BLOG INTERVIEWS / Robert Matzen

Interview with Robert Matzen

Today as part of Biography Week(I) The Baz is talking to Robert Matzen, author of Errol & Olivia: Ego and Obsession in Golden Era Hollywood. As regular readers will know, Robert’s book came up for discussion in the comments when someone suggested he was claiming there had been a rivalry between Flynn and Rathbone for the favors of Olivia De Havilland. In a bid to set this matter straight, and also to explore something more of his thoughts on Flynn and the Baz, we asked Robert to spare a little time to talk to us. He was incredibly patient and obliging, and below you can all read the result.

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TB: I’m gonna kick it off by asking you to sum up in a single para what your book Errol & Olivia is about

Robert Matzen is the author of Errol Flynn Slept Here (2009), Errol & Olivia (2010), and three other books. He has also written many articles about classic films and stars. He appeared as an expert on the topic of Carole Lombard in the BBC television documentary, Living Famously: Clark Gable and about Errol Flynn in the BBC4 radio documentary, Robin Hood and the Cuban Revolutionaries. Matzen’s work as an award-winning writer and director of feature documentaries, and of short films for clients including NASA, gives him a unique perspective in looking at the making of motion pictures in the classic era.
Matzen: Errol & Olivia is the first-ever look at the day-to-day professional life of Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, and at the ups and downs of their association offscreen.

TB: Your book uses a very racy, almost novelistic style in describing the mindsets of its protagonists. Obviously a lot of this is inference. How did you arrive at this synthesis?

Matzen: I wanted to try a different approach to writing about Old Hollywood that would suit a modern audience. I wanted the pace of the narrative to be almost breathless because that’s the kind of life these people led, working six days a week and playing hard at night. Some writers that I respect really took offense that I made the leap and attempted to capture the thoughts of the main characters, but I wanted Flynn, de Havilland, Warner, and the others to come across as living, breathing human beings with dynamic personalities.

TB: Is there a lot of material out there to work with? Letters, diaries etc? or was it a tricky thing to put together?

Matzen: There is a lot of material out there to work with.There is all the material on their pictures in the Warner Bros. Archives in L.A.; there are files and files at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Library; there is Flynn’s memoir My Wicked, Wicked Ways and there are eight decades of de Havilland interviews, some of them revelatory and some unpublished. But yes it’s tricky for two reasons: 1) Neither of them was one to dish dirt on a co-worker, and 2) de Havilland is a closed book who can’t help but control every interview she’s done, certainly in the past 30 years. So with Olivia there is always a great deal of “spin” in everything she says and every story she records. And since each of them had a lot to say on the surface about the other, but neither dished the dirt, it becomes a matter of looking at the breadth of information about the two of them, individually and together, to tell their story as a collaborative team and as a couple.

TB: I understand that. You could say in any really good biography there’s always – finally – a kind of intuitive process or leap of faith, where the author dares to tell you not just what he can literally prove but what he “knows” or has come to know through his exposure, not just to what the subject says or does but to what they are. But it’s also dangerous isn’t it. In that a fine line separates the insight into what a person (or two people) may have been, and the imposition of our own belief about that? How do you safeguard against the latter?

Matzen: My bottom line is always the research and the documentation. Way back before the internet I wrote a Bantam Book on how to conduct research, back when you had to rely on a library and when data bases were brand new. It was my first book, and grew out of my love of history and digging into the past to understand great events and the people who experienced them. My practice is that I have to climb into people’s skin and look at their world in their times through their eyes to write about them. I never write a word until I understand my subject from the inside out, and that can only be accomplished through research.

Errol & Olivia was controversial in a way because I drew the conclusion that Flynn and de Havilland had strayed into a physical relationship in the 1940-41 timeframe, but I did that based on research and evidence. The facts are that they went from fine, professional co-workers up through Elizabeth and Essex and then had blowups on location on Santa Fe Trail and a very public confrontation on the main street of the Warner Bros. lot. Something rubbed the nerves of these two raw, and they vowed never to work with each other again. But a year later they were back together at Warner Bros. after he had asked for her to be offered the part of Libby Custer in They Died with Their Boots On. By this time Lili Damita had filed for divorce from Flynn and Jimmy Stewart had ended his relationship with de Havilland, making Flynn a bachelor and de Havilland a bachelorette.

Of course any writer is going to overlay his or her own experiences onto the subject of a biography, but he or she safeguards against drawing biased or tainted conclusions by relying on the research. All those footnotes aren’t cluttering Errol & Olivia for fun. As I said right in the front matter, I went into the book thinking that nothing physical happened between them, and I also said, and still believe, that sex is the least interesting aspect of their stories, individually and as a team. I merely reported what the research showed, and part of that was answering the question that so many ask: Did they or didn’t they?

TB: I understand you corresponded with de Havilland for some time. What was her reaction to the finished book?

Matzen: Olivia has not commented on my book that I’m aware of. There is a lot for her to love about Errol & Olivia. In it she is presented as a tough, talented scrapper of great accomplishment. And I was careful to show as many previously unpublished photos as possible, so it must have brought back some memories.

TB: Ok, so as this blog is about the Baz, let me ask you about his part, as you see it, in the Flynn/de Havilland imbroglio (if that’s the right word).

Matzen: Yikes, that’s a word and a half, but not a bad descriptor in some respects. Rathbone’s another fascinating character in this story, a freelance talent who commanded a very nice sum to come in and imprint a picture with his unique and always memorable interpretations. He was a charming guy and a consummate professional, and I think he had a crush on Livvie. It was a very courtly thing, I believe. I’ve seen it speculated here on this site that Rathbone was gay or bi or whatever, but I’ve never stumbled upon any of that in my research. He seemed to be hot for his wife and he seemed to be attracted to de Havilland.

Now, Flynn was a very insecure male, no question of that. He was way more insecure than you’d expect him to be, and he always had a thing for Livvie. Errol says so and Olivia says so. You put his insecurity together with Rathbone’s fondness for her, and Flynn would have been annoyed; no doubt of that. The little mention in Rathbone’s memoirs where Flynn calls him “dear old Bazzz” is pretty funny, because right there you see a glimpse of the charm and the hostility that Errol Flynn always brought to bear. But he was also a chameleon, an “actor,” and I don’t mean to imply there were fireworks on the Robin Hood set because these people had their hands full with the pressure of a Technicolor ‘A’ picture and then the change of directors in mid-production. There were bigger fish to fry than worrying about Rathbone with his arm around de Havilland. But absolutely, Flynn would have been annoyed by Rathbone’s attentions.

In an all-guy production like The Dawn Patrol, the energy would have been different and evidence shows a very happy set. Flynn could only relax around guys–women were mysterious and required work. The chemistry between Flynn and Rathbone on that picture was just outstanding, and the result of some trust and some respect between the players.

TB: Your book actually describes Flynn resenting Rathbone “pawing” Olivia de Havilland and seeing Rathbone’s “masculine charm” as “competition”. Is there a source for this beyond the home movies that do indeed show Rathbone and Olivia in close proximity?

Matzen: A written source? No. We have the home movies, and also candid photos from the Coronation Ball and the Robin Hood set that show Rathbone’s attentiveness to de Havilland. Candids are an important source for any writer. As for Flynn’s insecurity and seeing other male actors as competition, there is evidence, including de Havilland’s descriptions of a very similar circumstance when Reagan got chummy with her on the Santa Fe Trail set, and Reagan’s stories about Flynn’s frail ego and insecurities.

TB: I’m interested that you describe Flynn as insecure, not only because it goes against the very popular image of him that people seem to like to have, but also because it ties in with that wonderful candid photo of Flynn and the Baz during the preparations for Robin Hood, where Errol’s face seems unguarded and both vulnerable and insecure. I always assumed it was largely a photographic accident, but maybe it’s one of those photos that captures a little of a person’s essence?

Matzen: Great pic; this was the day they looked at sketches and costumes for the jousting tournament, right before that entire sequence was hacked out of the beginning of the script. Think about the two very different positions these guys were in. Flynn is Warner Bros. property and about to begin the biggest picture of his career. Enormous pressure. Rathbone is an independent. Flynn was due to begin intense training with bow, quarterstaff, and sword. Rathbone wasn’t even due to begin the picture for seven more weeks. The weight of the world is on Flynn’s shoulders, and you can see it in this photo. It’s no photographic accident.

TB: Rathbone was somewhat disparaging of Flynn the swordsman, comparing him unfavorably to Tyrone Power, even though Power was nothing like as good an athlete and had to be doubled throughout much of the action in Zorro. There is an implication of a personal issue there. How much of that do you ascribe to the de Havilland situation that you perceive in your book?

Matzen:Flynn was a sad, insecure, lonely soul, far from the carefree creature that women around the world fell in love with and men were intimidated by or wanted to be. He had a cruel upbringing similar to that of de Havilland, and this gave them something important in common.

More than one actor complained about Flynn’s recklessness with a sword. Flynn was coordinated and athletic, but a terrible detail man. He had trouble memorizing dialogue and that translated into also having trouble with choreographed fencing.

I marvel at Rathbone’s skill with a sword in Robin Hood and in The Mark of Zorro. Here he was, what, 18 years Flynn’s senior and not missing a beat in the rehearsals that have been preserved. That’s real athleticism. Some actors are a natural with the sword and Rathbone was one of those.

I honestly don’t think any of that resentment in the Rathbone memoir is because of de Havilland. It was because everyone praised Flynn’s prowess with a sword when Rathbone, who yes, did have an ego, was habitually overlooked when he shouldn’t have been. Basil Rathbone was no Errol Flynn, but then Flynn was no Rathbone either. Flynn owes a lot of his success in Robin Hood to what Rathbone gave him in an antagonist, and in a dangerous physical opponent.

TB: You don’t think Rathbone was rather unfair to Flynn’s fencing skills? There’s very little doubling in the RH fight and the home movie shows a Flynn who seems pretty firmly rehearsed. It seems perverse of Basil to praise Power so highly in comparison, even given Flynn’s recklessness, when Power was so much the inferior as a swordsman and an athlete. Whatever the source of the potential resentment it does seem to be skewing Rathbone’s judgment don’t you think?

Matzen: Flynn was an inaccessible person. All the stars worked hard at that time, six days a week, long hours, but Flynn wasn’t an actor’s actor and in some regards didn’t know how to (or was unwilling to) give generously to another actor and set him up for success. Power was a good guy from all accounts and the son of an actor. I can see Rathbone remembering Ty Power much more fondly in all aspects than Errol Flynn, and it’s clear that the swordsmanship issue was important to Rathbone and had a symbolic meaning that went deeper than just who could run through who in a theoretical bout.

Sure Flynn was firmly rehearsed. They rehearsed literally for weeks prior to production on everything physical that the men were going to be taking on. That doesn’t mean that from moment to moment Flynn was as mindful of where that sword was going as he should have been. I also think there was another element that Rathbone resented with Flynn: Errol made it look easy. It wasn’t easy, but Errol make it look easy in the final print. He made a lot of things look easy and when you add everything up, it made him someone that Rathbone, an accomplished, serious actor, could resent.

I don’t mean to slam Flynn here. He was a fascinating guy with many positive attributes. He was good at stuff. He was a philosopher, a writer, a thinker, a sailor. He was unafraid of many of the things that run other people aground. When sober he was charming as hell and he spent the 1930s entirely sober when it counted. But he wasn’t what you’d call a warm guy or someone you’d ever want to count on as a friend.

TB: Would you say there was any mutual respect? Would they each have respected the other’s athleticism as an opponent? The chemistry you talk about is it exclusively hostile?

Matzen: There’s no doubt that Flynn respected Rathbone’s talent, which would have triggered Errol’s insecurity as well. I think they have great chemistry onscreen because of their differences in style–raw Flynn and measured Rathbone. This is true in Robin Hood for sure and to a lesser extent in The Dawn Patrol because the story called for a stiff-upper-lip vibe from all parties. I credit Eddie Goulding for forging DP into an ensemble classic. As I’ve said before, Flynn needed the right director, a strong director, and he had that in Curtiz, Goulding, and some others. Rathbone was much more a hired gun who would come in for two or three weeks or four weeks and adapt to the circumstances. He wasn’t a member of the Warner Bros. family, which some forget today because he made so many key pictures there. The studio players worked together all day and went on junkets and attended premieres, but the freelancers came in, did their work, and went on to another studio and another job. So yeah, of course Flynn respected Rathbone, and “dear old Bazzz” was in part his way of dealing with someone he knew was a better actor, by adopting that cynical attitude.

TB: Obviously there is a very powerful Flynn legend. The hard drinking, hard-living reckless devil, adored by women, admired by men, who just didn’t give a damn and went through life with a swagger and a smile, immune to all normal human insecurities. It’s very simplistic and not really the image of a human being, more of a Jungian archetype, but people seem to need to believe this was the “real Flynn” and it’s the image most often sold in books and documentaries. But you, almost uniquely, have dared to challenge this image and to present a far more human and frail version of Flynn as insecure, over-compensating, distrustful of women, edgy around men he thought of as in any sense better than him. How was this interpretation received?

Matzen: With silence. I can’t recall any Flynn fans coming up to me and saying, “Thank you for revealing this very flawed person,” although many understand that he had flaws like all of us. You don’t die at 50 looking 75 and in the company of your lover, an underage girl, without a flaw or two. Case in point: I knew Tony Thomas, who did books and articles on Flynn and was the first to interpret his life and career. Tony was a wonderful, reserved, thoughtful, articulate and quiet person and he idolized Flynn as a kid. He finally met him near the end of Flynn’s life–meetings captured in recordings that Thomas released on LP. It’s late at night, Flynn’s bombed, and there’s a hint of that cruel streak of his, that bitterness, and I think it disillusioned Tony, and the disillusionment comes through in later writings. Tony sought to understand what he had experienced, but because he was a reserved, self-disciplined person, he couldn’t help but sort of scold Errol Flynn posthumously in his biographical work for being so very human when they met. I think Flynn fans in general have to come to grips, consciously or unconsciously, with the dichotomy he embodied–the hero who entertained millions, and the flawed, depressed, self-destructive loner. Then again, the bad boy is attractive to both sexes, and the lost soul in need of rescue still appeals to many of his women fans. “If only I had been there for Errol.

What perplexes admirers of both sexes is, what the hell did this guy have to be insecure about? He had it all! Any male who looks at Flynn and his success with women is going to wish he looked like Flynn and had the Flynn charm. But in Errol’s own mind, he didn’t have it all. He said that he believed he was a fake, and inadequate. He just didn’t like himself. A couple of his highly credible ex-lovers said he was nothing special in the bedroom, which goes along with the whole tortured-soul package that was Errol Flynn. His first biographer was a reporter named Tedd Thomey and in 1962 he wrote one of the most beautiful sentences I ever saw, which I borrowed (with credit) in my own work: “The way he lived his life, it was inevitable he would be clobbered.” God what a sentence, and from someone who knew Flynn. So, yeah, it is probably hard for males to understand that Flynn was insecure, but then look at any man with a giant pickup truck or a high-performance sports coup, and you might be looking at insecurity. Hell, we’re all insecure.

TB: Do you think, like Cool Hand Luke, he kind of knew his human weakness was unacceptable? He was allowed to be selfish and raucous and greedy of course. But was he allowed to be afraid? Or small? Or sad? He must have been those thing sometimes because he was a human being, but people didn’t want to see him that way, and there must have been a huge pressure on him to pretend he wasn’t – ever – afraid or lonely or embarrassed or whatever. And that could be very alienating and intimidating. Is that what he meant by feeling a fake maybe?

Matzen: He believed that his weaknesses were unacceptable. He’s been called fearless and in some ways, he was. He soloed in a private plane without having any real idea what he was doing. He stepped onto a lit soundstage with 200 cast, crew, and extras and walked up to Bette Davis playing a queen and recited lines when he had a learning disability–to me these are definitions of fearlessness. And yet he had a fear of being inadequate. He was extremely vulnerable to criticism and that’s what would set him over the edge–somebody in the media criticizing him. Pans of his acting as with Escape Me Never. Negative reviews of his writing–especially devastating to him.

TB: And what do you think Rathbone meant by saying “I don’t agree with Flynn’s view of himself?” He knew Flynn pretty well but didn’t recognize the self-portrait Errol painted.

Matzen: Flynn’s memoir, My Wicked, Wicked Ways, shows him to be “more sinned against than sinning,” which is phrasing that Tony Thomas put to Flynn for confirmation: Errol the carefree, two-fisted adventurer brought down by The Man. I can only speculate that Rathbone saw Flynn as much deeper than this, a better actor than he gave himself credit for (Flynn was quite self-deprecating about his talent in his book), an introvert, and that sad, lost loner who found it much easier to hide behind a facade of perpetual adolescence. I really do think that Rathbone saw Flynn as a lot of fun. Baz did not suffer fools gladly, and Flynn was no fool. He was a handful, but especially in the 1930s, Flynn was mentally engaged.

TB: I think this is a very good answer. I like the idea of Flynn almost trying to be less than he was and Rathbone finding that annoying or incomprehensible. Did you suggest earlier that this was part of the chemistry between them? You almost sense Rathbone disapproves of Flynn’s hiding behind his facade don’t you. As if he knew the man had more to offer and ought to have the courage to stand by that fact. Do you think Rathbone was correct?

Matzen: Flynn did take the easy way out in hiding behind that façade, and somebody as sharp as Rathbone would have seen it.

One other thing at this point: I read here [on The Baz] that I portrayed Flynn and Rathbone as romantic rivals for Olivia de Havilland. I hate being misquoted and I never wrote anything of the kind. Rathbone had a crush on de Havilland, but I don’t believe he ever made a play for her. It makes no sense for a freelance talent to take that kind of risk, and shows a lack of understanding of the business of filmmaking at the time. Flynn would have considered Rathbone’s attentions toward de Havilland to have been an annoyance, yes, something to get under his thin skin, but it was truly nothing compared to the titanic undertaking of making Robin Hood.

TB: And of course, Flynn was a professional in those days wasn’t he. That tends to be forgotten in the legend too. It’s good to be reminded of it.

Matzen: That’s a great point and easy to lose sight of: Errol Flynn thrived doing a very difficult thing, and was proud of what he accomplished. There are production notes where the unit manager criticizes Flynn for burning film stock and not getting a buy until take six. But it’s doing a paragraph or two of dialogue! An entire scene! Today we have digital video and you don’t burn anything but zeroes and ones, and how many of today’s acting crop could hit the buy any sooner? He was a professional, especially at the time he worked with Rathbone.

TB: I have just been sent (by my intrepid colleague Anna) another quote from Rathbone on Flynn that maybe you’d like to comment on:

“God gave him the most beautiful body. He’s intelligent. He can act. He arrived very fast. He arrived almost overnight. And he simply wasn’t ready, he wasn’t sufficiently well disciplined in life to know that he had to conform. Now he has made non-conformity a sort-of idiosyncrasy. It’s now almost a big bluff, because he’s thrown a very wonderful career out of the window.”
Matzen:This is a fantastic summary of 1935-36 Errol Flynn, right up there with the Thomey quote as a perfect description, and shows just how much wisdom and perspective Rathbone had. He was one smart guy, which explains why he stayed out of trouble and why there isn’t dirt to dig up. Comments like this should put to bed some notions about womanizing and other nonsense. Basil Rathbone was a professional actor who did work his way up through the ranks, unlike Flynn, and shared the stage with Le Galliene and others and learned his craft and appreciated the place he ended up in Hollywood.

If you go take a peek at that magnificent chateau in Bel Air where the Rathbones threw their parties of legend, you see elegance, sheer elegance, and that was Basil Rathbone. He didn’t get there by being some reckless fool who screwed anything that moved. You don’t see any hideous scandal like the one that brought down Lionel Atwill. Rathbone came in, played his part, and moved on to the next job. He was appreciated at the big studios and kept getting invited back because of his remarkable intuitive gifts. He was a pro. That’s not what some people want to hear, but it’s the truth. I admire Basil Rathbone very much for being just who he was, in life and on the screen.

TB: Finally – it’s true that both Flynn and Rathbone are the two parts of that now almost mythic screen duel, People talk about their “legendary” partnership as if they fought each other in dozens of films over dozens of years. In fact it was just two films and a span of three years. A fraction of both their careers, yet that image of them both is iconic in a way beyond almost anything either did separately on film. Do you think they would have been happy to know that these brief moments have become such a large part of their movie legend? Happy to share this curious immortality with one another?

Matzen: This is the easiest question you’ve asked. A resounding yes for both parties. In his later years Rathbone didn’t want to talk about the crap he was forced to appear in, but he’d warm up right away if you wanted to talk about his work in the Golden Era. You can tell from his quotes that he was proud of his association with Flynn because of what Errol represented in the evolution of cinema, a big screen presence in big productions marshaled by a renowned director–including the triple-Academy-Award-winner, The Adventures of Robin Hood, with an all-star cast, known from then until now as a benchmark adventure film.

I’m certain that Flynn never allowed himself to understand how many people he touched, entertained, and presented with two hours of happiness or escape or catharsis. But even when he was shot to hell, near death, he spooled up his projector and watched his glory pictures, especially Robin Hood. He would be–happy isn’t the right word–he would be interested, keenly interested, to hear that his work was remembered 75 years later and had reached iconic proportions. And above all, the imagery representing classic adventure cinema shows two men with swords on a spiral staircase. Flynn and Rathbone.

TB: I can’t think of a better image to end on. Thank you, Robert.

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173 thoughts on “Interview with Robert Matzen

  1. Terrific interview. Thank you, Robert Matzen, for your eloquent, intelligent, and enlightening answers to so many questions that have been on our minds. BTW, as a reader of Errol and Olivia and someone who teaches both creative and academic writing (this site is my “fun” side), I can attest that his book is extremely well-documented with sources and endnotes, but also captures an intimate narrative style. Also, the candids and other previously unpublished photos are fantastic. This interview (as well as the book) also captures the multi-dimensional aspects of Flynn’s personality. Perhaps the irony of Flynn and Rathbone’s lives lies in the evaluation of them during the height of their careers. Rathbone, while seldom the “leading man”, was paid as and regarded as a highly skilled professional whose abilities added prestige to a film; Flynn was regarded as a “marketable” commodity, the dashing action hero with a sword who was “Box office,” but underrated as an actor, yet today, his films are regarded as classics and some of the most fondly remembered of all time. One question in my mind is whether if Flynn had been treated as a professional by Warner’s, his insecurity might have diminished. So many other actors in that studio had to fight to get what they deserved: Davis, Cagney, and finally, deHavilland, who won.

