winding down. It’s almost as if he becomes disinterested. There’s a melancholy quality to the book as he becomes increasingly reflective.
While Flynn’s most winning quality seems to be a boyish charm, as the book progresses the negative side of that charm is immaturity. It’s this that seems to catch up to Flynn in the end.
Finally, the man at the end of the book comes across as one who is close to but not yet quite grasping the meaning of his life (pompous as that may sound). Or, to put it another way, time seems to catch up to Flynn. Age. The image we end up with is of a somewhat faded Hollywood star, alone at his beautiful Jamaican home, not entirely sure what remains of his life or what to do with what remains.
As the Wikipedia entry on Errol Flynn says, “By the mid 1950s, Flynn was something of a self-parody: heavy alcohol abuse left him noticeably bloated in his last years.” He died of heart failure in Vancouver a short time before this book came out.
Knowing something of the final years of Flynn’s life amplifies the melancholy of the book’s conclusion for the reader and makes its final line resonate in a sad way.
However, while this may be how it winds down it is certainly not the tone of the majority of the book. It is flush with a sense of fun and adventure and humour.
Flynn is a character, in the truest sense. He’s marvellous and if I had known him, I don’t think I would have trusted him any further than I could throw him.
(By the way, it sounds as if the writing of My Wicked, Wicked Ways was a great story too, or so the book’s introduction suggests. As another aside, Flynn originally wanted to call the book, In Like Me, as a play on the popular phrase, “In like Flynn,” a line that came about due to one of the episodes in his life.)
Originally posted in 2005 (or earlier).
My Wicked, Wicked Ways: