Saturday, 4 July 2015

David Bret & Errol Flynn Biography: The Daily Mirror





English rose snubbed Errol Flynn to lead her own swashbuckling life

Before he found fame, the wild-living Robin Hood star sent letters begging to see his crush Marjorie Bickham but she chose a British war hero instead

SWNS Errol Flynn in the Hollywood classic Robin Hood
Lovelorn: Cupid's arrow didn't fly straight for the future Robin Hood star
A love letter from the dashing Errol Flynn would have been more than enough to make most English roses go weak at the knees. But Marjorie Bickham was made of stronger stuff.
Before he found fame as a swashbuckling movie actor, Flynn sent the 20-year-old artist a string of romantic letters begging her to see him again.
The pair had met at the Malvern Festival in Worcestershire in 1934 and Flynn fell for Marjorie at first sight.
In one of his five letters, written during a train journey to Edinburgh, he gushed: “I left Malvern thinking of you - drove to the middle of England with you still along and reached the border and you were still insistently present.”
Another ended: “There’s so much I’d like to say to you. Perhaps I could if I knew for certain you wanted to hear it. I’m going to bed - I know I shall think of you until I go to sleep. Night Margy. Errol.”
Although she kept the letters, which are being sold in Stourbridge, West Midlands, today by Fieldings Auctioneers, Marjorie politely declined Flynn’s advances and so was never drawn into his hedonistic world of alcohol, drugs and scandalous sex.
The Tasmanian-born had such a reputation for speedy seduction that he inspired the expression “in like Flynn”. Even his father found him making love to a naked woman in his dressing room.
Flynn loved alcohol almost as much as he loved women and his bachelor pad in Malibu, shared with British actor David Niven, was nicknamed “Cirrhosis-by-the-Sea”.
And he liked to share everything – women, booze, cocaine with his friends and his crew during wild parties on his ocean-going yacht.
SWNS Marjorie Bickham, the receiver of a collection of never-before-seen love letters written by Hollywood legend Errol Flynn
Adored: Marjorie Bickham caught the eye of the budding actor

Meanwhile, Marjorie went on to live a life of classic British respectability, marrying a war hero turned international diplomat, travelling the world and learning new painting styles everywhere she went.
Majorie’s nephew Nicholas Bickham, who still lives at the same Worcestershire farmhouse where she was born and received the Flynn’s love letters, says: “When my aunt spoke about Errol Flynn she would always say she was flattered by the attention, but she remained lukewarm towards him.
“She was a very attractive and fun woman and that obviously attracted Errol Flynn to her. But any romance was more in his mind than hers. I don’t think her opinion changed even when he went on to become a huge star.”
The man she chose instead was Brigadier Humphrey Kemball, who as a 21-year-old officer in the South Lancashire Regiment had led a series of daring reconnaissance missions into enemy territory during World War Two.
He also took charge of a mounted machine gun fighting a rear-guard action against the Nazis as the British army retreated to Dunkirk in 1940.
Getty Australian-born actor Errol Flynn (1909 - 1959)
Hellraiser: Flynn went on to live a wild Hollywood lifestyle of drink, drugs and sex

In the thick of the fighting he was hit by a fragment of mortar shell that buried itself so deep in his chest it took surgeons six weeks to find and remove it. Kemball was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery.
He met Marjorie six years after her brief encounter with Flynn when he moved into a neighbouring farmhouse.
The couple married in 1945 and Marjorie followed him on diplomatic postings around the world, including Berlin and Moscow at the height of the Cold War.
As a military attache based in the British Embassy opposite the Kremlin he was basically a spy who played a constant game of cat and mouse with the KGB who tried to monitor his movements.
Nicholas, 71, says: “My aunt and uncle had to be jolly careful because they knew all their servants were members of the KGB. Any letters we sent, they would read them then destroy them.
“And if they needed any dentistry done they had to travel to Finland in case the Russians put bugging equipment in their fillings.”

Marjorie often joined her husband on tour to deter “honey traps” by sexy KGB agents trained to seduce high ranking envoys.
SWNS Marjorie Bickham, the receiver of a collection of never-before-seen love letters written by Hollywood legend Errol Flynn, pictured with her husband Humphrey Kemball
True love: Marjorie with her husband Humphrey Kemball

But that made her a target too, especially as she always took the same handbag. The Russians became convinced the bag contained vital secrets or surveillance equipment.
During one trip to Ukraine the KGB carefully stage-managed an angry scene in a restaurant near the city of Kharkov.
Amidst the disruption a Soviet secret agent seized the opportunity to swipe Majorie’s bag, which actually contained nothing more than some local currency, a camera and her jewellery.
Furious, Kemball reminded the Russians of the hugely embarrassing scandal several years earlier when his predecessor was drugged at a wine factory and his personal possessions ransacked.
Kemball warned another scandal would make the Russians appear incapable of protecting foreign diplomats and the bag was returned without explanation a few days later. The only thing missing was the film from the camera.
SWNS Marjorie Bickham, the receiver of a collection of never-before-seen love letters written by Hollywood legend Errol Flynn, pictured with her husband Humphrey Kemball
Hero: Marjorie's husband Humphrey served Britain in World War II and the Cold War

“They will have been disappointed when they developed it,” says Nicholas. “There was nothing incriminating at all, just a lot of holiday snaps.”
Majorie was the great niece of the Victorian adventure novelist Sir Henry Rider Haggard, best known for writing King Solomon’s Mines, and creative talent clearly ran in her family.
While travelling with her husband, Marjorie worked as an artist and adopted many of the styles of the countries where she lived. She painted Russian icons in Moscow and traditional Chinese art while living in Hong Kong, even learning to sign her name in Chinese letters.
Over time she adopted her own style, focussing on painting flowers onto silk, which proved so popular that she staged exhibitions in London and Hong Kong, even accepting regular commissions for private collectors.
After one final staff appointment in Cyprus, Kemball moved home, completing his service as Deputy Commander of the South West District in Taunton, before joining MI6 as an intelligence officer.
BPM MEDIA Errol Flynn love letters which are now up for auction
Romantic: Flynn's love letters are now up for auction

Marjorie’s life would have been so very different if she had been seduced by Tasmanian-born Flynn’s flowery words in 1934.
Less than a year after bombarding Marjorie with letters, Flynn married the actress Lili Damita, and became an overnight sensation after starring in his first film Captain Blood.
Over the next three years he cemented his status as Hollywood’s most dashing leading man with his swashbuckling roles in The Adventures of Robin Hood, Charge of the Light Bridge and The Prince And The Pauper.
But he quickly became as famous for his womanising and his alcoholism as his acting.
Flynn was widely rumoured to have conducted a passionate affair with his leading lady Olivia de Havilland, with whom he shared the screen in eight films during the late 1930s and early 1940s, though she denied it. He was also romantically linked to actresses Marlene Dietrich and Lupe Velez.
SWNS Errol Flynn love letters which are now up for auction

SWNS Errol Flynn love letters which are now up for auction
Suitor: Flynn made his feelings plain

But it wasn’t just women who caught Flynn’s eye. According to his biographer David Bret the actor was bisexual and his male lovers reportedly included the actor Ross Alexander, who played his sidekick in Captain Blood, and fellow swashbuckler Tyrone Power.
He even boasted of his promiscuity in a 1950s interview, declaring that he wanted the epitaph on his gravestone to read, “If it moved, Flynn f***** it”.
Flynn even designed his home Mulholland Farm in the Hollywood Hills with his favourite pastime in mind.
A huge circular mirror was installed above his bed and there were two way mirrors in the guest rooms so he could secretly watch visitors ‘enjoy themselves’, while the bathroom was full of aphrodisiac potions.
However, his wild lifestyle eventually caught up with him when he was charged with statutory rape of two women Betty Hansen, 17, and Peggy Satterlee, 16, in Los Angeles in October 1942. Although he was acquitted, his image as a Hollywood heartthrob was permanently tarnished.
SWNS Marjorie Bickham' nephew, Nicolas Bickham
Auction: Marjorie's nephew Nicholas says she had a 'lucky escape' in rejecting Flynn

Flynn married two more times, in 1943 to Nora Eddington, who ran the tobacco stand at the courthouse where he stood trial, and again to actress Patrice Wymore in 1950.
Nicholas says: “My aunt certainly had a lucky escape. She would have had a miserable life with Errol Flynn and I don’t think their romance would have lasted very long. I don’t think any of his romances did.”
For many years Flynn was accused of being the very antithesis of war hero Kemball, accused of being a Nazi sympathiser who spied for Germany while reporting on the Spanish Civil War before he found fame.
But it turns out he may have aspired to be more like Marjorie’s husband. In 2000 newly released Home Office records revealed he offered to help Britain’s security services after being ruled unfit to fight.

Still only in his early thirties, hard-living had already taken a heavy toll on his body. In 1941 he collapsed in a lift and a specialist gave him only five years to live, warning that his heart and lungs were irreparably damaged.
Yet Flynn refused to change his ways and became addicted to opium, believing the drug would heighten his sexual pleasures.
He died of a heart attack in Vancouver, Canada, on October 14, 1959, just four months after his 50th birthday and was buried with six bottles of whiskey.
Marjorie outlived Flynn by nearly 40 years. She died in June 1997, aged 83.
Nicholas says: “Her marriage to my uncle was extremely happy and although they never had any children, they remained very close until the end.
“She lived such a remarkable life that she saw those letters from Errol Flynn as a very small and insignificant part of it.”

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