    Of course, the romantic in me is a little bit disappointed that there was nothing more than flirtation between Basil and Olivia. One thing we also forget — in many ways, Errol Flynn was an emotional adolescent; Rathbone was a grown-up and behaved like one – a courtly kiss or an arm around an actress’ shoulders is not the same as “shagging” starlets in one’s dressing room.

    • Rosebette, you made my day. Thank you very, very much.

      Your question kicked up a thousand memories in just a second–being on the Warner lot, digging through thousands of pages of daily production reports and memos flying among Jack Warner, Hal Wallis, R.J. Obringer in Legal, and so on. I believe that Flynn, Davis, Cagney, and Bogart WERE treated like professionals. (In this sense the ones who had it best were character actors like Rathbone.) But in just a matter of a few years, the Warner “factory” experienced labor troubles among stars who were very well treated and compensated. Only de Havilland was treated unprofessionally, as documented in E&O.

      Why the labor troubles? They were all overworked. They were in effect used like plow horses making three or four or five pictures in a row working six days a week. I saw cases where a picture went late into Christmas Eve, which wasn’t called such; it was just December 24 to the studio. And they’d pick right back up at 7am on the 26th.

      Would Flynn’s insecurity have been diminished by different treatment? I don’t think so. The damage was done early, as it was with de Havilland. Errol might have done better in life without the rape trial, but then his insecurities brought about that scandal and many others. He is to me a tragic figure in the classic sense.

      • Thanks for the additional insight on this point. Although I might beg to differ. I’ve been following a couple of WB actors on TCM Star of the Month, and the workload of some of the earlier actors was astounding. Warren William apparently did 36 pictures in 4 years. I think Kay Francis was similarly handled. This was the type of treatment that Cagney fought against early in his career. Fortunately for Flynn, his films were so expensive and arduous, he wasn’t subjected to that level of overwork.
        I agree Flynn is a tragic figure, but with a screen persona that so many of us are irresistably drawn to.

  2. I bought this book after it was talked about on this blog. And I finished reading this morning. Very fascinating and amazingly detailed. Like the interview says it has the racy style of a novel but the factual detail of a good non-fiction book. One thing that bothers me is the use of the word “pawing” to describe what Basil is doing to Olivia in those home movies. It really doesn’t seem fair. And it’s not as if she seems to object to his attentions. But that’s a small point in the over all experience of this marvellous book

    • my interpretation is he is describing it in terms of Errols POV which would be colored by some jealousy and isn’t intended to describe his own opinions or anything objective

    • Thank you for liking the book, Helen. You hit on something important about the narrative–I was trying get so close to the characters that you could see the world through their eyes. My galleys were raked across the coals for the portrayal of Curtiz as being unfair and negative–this wasn’t the author’s view, but rather that of E&O. But I felt I had to tone this down because it wasn’t being perceived as written. The same is true of “pawing”–Flynn’s perception, as you thought, and this too has to be chalked up to trying something in print and not succeeding.

    • I agree,I never saw the photos of Baz & Olivia as being very sweet,she obv liked him and he her and he was respectful and she seemed to like the attention.Pawing was Flynn and the French kissing in scenes in TAORH with Olivia.

  3. I haven’t read your book and you seem intelligent and decent and I don’t want to pass judgment. But one sentence leaped out at me, or rather at my sister who told me about it. It’s to do with “The Rathbones.”

    I just want to remind you that “the Rathbones” didn’t throw parties, Ouida threw parties and Basil picked up the tab. She ruined him financially and that forced him to make those crappy movies to avoid penury And I mean penury. He used to have to borrow money off of his son in his last years just to pay bills. The same son his wife had tried to keep him from seeing for years. He was broke. If you start creating pictures of him as this smart, together guy with a grip on life you are just as way off as the people you talk about who don’t get Flynn.

    Ask Rathbone’s estranged grandkids if he had a grip on life. Ask the people he had to borrow money from just to feed his family. One reason Olivia might not have commented on your book is she honestly does not recognize or appreciate your portrait of her life. Perhaps she truly did not sleep with Flynn and is irritated at you for claiming to know better than her. How can she correct you? if she denies it you will just say she is hiding things. You have fixed on your own picture of her life and nothing she says will change anything. I’m not trying to discredit your work which is probably fine, but you have an agenda and a theory to promote and you are not interested in anyone’s experience that does not fit with that theory.That’s why families often stay silent. if they are interviewed they’re misinterpreted or simplified or even twisted to fit some pet theory. What they truly know or believe is not important, only what can be made to fit into a prevailing picture. It is sad but inevitable. Only try to imagine how you would feel if it was done to you or your father or brother or sister or mother.

    • I recommend you read the book and look at the candids of Flynn and deHavilland on the Santa Fe junket. While I think Matzen’s theory of a physical relationship is not documented, those candids speak of something very powerful between them. If they were not lovers, there was a very deep connection.

      About Rathbone and Ouida, HRD, I think we need a documented biography to demonstrate that he was indeed just “used” by her. Both of them also are dead and can’t or won’t speak for themselves (unlike Olivia, who chooses not to). 40 years is a long time to stay married to someone who is just manipulating you, especially in an environment where people are divorcing at the drop of the hat. If Rathbone is a victim and a sucker, not the admirable and intelligent person we all want to see, that, too, would be a major image change that requires substantiation.

      • I am not claiming anything about the nature of Olivia’s relationship with Flynn. For all I know it was exactly what this gentleman says. As for Basil, I have said previously that my experience of him was of a very warm and charming, deeply intelligent and remarkable man. But this only makes it strange that he ended the way he did. It doesn’t make it untrue. What can I tell you? He left an estate of almost no value after debts and taxes and he had broken himself working on appalling films for the last few years of his life. His grandchildren barely knew him. I can’t make these things untrue. He was a very smart and talented and sensitive man whose life was still a mess of contradictions.

        • If you look at many actors and actresses from the Golden Era, many of them ended up taking roles in bad pictures toward the end of their lives, and also often were in difficult economic circumstances at the end of their lives. Show business is not kind to aging actors and actresses. Even Olivier was in awful pictures at the end, and he admitted he took the roles to pay for his taxes and his children’s education. Many people live a lavish lifestyle assuming they will always have the same earning power that they have in their prime and end up with little for their retirement. As for Rathbone’s hardly knowing his grandchildren, I guess that is something to wonder about. But was that Rathbone’s choice or his son’s or Ouida’s? Was there resentment becase of the adopted daughter, Cynthia? How can we learn about any of these relationships? You obviously must know the family; perhaps you can offer some source material for the biography project.

          • I remember him from my childhood and less well as an adult. I was in my twenties when he died but I had barely seen him in the last years. My parents knew him well, particularly my father, who was very attached to him and very upset to only be informed of his death the following day, and by an actor friend of his father’s, not even by Ouida or Cynthia. I know many actors struggle, and not just late in life. My mother was an actress, I do know about the unpredictability it entails. Olivier worked bad films to pay for his kids’ education; Basil worked appalling films to put food on the table and support his wife and daughter who was ill. There is a difference. He was forced to borrow in order to live when he couldn’t get work. My father gave him money which he knew he would never get back and the loan was a pretense to help Basil’s pride. The biographer who was interviewed here can perhaps verify that Ouida was destitute after his death. No one resented the adopted daughter, but they resented Ouida because she closed the door on Basil’s blood family.

              • I don’t think she would have seen it as cruelty. I think perhaps she was afraid to share him. I’m sure she was devoted to him in her way.

              • I think it’s simply not true. I believe Basil could not have loved a woman who tried to separate him from his own child and his grandchildren. He attested to the happiness of their marriage himself. That’s enough.

                • You are right, Alyssia, that Rathbone wrote about the happiness of his marriage. I’m wondering if that’s the image he wanted the public to have, rather than the truth. I think that the people who knew Rathbone know more about him than the little he revealed in his autobiography.

