Jeffrey Meyers, Inherited Risk: Errol and Sean Flynn in Hollywood and Vietnam

41PQVT4BJHLTitle: Inherited Risk: Errol and Sean Flynn in Hollywood and Vietnam

Author: Jeffrey Meyers

Publication Information: New York, N.Y.: Simon & Schuster, 2002

ISBN: 0-7432-1090-5

Library of Congress Classification: PN2287.F55

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Flynn, Errol, 1909-1959
Flynn, Sean, 1941-
Motion picture actors and actresses–United States–Biography
War photographers–United States–Biography

This is a biography of a father and son who spent more time apart than they did together. The first 56 and the last 17 pages are about Sean Flynn; the rest of the book is about his father, Errol. Errol died at the age of 50; Sean was killed at 28 or 29, depending on when he was murdered by the Khmer Rouge.

I’ve always found it interesting when men say, “I like women,” which usually means “I like sleeping with women,” which is not the same thing. Errol Flynn liked to sleep with women, but he did not like women. This becomes evident as one reads the book. Meyers mentions in several places where Errol called his mother the C-word regularly. She really had nothing to do with him when he was growing up, and even pushed him away. This did scar him, and he even admitted it. Nonetheless, this did not inhibit his pursuit of women.

Sean’s problem was that he was trying to live up to his father’s reputation. He also had the devil-may-care attitude of his father, only this was more extreme in him. He was, for all intents and purposes, a playboy. He tried his hand at acting, but got bored with it; he moved on to something else. In Sean’s case his mother was the constant in his life, not Errol. Actress Lili Damita was Errol’s first wife, and she grew to hate him as he continued to cheat on her and spend time away from her. Her pregnancy was revenge on Errol, who did not want children, and she was constantly after him for money. She smothered Sean and kept him very close to her. As a result, he rarely spent time with his father.

My reading suggests that neither father or son was much different from each other. Meyers comments that Sean wasn’t so much interested in women as what they could do for him: sex companion, cleaning house, etc. It seems that Errol did not really see women as people. He did have a few female friends, and he slept with just about all his leading ladies (Bette Davis being an exception), but for the most part he was a man’s man, looking for the comfort of spending time with other men doing manly things. Sean ended up in Vietnam voluntarily, seeking fame and male companionship, and doing manly things like photographing the war.

Sean had no children that are known. In one letter, he told his mother that he was tempted to settle down in East Indies with a “brown” girl. Meyers reports that he came very close to marrying one young woman, but she was still in school and her father did not think that he would be a good husband and son-in-law, so Sean moved on and she ended up having an abortion; the fetus was a boy. Meyers doesn’t say if Sean knew about this or not. Grandchildren was one thing that Sean could not give his mother.

There’s more to say about this book, but I’ll end it here. Father and son were the same in so many ways, particularly in their shared death wish. Errol drank himself into an early grave, still chasing young women, and Sean ended up being captured by the Viet Cong in Cambodia, who then turned their captives over to the Khmer Rouge who, as history has shown, were in no way compassionate to their own people let alone outsiders. It is believed that Sean Flynn was executed a year or so after he was captured.

Fascinating character study.

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