The handsome, devil-may-care hero of Hollywood's most exciting swashbucklers, Flynn shot to overnight stardom when brought on as a last-minute replacement for Robert Donat to play the title role in Warner Bros.' pirate epic Captain Blood (1935). His flamboyant charm and dashing magnetism quickly established Flynn as the sound era's claimant to the Douglas Fairbanks swashbuckling crown as he effortlessly portrayed a legion of heroic characters.
A rebellious, adventurous, peripatetic youth who was expelled from several schools and held various jobs before turning to acting, Flynn made his film debut as Fletcher Christian in a small Australian film, In the Wake of the Bounty (1933). After appearing in an English-made quota quickie for Warner Bros., Murder at Monte Carlo (1935), Flynn was brought to the company's Hollywood studio, where he played the small roles of a corpse in The Case of the Curious Bride and a playboy in Don't Bet on Blondes (both 1935).
After the great success of Captain Blood Warner Bros. put Flynn in everything from light comedies to Westerns, but it was his romantic adventure films that were most popular with the public. Olivia de Havilland, his Captain Blood leading lady, was again cast opposite him in The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936). Loosely based on Tennyson's immortal poem, this thundering spectacle was directed by hard-driving Michael Curtiz who, despite the personal animosity between himself and his star, made Flynn unforgettable leading the charge into the Valley of Death. Curtiz eventually directed 12 of Flynn's better films.
Again teamed with de Havilland (with whom he made eight films in all), Flynn had his best-remembered role, as the definitive "merrie rogue" of Sherwood Forest, in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). This was the part he was born to play; indeed, few of his peers could don ornate period costumes, speak flowery heroic dialogue, or swing a saber with such valiance or grace.
Flynn expanded his buccaneering in The Sea Hawk (1940, another of his biggest hits), and later played two larger-than-life historical figures: Cavalry General George Armstrong Custer in the sweeping Western They Died With Their Boots On (1941) and boxing champ James J. Corbett in the evocative period piece Gentleman Jim (1942). In the former, moviegoers readily accepted the Irish-accented Tasmanian in the lead role of this largely fictional retelling of the events leading to the Little Big Horn battle. In fact, he played Western heroes throughout his career, in such films as Dodge City (1939), Santa Fe Trail, Virginia City (both 1940), San Antonio (1945), Rocky Mountain and Montana (both 1950).
Flynn was less successful in brief forays into light comedy; the public clearly favored him swinging sabers rather than serving as comedic foil in the likes of Perfect Specimen (1937) or Four's a Crowd (1938). He was more popular in war films, notably a 1938 remake of the WW1-set The Dawn Patrol and the WW2 adventures Dive Bomber (1941), Desperate Journey (1942), and Objective, Burma! (1945).
Flynn's offscreen life was, incredibly, even more colorful than his movies. An unabashed hedonist and insatiable womanizer, he was notorious for his nonstop drinking, wenching, and general highspirited bacchanalia. In 1942, at the height of his popularity, he was charged with (but later acquitted of) statutory rape. The ordeal of the trial and resultant publicity crushed Flynn's spirit. Never a person to take acting seriously, his on-screen energy ebbed and he slid into a gradual but steady decline in the postwar years. The best of his earlier Warner Bros. films saw Flynn in roles that exuded a lust for adventure and derring-do, but few of his later films had the same effect. Only when cleverly cast in the title role of the tonguein-cheek Adventures of Don Juan (1949) did he show a final glimpse of the magic that had made him popular.
Flynn's health deteriorated as well; the years of hard drinking showedharshly-in his later screen appearances. Several of his final films saw Flynn cast as an alcoholic; in the film adaptation of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises (1957) he limned a drunken American expatriate of the "lost generation" with an accuracy born of experience and in Too Much, Too Soon (1958) he portrayed his old boozing crony and fellow actor John Barrymore.
The star's final years found him aboard his beloved yacht "Zaca," anchored in Port Antonio, Jamaica. Here in an island paradise he said reminded him of his boyhood wanderings in New Guinea, Flynn worked on his posthumously published autobiography, the slyly titled "My Wicked, Wicked Ways" (1959). Flynn starred in the title role of William Tell a European production begun in 1954 but never finished.
OTHER FILMS INCLUDE: 1937: The Prince and the Pauper, Another Dawn 1938: The Sisters 1939: The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (with Bette Davis); 1941: Footsteps in the Dark (his one attempt at a comedymystery, none too good); 1943: Edge of Darkness 1944: Uncertain Glory 1946: Never Say Goodbye 1947: Cry Wolf, Escape Me Never 1949: That Forsyte Woman 1951: Kim, Adventures of Captain Fabian 1952: Mara Maru, Against All Flags 1953: Master of Ballantrae 1954: Crossed Swords 1955: The Warriors, King's Rhapsody 1956: Istanbul 1957: The Big Boodle 1958: The Roots of Heaven 1959: Cuban Rebel Girls.