Friday, June 3, 2011

Dell S11 (1961)

Title : My Wicked, Wicked Ways
Author : Errol Flynn
Cover artist : photograph
  [N. Y. : Dell, 1961. No. S11. Cover photo of Errol Flynn. "First Dell printing, January 1961."]

"The bare facts just as Flynn himself dared to reveal them. This and only this book includes them all."
style ****
substance ****
collectibility **

  The [uncredited] cover photo for Dell S-11 complements the book’s sensational contents : brandishing a cigarette holder and wearing a smoking jacket, Flynn is rendered in most impish, rascally fashion. But the picture also hints at other qualities we don’t usually associate with Errol Flynn -- grace, dignity and sophistication, qualities which, by the way, appear in My Wicked, Wicked Ways

  Which brings us to the fact that - for better or worse - more books have been written about Errol Flynn than any other film actor. Biographers have not always been kind, however. Flynn’s second wife Nora Eddington was, perhaps appropriately, first out of the gate with her warts and all memoir Errol and Me, which appeared a year after the actor’s death. In the following decades authors cranked out Flynn biographies which progressively upped the ante in character assassination and scandal recollection [1]. But it may be that the wily Flynn had outflanked his critics all along, in the process getting in the last word preemptively [2]. Flynn wisely got his peccadillos out in the open in Wicked Ways, and all the trashy tomes which followed merely expanded or enlivened what was already known more than half a century ago. And no, he was not, after all, a sadist, closet gay, or Nazi spy, but all the other stuff was pretty much true, having been confirmed early on by Flynn’s own pen. 

  At any rate, there have been many movie star biographies [3], but Flynn’s is my choice as the best [4] : he was a born raconteur; had great subject matter to work with [his own life story]; and wrote very well.

I leave the last word to Irene Palfy at All That Glistens Could be Old, because it sums up my thoughts so well:

  " . . . I enjoy that much that I'd like to read it forever. So I just read a bit and put it away - and then read again a little bit later."

  [1] There’s a certain belated justice in the generally good press which Flynn enjoys today, which eluded him during his lifetime and the first four decades or so after his death.
  [2] Flynn might have beaten his critics to the punch in another way, albeit in a different context. Much has been made of Wicked Ways' playing fast and loose with the truth -- certain facts are incorrect and some recollections have been exaggerated, fabricated or otherwise 'improved.' However, perhaps an equally compelling case can be made for the book's emotional truth, in that it gives us an insight into the inner nature of the man. Flynn was not exactly the first celebrity to write a somewhat fictionalized autobiography, but one could say that he mastered and crystallized the genre, much in the same way that Truman Capote, with In Cold Blood, perfected the ‘nonfiction novel’ without actually inventing the form. 
  [3] There's also been much commentary on Wicked Ways’ ghostwritten status, and it’s true that author Earl Conrad spent three months in Jamaica in 1958-59, assisting Flynn on the book. However,  sources are vague as to Conrad’s actual role in the mechanics of writing Wicked Ways. Flynn was a great storyteller, and his writing credentials were well-established by this time, with a couple of books and numerous articles and journalistic dispatches to his credit, along with various half-completed projects. Moreover, the book has a quintessentially and uniquely Flynnian voice and attitude. It may well be that Conrad’s contribution to Wicked Ways is much less than traditionally credited, and that his role consisted mostly of more prosaic, if eminently necessary, tasks like keeping the project on track and thus assuring its completion. Flynn hinted as much when he insisted that only his name be listed as the author. In any case it seems that the ghosted meme over-rates Conrad’s role in the book and shows far too little appreciation of Flynn’s genuine literary skills. 
  [4] Even the best biographies like Thomas McNulty’s Errol Flynn : the Life and Career and Peter Valenti’s Errol Flynn : a Bio-Bibliography seem flat and colorless when compared to the original.

Reviews : Piddleville; Via Margutta 51; MissRosenSee also : Scott Eyman, Tragic, Tempestuous Life of Palm Beach’s Forgotten Star, Lili Damita, Palm Beach Post, April 8, 2011.