                  • I agree with this perspective. I think Basil’s fans have all had a certain imprint of their hero’s life taken from his autobiography and from the Druxman book, which (excuse me) was terribly superficial and unengaged with its subject. And people are now reacting with dismay when things come out that seem to go against this image. But let’s remember, Basil was a private citizen and he had no obligation to tell the absolute unvarnished truth in his autobiography. How many of us ever do that about our lives anyway?

                    The fact his life may have been more troubled than he conveyed or that he might not have had the perfect marriage shouldn’t upset people. It just means he was a human being who struggled like we all do. I for one am finding this newly emerging Basil profoundly fascinating and instructive. If his life contained pain then he handled it with dignity and discretion and these things only add to the respect I feel for him. If he’d gone running to the tabloids with his woes, or written a terrible kiss and tell abut his “awful” wife, ahh then I would have felt upset.

                    I don’t mean to say his possible tragedies don’t disturb me. I just mean to say I don’t think any less of him for them, in fact I think more and I am keenly looking forward to learning even more on this site or Marcia Jessen’s official website or in any biography that gets written.

                  • I believe he wrote about Ouida in the way she would want to be seen. I don’t think it can have been the way he saw her, as he was aware of her behavior and he was no one’s fool. That book is very strange though and quite untrue in some details. My father retained a lot of memories that he would pass on to us and the relationship he observed bore little resemblance to the one described in the book in many particulars.

      • I still think he just really enjoyed flirting with women.I think it helped the inferiority complex he spoke of in his autobiography.Plus he was a romantic.I think he said Romeo was his favorite role.
        I think thats where the importance of ouida comes in .He credits her with making himself feel better.He learns to respect himself more.You can even see this in his films from 1929 on.Hes got more confidence ,plus i guess ,experience helped.
        I think he was aware of her faults.She meant more to him inspite of the spending problem.
        I think that may have been the”human folly”he was referring to in his preface of the autobiography.

        • that is a good ppoint to make about his insecurity, though does he mean insecurity with women? Was he like Flynn in this? Robert says Flynn was insecure with women which is insane, was Basil also? What is it with gorgeous men having no confidence?

          • Being flirtatious is not a sign of insecurity — I don’t think Basil was insecure, but the behavior that Flynn enaged in — constant womanizing, yet an inability to maintain a stable relationship with women who were his intellectual and professional equals — most definitely is

    • Olivia de Havilland is such a complex character, and admirable in so many ways. She has every right to pay no notice to my book, just as I pay no notice to many books. I was struck by your use of the word “agenda.” My research led me to a logical conclusion; the book was released; I moved on. I’ll say again that in two titanic lives and careers, the question of whether the titans had sex is not and never was the story I was going for. They were about much, much more than that, and my agenda was to document their association and the forces that ultimately pulled them in different directions. In context, the discussion of “did they or didn’t they” is a few pages out of 200. (Oops, I think I just hurt book sales.)

      I haven’t researched Rathbone thoroughly enough to understand his relationship with Ouida and his grandchildren. I would be an eager consumer for a biography that could make sense of these issues and round out our understanding of another complex character.

        • Margaret, I tossed this idea out in my blog a few months ago, and actually started down the path of research on BR only to get waylaid by Miss Lombard–literally at 30,000 feet over the Sierra Nevadas. The Lombard book will probably take me into 2014; at its conclusion I would have to reassess if BR is still right for me; maybe another writer will already be on the path by then? Or maybe the BR Research Project triumvirate will have compiled EVERYTHING in one neat package and all that will be needed are some nouns and verbs. Who knows?

  4. What a wonderful interview! I haven’t read the book, but I put in an order after reading this. I’ve long deplored the dreadful laddish way Errol is reveered by so many male writer old enough to know better who become painful adolescents when confronting Errol’s image. It is so refreshing to read a mature analysis that dares to suggest Errol was human and vulnerable and even not much good in bed! Heresy, but a good balance that is overdue.

    I was also very impressed with Rathbone’s analysis of Errol’s character. What a penetrating intelligence he did have. Thank you Robert, and thank you The Baz

    • Thank you, Almedia. My projects on Flynn began with the 2009 hardcover, Errol Flynn Slept Here, co-written with Michael Mazzone. This was a well-received volume, also lavishly illustrated, and its research led me straight into Errol & Olivia. My own, highly biased feeling is that EFSH presents a look at Flynn’s psyche unlike anything else out there, all thoroughly documented, and supported by nearly 200 photos–some from each of the three families who owned Mulholland Farm, the Flynns, the Hamblens, and Rick Nelson.

      These two volumes are “it” for me on Flynn. I start my next book at the end of October, about the death of Carole Lombard and its aftermath, and then we’ll see what unfolds after that.

  5. This is a warm and respectful conversation that brings genuine light to the vexed question of Errol Flynn and the under-considered question of his on and offscreen relationship with the man who is remembered as his major movie nemesis. I have followed Robert’s blog and was sad when it stopped updating. Can we hope this will signal a return to the blogosphere?

  6. Thank you Mr Matzen for bringing some sense to the discussion of Rathbone and Flynn. I appreciate the research that has gone into your work and applaud your measured conclusions.

  7. Olivia is says she consummated her relationship with a Mr X on the top of a hill, but Robert Mattzen says she means Errol Flynn when she says it was not Errol. How is this known now? Why is Olivia not telling the truth bout this before?

        • This is a tough one for the researcher. Michael Caine, who is well respected as a straight shooter in Hollywood, reported in his memoir that deH was speaking of EF. She much later said she was speaking of John Huston. Because of Caine’s credibility, I took him at his word that Olivia was indeed remembering a consummation with Flynn, but in the end this is hearsay evidence that wouldn’t stand up in court. I based my case on the behavior of Errol and Olivia on the set of Santa Fe Trail, and their very public quarrels on the Warner lot at the end of production on that picture. Also the photographic record from the Santa Fe Trail premiere junket, and then on their reunion during They Died with Their Boots On and on contemporary, published reports that they were dating in the fall of 1941.

          • Shelley Winters also claimed as Mr Caine of Liv/Flynn trysted.I take that with grain of salt,as claims of Baz/Errol.No doubt a fight was expected,but it was laughed off,and prob became friends.Baz’s preference is,I believe speculation,rumor.Both went to Eng boys schools,what happened in them was revealed in a bio on Errol.British men are noted in THE ANGLO FILES as hanging out more comfortable in club-like settings due to lack of sex ed except for putting film on horses going at it,to enable more comf friendly banter/interactions with women vs with male friends.

      • And Shelley Winters claimed in an Autobio that Olivia supposedly said she did with Flynn,too which when confronted she denied ever happened.

  8. This is one of the best discussions of Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone I have ever read. And those quotations from Rathbone about Flynn are brand new to me. He was indeed an unusually shrewd and intelligent man. No wonder his Holmes always seemed so authentic. That impression of penetrating observation was not jut good acting! Poor Flynn, though.You get the impression a bit of a quiet life and a few nights in with the telly and his slippers would have done him the world of good.

  9. Errolivia rules. And Barrol too! Ok I know there was no real life Barrol, but in my head that whole sword fight is a sex scene!

  10. I’m astonished this book, coming out in 2010 doesn’t even attempt to reference David Bret’s study of ten years earlier. If Matzen is as much of an iconoclast as he likes to think then why didn’t he take the chance to re-examine Flynn’s sexuality in light of the many claims made about it? And considering Bret specifically alleges a sexual relationship between Flynn and Rathbone during the making of The Adventures of Robin Hood, what can justify Matzen’s silence on this point? In a book devoted to the alleged developing relationship between DeHaviland and Flynn, and which alleges animosity from Flynn to Rathbone based on their alleged sexual attraction to the same woman, doesn’t Bret’s claim that thee two men were actually sexually involved with EACH OTHER need to be addressed even if just to rebut it?

