Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hollywood And Mallorca - Errol Flynn

Errol Flynn is remembered with a good deal of fondness in Mallorca. In 2009, to mark the one hundredth anniversary of his birth and fiftieth anniversary of his death, a number of articles appeared in the local press which, for the most part, overlooked negative aspects of his life and recalled a star of whom it was said that if there had been medals to be handed out to illustrious visitors who increased the profile of Mallorca throughout the world, then he would have been a recipient.

Flynn may well have raised Mallorca's profile, but the Mallorcans with whom he had contact - and there were many - perceived Flynn through a Mallorcan's eye. It wasn't necessarily the same eye through which others perceived him. How much Flynn really succeeded in raising the profile is, with hindsight, debatable. Indeed, it might be questionable as to how much the island would have wanted him to have raised the profile.

In yesterday's article, I said that Flynn was a regular vacationer. He was, but there was more to it than simple breaks from filming. Though he made various attempts at reviving his acting career through the 1950s, the truth was that by 1950, when he happened to come across the island, he was already washed up. There is a poignancy with yesterday's article which looked at Johnny Weissmüller's association with Mallorca. Both Flynn and Weissmüller were typecast, the latter far more so. Once the enthusiasm for swashbuckling and jungle stories had waned in Hollywood, there was nowhere for either of them to go. And for Flynn, the decline was swift, often undignified and often played out in Mallorca. He didn't holiday in Mallorca so much as hang out and get drunk.

Flynn's drinking was the stuff of legend, but not everyone subscribed to the view that he was a drunk. Riki Lash, interviewed in 2009, said he never saw Flynn drunk, but then there was the story, related five years ago, of Flynn going off on a hunting expedition to Son Serra de Marina with a group of locals from Maria de la Salut (the year was probably 1953). A bottle of his favourite drink, vodka, accompanied him on his day's shooting, not that alcohol featuring in a Mallorcan party day out was all that unusual. And any possible excess wouldn't have concerned the good people of Maria unduly when, following the hunt, Flynn arranged for a chicken dinner to which most of the population turned up just to get a glimpse of the Hollywood star.

Two years after that series of articles and so perhaps with less of the rose-tinted lens focussing on Flynn, "Mallorca Magazin" spoke, among others, to Martin Xamena, director of the Bon Sol hotel in Illetes. Flynn had a villa in Cas Catala (it was demolished in 1989) and there are photos of him dining on its terrace which date from 1955. Xamena, then a small child, remembered him as being very nice but also remembered that he always had a drink in his hand. The Bar Tirol in Palma was a favourite haunt of Flynn's, and the story goes that on one occasion he got so drunk in the bar that he had to be carried out unconscious. Another anecdote from that German article concerned a boozy trip out on Flynn's yacht, "Zaca", during which Flynn, having taken on board far too much, fell overboard and into the sea. For all this, in Illetes, his memory lives on. There is of course a plaque in his honour there.

Flynn was not alone in having been a Hollywood star who overindulged in Mallorca. Ava Gardner, looked upon perhaps rather differently and considered more refined owing to her association with Robert Graves, was known to like a drink or two herself, though Riki Lash offered an alternative view in that 2009 interview. Her drunkenness was famous, he remarked, but he didn't think that she drank more than usual. What seemed like drunkenness, he observed, was often actually a marijuana high.

Through the Mallorcan's eye, Flynn was no doubt good news. But the relationship wasn't as positive as it might have been. To a potential tourism market, especially an American one, Flynn was an outcast from Hollywood and his reputation was tarnished. He may have been, where the Mallorcans have been concerned, a bit of a lad and a genial good bloke, but was he the right image for the island? Some still maintain that he was, and a comparison is made with a later Hollywood star, Michael Douglas. Flynn was accessible in a way that Douglas hasn't been, but then Douglas's contribution to Mallorca has been of a very different order.

There again, maybe the image was right and always has been. It is one that has cultivated the obsession with celebrities in Mallorca, while maybe Flynn's drinking was to pave the way for what has come since.

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