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Gordon S. Miller Written by Gordon S. Miller
Nov. 5, 2010 | 2:09 PM

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Book Review: Errol & Olivia: Ego & Obsession in Golden Era Hollywood by Robert Matzen

Errol Flynn was born in Tasmania in 1909 followed seven years later by Olivia de Havilland in Tokyo.  They took different paths to Hollywood but would eventually meet while shooting screen tests for Warner Brothers’ Captain Blood (1935).  The film is notable for being Flynn’s first lead role and their first of eight pictures together.  Their final on-screen pairing occurred in They Died with Their Boots On (1941). 

The two became infatuated with each other at first sight, but de Havilland thought more of Flynn’s marriage to Lili Damita, a union demanded by the studio because they didn’t want one of their actors living in sin, than he did and kept things professional.  At least for a while.  Michael Caine reveals that during a walk on a location de Havilland pointed out and where she and Flynn finally consummated their attraction.  Meanwhile, during those years de Havilland was romantically involved with Jimmy Stewart and John Huston while Flynn was psychically involved with many young ladies, two of which resulted in statutory rape charges.

Together and separately, Flynn and de Havilland experienced highs and lows in and out of the business.  At the box office, The Adventures of Robin Hood was a great success, yet the romantic comedy Four’s a Crowd performed weakly in comparison.  They both got into spats with Jack L. Warner for different reasons.  She was very interested in furthering her career, most notably wanting to be loaned out to appear in Gone With the Wind.  All the wheeling and dealing required to join that cast reads like a spy novel.  He essentially wanted to end his as evidenced by his lack of professionalism and a greater interest in carousing and travel. 

Aficionados of Hollywood’s Golden Age will surely be delighted by this book even if not a fan of either Flynn or de Havilland because author Robert Matzen takes the reader onto the Warner Brothers lot and reveals the inner workings of the studio.  The reader will get to see how movies are made, from casting through production and even promotion, and get to ponder the ones almost made.  Quite a number of Hollywood luminaries pass through the pages, including those in front of the camera like Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, and Ronald Reagan as well as those behind it like producer David O. Selznick and directors Michael Curtiz, George Cukor, and Victor Fleming. 

Matzen delivers such a thorough accounting with this in-depth look at the lives of Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland it’s almost a shame his talents are spent covering entertainment rather than more substantial topics like investigating crimes or politics.  It is very well researched and seems to put the reader in the moment as events occur.  The book is filled with a great many photos, color and B/W, from both studio and personal archives.  Errol and Olivia is a must-own for anyone with an interest in Hollywood’s history.

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