    • Since Bret is the only one that alleges this relationship, and his book is full of undocumented rumors and hearsay, perhaps that’s the reason for Matzen’s “silence.” I would refer readers to L.D. Hurst’s review of Bret’s book at http://www.errolflyn.com/2012/02/flynn-library-errol-flynn-satans-angel.html, which lists the flimsy bibliography (only 22 sources, including such rubbish as Hollywood Babylon) and a bulleted compendium of obvious factual errors (only one of Flynn’s wives survived him?) As to why the focus on the Flynn/DeHavilland relationship by Matzen, the question about they were romantically invovled has been pondered and discussed for decades; she was often asked about it in interviews. And as Matzen attests, the “jealousy” between Flynn and Rathbone may not merely have been over a woman, but also professional insecurity and jealousy, a situation that repeats itself with Ronald Reagan in Santa Fe Trail. Or, by that inference, does it mean the former president was also gay….?

      • Quote from the review:

        “Rathbone’s “sexual preference” is said to have been men. Along these lines an especially lewd comment is made in connection with Rathbone and Flynn on the set of “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (p. 69). Such an ugly and unfounded besmirching of the memory of Hollywood’s most memorable screen villain, its greatest Sherlock Holmes, and one of its finest gentlemen is unforgivable.”

        Err..ok I now want to know what the lewd comment was, *hangs head in shame*

        edit by NeveR to highlight quote

        • The “allegation” involves consensual oral sex. I can’t help thinking that emotive word wouldn’t have been used if it had been either Rathbone or Flynn and some female starlet

          • I think playing the homophobia card is a bit lame. It’s not even slightly a question of homophobia, it’s entirely a question of evidence, or the lack of same.

            • Would this writer have described it as “an ugly and unfounded besmirching” if Bret had claimed Rathbone was having consensual hetero sex? I agree with Claude this is pure and unconscious homophobia in that it’s ascribing special moral opprobrium to homosexual acts and claiming they “besmirch” Rathbone’s gentlemanly reputation. Having said that, I don’t see and and have never seen any reason for thinking Rathbone was either gay or bi. Yes he seems to have had an enlightened attitude to sexual orientation, but that’s no more suggestive of his own personal sexual orientation that Wilberforce’s attitude to slavery is indicative of his racial origins. Claude, forget it. Baz was no more an FOD than Wilberforce was an African American

    • Alleging something doesn’t automatically give it credibility. Why should Matzen bother rebutting something that has no evidence in the first place?

    • There are works that can be relied upon as foundational research, and works that can’t. If there are factual errors in a biography, how do researchers that follow know what contents to trust and what contents to dismiss? The solution that makes the most sense to me in cases like this is to consider the source to be contaminated and move on.

      • Exactly,and the point is you can’t rebut rumor, and the more you try to the more attention you are paying it and the more credibility you give it. It’s not up to credible writers like Mr Matzen to rebut hacks who don’t even trouble to cite a source.

  11. Mr Matzen says candids are very important in recconstructing peoples personal stories,so what about all the candids showing Basil and Livvy being quite close and sharing looks? I can think of three this applies to, one of which I believe I have seen on this website where Basil is kissing Olivias hand and they are both laughing and looking intemate. And there is one of Basil and Livvy and Una O’Conner getting off of a train. And another where Basil and Livvy and Erroll and David Nivan and Nigel Bruce are are attending the British Coronation Ball, and Basil and Livvy are hutched up together and he is holding her arm. is this all on account of his crush which he had on her which seems a bit much.

    • Having seen all these candids in Matzen’s book and elsewhere, as well as the series of candids of deHavilland and Flynn on the Santa Fe junket, I would say there is a difference. The candids on the SantaFe junket are intimate — two people sitting in close proximity, holding hands, one hand on the other’s knee, in intimate conversation. When I showed the book to my brother, he said, “Wow, look at the way she is looking at him. I think they did have an affair.” Also, Matzen states that the deHavilland Flynn photos in that series were not shown in the publication they were intended for because they certainly implied a certain level of intimacy. The candids of deHavilland and Rathbone are much more “public” — on a set, at a party. We also have a candid of Rathbone and Dietrich, which other bloggers have commented on — does that show an affair, or just a fun/flirtatious pose between colleagues? Remember, Rathbone and Dietrich had worked together in “Garden of Allah.” Of course, according to many sources (including her own admission), Dietrich slept with practically everyone, male and female. These pictures are fun to look at, but what do they all really mean? The other irony of Rathbone is that here we have a man who played villains and cold intellectuals, but by all accounts, was a enjoyable to be around, someone who was personable and with a good sense of humor. That may be what we are also seeing in those photos. Perhaps the contrast between who Basil was and who he played is what is leading us down some misguided paths. If you watch the TV footage in Marcia’s site, you get an idea of what a charmer he was.

      • Rathbone was a very fine, possibly even brilliant, actor so when called upon to play cold he did it well, and it so happened he was called upon to do that a fair bit in the late thirties and forties, but let’s not forget his early films. called on him to play passionate lovers, and he could also do that well. The heat generated between him and Kay Francis in A Notorious Affair and between him and Norma Shearer in The Last of Mrs Cheyney is palpable and charged. He can convey a sense of erotic intoxication in a way only a handful of screen lovers ever could. For me the thing that comes over consistently in all he does is ENERGY and (a word I saw used somewhere else for him recently) FIZZ. Until he grew tired in the later Holmes films all his performances were dynamic and driven and passionate, exciting things to watch. The cold fish sobriquet has simply never seemed applicable to anything I see in his persona. I’m astonished that anyone is suggesting he had affairs though, and based on nothing but a couple of candid photos!

        • I wish I had been able to see these two films. The one film where I see that quality is Confession, also with Kay Francis. He certainly is seductive in that one.

        • To clarify – I don’t recall anyone suggesting Rathbone had an affair with Marlene. The actress Rose Hobart was quoted in a sentence that seemed to suggest some relationship between him and Dietrich, and I think the candid photo of them both looking quite intimate was referred to in relation to that. And I don’t think anyone has suggested a relationship between de Havilland and Rathbone. But then there have been a lot of comments and I might have missed something. I tend to agree that reading too much into candid photos is best avoided.

          • I’m probably the one who started the deHavilland/Rathbone conversation with that candid. It may mean nothing, but it’s a delightful picture! I think we all want to read something into it because many of us have our own romantic bias about him.
            Also, great picture of Baz as Judas in BazAddict, very soulful. Basil looks very “modern” in it with the shadowy beard and longer hair — by that I mean, 21st century, as if you might see him on the street or on stage now. I would very much like to read that play. From what I’ve read about Basil’s contemplation on spiritual matters, he seems very much like a “seeker.”

        • I agree with KL. And I hope with Rosebette that the earlier or rarer films become more easily available. Jeanine Basinger, author of The Star Machine, a very interesting look at the studio system, says that there is a problem with labeling by critics/historians, “in that those who use it have often seen only a small number of the actor’s movies, the most popular and regularly revived ones.” She also adds that “… the way we see and define stars today is often not how they were perceived in their own era.”

