They shared a flat in the city of Los Angeles when they tried to make a name for themselves as actors. They were practically the same age and both wore similar mustaches, thin and very careful. They are Errol Flynn and David Niven and neither of them was born in the United States. Needless to say, the Australian Flynn put greater doses of lust than the Londoner Niven in that Hollywood of the big studios before World War II.
They worked together on a movie and are the authors of two autobiographies that deserve to be among the best ever written by an actor. Full of humor and irony, crazy stories, hilarious jokes and accurate portraits, these are two works with common anecdotes that allow you to take an entertaining walk through the most famous bedrooms of Beverly Hills, for its parties and scandals, for a time that produced almost of constantly unforgettable films in some of which our protagonists sneaked.
The Memories by Niven (1910-1983), which in its first Spanish edition had its original title translated –Bring the empty horses, a joke at the expense of the bad English of the Hungarian Michael Curtiz, director of Casablanca–, they are a continuation of a previous volume entitled The adventure of my life. Flynn’s memories (1909-1959) are, as the title says in Spanish, the Adventures of a vividor, a succession of situations that would be too implausible to be told in a novel.
They met in the summer of 1935, the year Flynn filmed Capitán Blood, his first big success. They decided to go to a singles apartment. Flynn kept the large bedroom because he was earning more and contributing more to the rent. He was also the one who gave the most to marijuana in whose consumption he said that the Mexican painter Diego Rivera had started him to show him that you can listen to the paintings and hear the colors. In fact, Flynn gave everything, or almost everything, as Niven explains, who also smoked it but stopped doing it because he had enough with his addiction to Scottish wishky. “Flynn told me that with the exception of pure heroin, he had tried everything, even as an aphrodisiac, a pinch of cocaine, on the tip of his penis.” It also didn’t make high-alcohol beverages ugly.
According to Niven, his friend was pouring vodka as if it were going to be extinguished at any moment; mixed it with seven up And he started taking it while they were putting on makeup first thing in the morning. All this with the risk that alcohol carried in Flynn’s always unpredictable head: it seems that in the middle of a high he used to give him for buying animals (once he acquired a lion cub) or for trying to seduce the woman who least suited him (“ It’s always the same. Just a couple of glasses of champagne and I was already thinking: God, if I could be with the one with the big breasts and the small feet ”). The actor of They died with their boots on He confessed that he opted for vodka because in theory it has no smell and so nobody knows what you have drunk.
From Flynn, the actor who was undoubtedly born to embody Robin Hood Better than anyone, Niven says that he did not know what humility was, that he was convinced that his greatest successes –Captain Blood, The charge of the light brigade, Robin of the woods, They died with their boots on … – they were solely due to his talent. Admitting that he was a wonderful athlete, a charming, brave and undeniably attractive man, his partner in the farras cannot help but also make it clear that his friend was inconsiderate and unkind and that he liked to surround himself with people who could not compete with him. And besides, he was always ready to fight: the same with an extra as with John Huston. The film director also liked to take his hand out from time to time for a walk without justified reason and it seems that at a boring dinner they summoned each other, without any reason, to hit each other in the garden and both ended up in the hospital . Then Huston directed him on The roots of heaven, which Flynn played a year before he died and which was his favorite.
But Flynn really barely got along with anyone for a long time. He himself says that he only knew how to get along with respectable old women and prostitutes because, he reasoned, both had lost all their inhibitions. He wrote that “I am telling the truth if I affirm that my behavior in the brothels has been exemplary. They are the only institutions from which I have never been expelled ”.
In the middle of his memories, Flynn informs us that if we have gotten there, then we already know that he is a horny man “capable of doing anything for a laugh, a joke, a little fun, the idea of lightening the daily work of having to work ”. If not, ask poor Olivia de Havilland, the actress with whom he made his most celebrated films. “Once when she went to put her panties on, she found a dead snake in them. She cried in terror. He knew very well who was responsible. I don’t think this would win me over. The idea slowly penetrated my big head that these adolescent jokes were not the way to reach a woman’s heart ”. Come on, apart from having a laugh, he was trying to flirt.
Jokes abound in both books, some common. One with Niven as the protagonist: once the two actors went sailing, the Briton decided to take a dip, a moment that Flynn took advantage of to tell him with a laugh that he planned to leave him lying there and that he would have to swim again. Niven managed to return to tell it, but he did so without stopping a moment of screaming and splashing for a long time because of the proximity of a shark that caused him such a panic that he could not coordinate the movements that allow him to advance in the water. This other joke, instead, has Flynn as the taxable person and the great director Raoul Walsh as the main architect. Actor John Barrymore, a close friend of Flynn, had just died. Walsh arranged, upon payment of a good sum, for the local funeral home to let him remove Barrymore’s body for a few minutes and take it to Flynn’s house before he returned and seated it in his favorite chair. Flynn arrived, opened the door, turned on the light, saw Barrymore’s face still not embalmed and screamed madly… until the authors of grace came out to calm him down.
There are not only jokes in questionable taste and great drunkenness in these books. The chapters that Niven dedicates to his relationship with Clark Gable (both lost their wives in separate accidents and supported each other), with Humphrey Bogart (who befriended him despite the fact that he used to prefer the writers company) and with Fred Astaire, probably his best friend. There are also wonderful pages with sharp comments on Garbo, Scott Fitzgerald, Cary Grant, George Sanders or Ernst Lubitch, extraordinarily well written and plenty of irony in some cases and tenderness in others. No wonder Niven, who won an Oscar in 1959 for his role in Separate tablesHe also wrote several novels.
A different case is the book of that “incorrigible polygamist” that was Flynn. He has enough to be able to fasten in three hundred pages all the adventures he lived in the first person: his dangerous adventures at just 17 years old in New Guinea, his decision to sleep with a woman to steal her jewelry as a loan in a moment of trouble, his stage as a theater actor in London, the fights with his wives, especially with the French actress Lili Damita (“the only moments of peace occurred when we were in bed”), his foray as a journalist – or something similar – in the Spanish civil war, her innate ability to get into trouble (“in my case curiosity is a disease and the cause of all my problems”), her unscrupulousness in microphones in the women’s bathroom, the accusations of rape of minors of which he was declared innocent or his life on the high seas aboard his sailboat, always close to Mallorca.
Flynn and Niven had their differences and ended up walking away. Many years later, one day having a drink, the first one confessed that he had a thorn in it for a long time: not having gone to see him when his wife died in an accident. “The truth is that I thought only of going to see you but I couldn’t, and I still don’t know why. I have always regretted not having done it ”. They then filled the glasses and, in the words of Niven, “we were both plunged into that wonderful silence that only old friends can afford.”
My crazy years at Hollyood
Adventures of a vividor