          • Interesting, I’ve been getting a similar perspective myself lately going over the old magazine articles MJ has been adding to the project data base. When you read anything written about Rathbone prior to 1934 you see him and his career described in terms completely at odds with his modern image. He’s seen as primarily a light weight and a romantic matinee idol, good at kissing scenes and seductions, but not up to anything serious and dramatic. One early ’30s article actually says something like “the only part he fails to convince in is the clever detective Philo Vance” :-o

      • I enjoyed this interview and Robert’s book, but I’m afraid I think the entire business of inferring relationships based on candid photographs is risky, especially when it comes to actors. Actors tend to bond very fast and to carry over aspects of their onstage or onscreen relationships into their normal lives.For example I knew two actors playing lovers on stage who would spend all their off stage time locked together, arms round each other, whispering fondly. A candid pic taken of them at any time then would have seemed to show they were lovers in their personal lives. But they weren’t. In fact the guy was gay and the woman was happily married.

        This is not to say that OdH and Flynn were never lovers, but it is to ay the evidence of candid photographs is dubious at best. And actually to take up rosbette’s point, if anything I’d say the obviously flirtatious photos were more likely to tell some kind of story that the simply “close” ones. Holding someone’s hand can be done asexually or non-romantically, but brushing a woman’s breast can’t.

        By the way this is a beautiful site.

        • I agree, MaskedMadman, that inferring a physical relationship from candids is risky–too risky for me. Candids are a part of the historical record and, yes, the series of train photos made a spread in the book. But it’s not the foundation of my case. I looked at six years of behavior between E&O–the evolution of their association as researched day to day, the sudden change in that association during the production of Santa Fe Trail, another abrupt change during production of their next picture, and the fact that they were reported to be dating in the autumn of 1941.

    • I think I botched my comment on the subject of candids. They are instructive and help to round out a story. But the basis of the story has to be established through research. For example, it’s easy to look at Baz and Livvie at the Ball and see something intimate, but, as of the spring of 1937 Livvie was 20 (underage in that time) and still generally under the watchful eye of her mother. On this occasion she was being escorted by Flynn and Niven and so it seems unlikely that Baz and Livvie were behaving as more than friends. Her bachelorette period didn’t start for a while longer, ushered in when she was “legal” and her mother moved out of the Los Feliz house and returned to northern California. Then she saw, in short order, Brian Aherne, Howard Hughes, and James Stewart. Was Rathbone in the mix at some point? I don’t believe so, but it’s impossible to know for certain.

  12. I am not sure I can agree that candids are evidence of things unspoken, but thanks for a very enjoyable and informative discussion

  13. I read Robert’s earlier book Errol Flynn Slept Here but I haven’t yet read Erroll and Olivia, but I must say Robert is quite correct in saying he is merciless about his sources. Everything i the first book is sourced. A great departure from the sloppy standards of so many Hollywood writers, especially David Bret who has been mentioned here. The fact Bret _says_ Marlene Dietrich _said_ Flynn and Rathbone had gay sex is _not_ evidence. A letter from Dietrich to Flynn or Rathbone in which she says “are you still having gay sex?” That is evidence. Why do so many people not see the difference?

  14. Did Errol ever say much about his relationship with Baz? (no, I don’t mean anything gay, I just mean their professional relationship)

    • In all the years, in all the sources, I have never seen Flynn address the subject of Rathbone, which is why I always get a chuckle when Rathbone remarked on “dear old Bazzz,” because we wanted to know what the relationship was between the screen antagonists. From all I know of both men, this rings true; Flynn would have been distant, a bit condescending, and in his way, approving, and that’s what those three words confirm for me. I’ve never run across a smoking gun of gay sex between the two of them, and I have to say, Claude, the EVIDENCE is not there, and I knew and interviewed many of Flynn’s friends who would know, and his second wife, Nora Eddington. I spoke with them candidly, over many hours, and these conversations are central to the restless, lonely character presented in Errol Flynn Slept Here and Errol & Olivia. I can’t say with finality what he was and what he wasn’t; I can only follow the evidence, and there is nothing that can be labeled credible about Flynn and Rathbone, other than what BR presented himself.

      • “Old Bazzz” could as easily be said tenderly or warmly as condescendingly. You interpret condescension but on what grounds? Rathbone was the only man Flynn ever fought to whom he would not have felt physically superior and for whom he had the least reason to feel condescending. And this is Rathbone describing Flynn’s behavior in a single throwaway sentence. Doesn’t it seem strange both these men had so little to say about their experience of their partner in this most iconic sequence?

        Even if you take away Bret’s claims, which I admit are not documented, I believe there is still something to explain about the interaction of these two men. The extraordinary amount of on-screen chemistry compared with the complete absence of any commentary on their association from either party. And I also invite you to consider how many straight men would describe another man as having a “beautiful body”?

        • I’m straight and I’ve described other men that way. I’d describe both these guys that way. They were both beautiful men. Just a fact. What’s your point?

        • I go back to, they are actors, they were doing a job, and their work became iconic much later on. Today you have aging performers being forced to make a living at nostalgia shows $20 at a time selling autographs based on a week’s work they did on Star Trek 40 or 50 years ago. We go up to them and ask detailed questions about an episode we’ve seen 20 or 30 times–and something they experienced once during a hectic network week to pay the bills.

          Since Flynn and the Baz were on a picture under similar circumstances, I don’t see the lack of comment significant. We’ve seen Robin Hood many times–they made it once, and it was one among many. I’m trying to think of quotes by deH about Baz and nothing’s coming to mind. But all evidence is that they had a good working relationship.

          I’m basing the interpretation of “dear old Bazzz” on the way Rathbone positioned it in IAOOC. He said it was delivered, as I recall, with a touch of cruelty and also some affection.

          I also have to agree with the MaskedMadman below–once or twice in my life I’ve been reduced to calling a guy “beautiful” because no other descriptor seemed appropriate.

      • I’m an actor and I did a stint at a Shakespeare festival last year involving a very intense sword fight and all I can say is rehearsing it dominated my life and the life of my opponent. We ate and slept the beats and parries and lunges, and we developed the closest onstage rapport I have ever had with anyone I wasn’t playing a love scene with. Because you have to entrust to each other and almost be psychic with each other if you aren’t going to risk killing or maiming each other. You watch each other’s eyes and the rest of the world vanishes, and there’s only one other situation where that happens that I know of. So I think these men must have become very close while rehearsing this sequence or they couldn’t possibly have made it the legendary thing it is. I don’t mean by this any suggestion of sexual closeness, but here is a consideration; in those days when sexual ambiguity was so unacceptable, could it be that the kind of psychic (not literally) closeness they developed in the duel made both men a little uncomfortable in other settings just because it transcends the normal male on male boundaries. Maybe they reacted against it by being slightly hostile in their individual ways, and this is what Matzen picks up and interprets as being due to different causes. I don’t know any of this, it’s just a guess but I thought I’d put it out there.

        • MaskedMadman, I have always wanted to know what an actor thinks about Basil Rathbone. And of other actors of his generation. Do you study them now? Do you consider their acting styles dated? I am really curious to hear anything you have to say about these things.

    • Robert is reading the comments and replying when he can so if you have a question you can ask it here – or you can visit Robert’s blog (there’s a link at the top of this post)

  15. Did De Niro ever get a buy in less than six takes? Welles would burn film in the name of perfection. There’s a danger like the interviewer says in clipping our perceptions to fit our expectations. Six takes for a whole scene is not unusual. Plus the guy was probably nervous and hugely pressured. I’ve alway thought Flynn the actor as underrated

    • As an actor, MM, I think you’d be aggravated to learn of how impatient they were with Flynn and how fast they were to jump on him for blowing his lines. On the one hand, WB took this guy out of nowhere and gave him the big build-up, and on the other expected more than an inexperienced peformer could give. Acting’s a tough life–I respect you very much for the road you’ve chosen.

      • Thanks. Acting doesn’t get tougher than it was for the WB stable in the 30’s. How the hell they stood it I don’t know.

  16. All this discussion of various candids would be helped if we could see them together to compare. Is it possible to post the candids being talked about, next to one another?

  17. I have not read Mr Matsen’s book, and I am not one for books that claim to be able to see inside their subject’s mind, clairvoyance not being a thing I happen to believe in! It might be entertaining to tell readers what Flynn thought of all those around him, but all I am left wondering is how on earth you can know.

  18. As requested here are two of the candids that have been discussed in the interview and in the comments, (more may be forthcoming, and if so I might add them in a follow-up post)

    The first is Flynn and de Havilland (at the premiere of Santa Fe Trail in 1940?)

    The second is Rathbone and de Havilland (with Nigel Bruce, David Niven and Flynn in the background) at the Coronation Ball in 1937

  19. My first gut instinct on looking at these is the two people in the first picture have a connection, not necessarily sexual, in fact maybe not sexual at all, but definitely a deep psychological connection. The hand-clasp is reassuring, total, almost brother/sister; emotional not sexual or flirtatious. In fact there’s no flirtation at all. So either they are past that or it never was part of what they are. She’s not even aware she is being photographed, she’s all focused on him, on the words he’s saying. This is about deep psychological interaction.

    In the second one I think I see a young girl maybe still inexperienced, getting a little thrill out of the attention of an attractive older man. There’s a certain something between them, yes. The body language implies they have a certain level of knowledge of each other; she’s leaning against him, maybe enjoying that she can and enjoying his awareness that she’s doing so. It’s more flirtatious than the first but also much more superficial and ego-based. It looks like two people aware of possibilities, who may have flirted a little with doing stuff, but not having gone any real distance.

    This is just my gut instinct, trying to rule out my expectation of who they are and just go on what I can see. Probably miles out in all directions.

  20. I think the whole suggestion Rathbone was engaged in shenanigens with Olivia de Havilland is ridiculous. In over forty years since Basil Rathbone died no one has ever found an ounce of scandal against him,which is why he is revered as a true gentleman. As another commenter says he was a real adult and didn’t feel the need to shag starlets to help his ego. Candids? There are candids of Basil with any number of actresses. Why don’t you publish those for comparison? I can name two for you to compare. The candid of Basil on the set of The Mad Doctor with Ellen Drew, the candid of him on the sent of The Adventures of Sherlock Holme with Ida Lupino. How are they different? In the first he is gazing at Ellen Drew, and in the second he and Lupino are sitting very close, it’s possible she’s even “leaning against him.” So was he having affairs with them too? Oh but then what about the pics of him and Karloff in Son of Frankenstein? I believe they might even be touching in one, so does this mean Basil and Karloff were gay? This whole thing is ridiculous.

    • I think you’re misunderstanding the point. I don’t believe anyone is suggesting Rathbone and de Havilland had an affair based on candids or anything else. And Robert Matzen has gone to great lengths to explain he isn’t basing any of his conclusions on candids either. The candids have just been used as sources of extra inference, and I posted them at the request of another reader to help people understand the different points being made about them.

  21. I really enjoy the errolandolivia blog. I’m glad Mr. Matzen has decided he will still contribute. Concerning the above picture of Errol and Olivia on the train…this is one of three or four candids I’ve seen of them on the train promoting their movie. In three of the four they are holding hands. Very sweet….Rory Flynn, Errol’s daughter, has been corresponding with Olivia for years. She visited Olivia in Paris in 2009. There is a picture of the two floating around the web. As to the Coronation Ball in 1937. Didn’t Olivia go as David Niven’s date….and end up with Errol?

    • So, she’s Niven’s date, ends up with Flynn but is arm in arm with Rathbone? Hmm…but I thought she was underage and couldn’t date anyone? What are the sources for all these various strands? I’m just confused.

      • I think people just make claims and then they get spread around as fact. I don’t believe she was dating Niven or Rathbone at that time. The last one was a married men so she would hardly be likely to be dating him, and I have never heard anywhere she was dating Niven. I think she dated Flynn though.

  22. I heartlly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Errol and Olivia, though I could wish it had more to say on the subject of Errol and Basil too. Perhaps in a revised edition he could explore that more?

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  24. @Olivia…..Flynn was a married man too. And why not go out with David Niven? They were friends. Just because she might have gone to the Ball with him doesn’t mean they were dating. Another picture taken at the Ball shows Niven, Flynn, Olivia and a Mrs. Lewis Milestone.

    • Yes, Flynn was married, but his relationship with Lili Damita was turbulent, and he often cheated on her, and they frequently lived apart. Rathbone’s reputation was as a faithful and happily married man.

      • EXACTLY! You can’t compare Flynn with Basil. Basil was in a deeply loving and committed marriage which he would not endanger by even flirting with other women. What people here call flirting is just kindness and friendliness. By his own statement he had no eyes for or interest in any woman but his wife. She was his soulmate and no one else could compare. Especially not a girl young enough to be his daughter. Who in fact was younger than his own son!!

          • Who said he was grabbing a woman’s breast? This is ridiculous. basil didn’t have it in him to treat any woman like that. I think a lot of people don;t realize how spiritual he was. he could have been a priest in a different life.

  25. Married is married…I’m sure Olivia and Basil Rathbone were just friends. Much ado about nothing. Olivia dated John Huston too.

  26. @ Anita – I have the feeling Olivia is often economical with the truth. I think she has been careful to keep the legend of her and Flynn alive because she knows it’s what the public wants. If an incident happened where Rathbone took her arm and whisked her away from Niven, it’s quite possible she’d change the story and make it Flynn, just for the desired effect. As you say, her story does seem to be describing the moment captured in that picture. There’s David right there, and Rathbone is indeed taking her arm.

    It was probably an innocent moment on Rathbone’s part, and I don’t imply anything improper, but Olivia re-wrote it in her head as happening with Flynn and being about their relationship because she knew that story would have a willing audience.

  27. I really enjoyed this, thank you Mr Matzen. I really enjoyed your book and am looking forward to anything you might write about the wonderful Basil in the future.

  28. This is a marvellous interview. I am fascinated by the relationship between all three of these people. Did Olivia never drop any hint about her feelings over Rathbone?

    • This clip made my day! What a great sense of timing and humor. His gifts were so undervalued. Plus, I love the sailor trousers, shame on me! One of the best musical performances by a “nonmusical” actor, rates up their with Baz’s in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

    • It’s a bittersweet experiences watching this sequence, and highlights the bravery of Flynn. He wasn’t in the war; he couldn’t win the war. He had a variety of ailments that kept him out of it. Plus as he shot this he was going to trial for statutory rape. But he knew that the show must go on and he pasted on his mustache and VOLUNTEERED for this assignment, performing far out of his comfort zone. And you know all this going in, and still you can’t help but smile from the first frame to the last, because he was good; in fact a lot better than he knew or would allow.

      • Also, the number cleverly parodies his own image as an on-screen hero, performing impossible feats — “I won the war, and I won the one before!”

        • Flynn was diagnosed as ineligible for military service because of an enlarged heart. He had his first heart attack while making “Gentleman Jim” in 1942. He also had recurring malaria due to the time he spent in the tropics. I’m sure Robert Matzen could give a full list of all Flynn’s ailments.

  29. Livvy’s cute, but I have to admit Flynn’s number is better — his timing and the little dance he does is superb. It’s not as if he’s just clowning around; he seems to have an innate understanding of music, comedy, and movement. He was indeed a naturally graceful creature.

    • I agree, I think Flynn’s performance here is assured and professional and theatrical and demonstrates he had a genuine talent and had troubled to acquire craftsmanship too. I’m really impressed.

  30. I am charmed by the image of Flynn the Song & Dance Man and only wish he and the similarly versatile mr Rathbone had teamed up for a duet.

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