For decades the inside cover of Parade magazine has been like it is today, a page glistening with faces of beautiful and famous people. And as I write this, one of those pages stands out more than hundreds of others I’ve read. It was from an early 1970’s issue and featured the delightful image of Errol Flynn’s nineteen-year old daughter, Arnella. She was sleek and sexy and – I remember the precise phrase – “like her father, marvelously photogenic.” Fashion photographers were shooting her and magazines running her graceful features on their covers and, like here father, she was becoming a star. And that was all I ever heard, until recently.
I’d been studying some Errol Flynn websites and posting the news that my short story collection, Outliving Flynn, features in its title story a character named Martin Stevens who looked like the swashbuckling movie star but didn’t have his talent, only his problems. And on a couple of the sites, I noticed that Arnella’s life spanned 1953-1998. That stark listing was the only indication that she’d died. More publicly pertinent to owners of the sites – which include her mother, Patrice Wymore, Flynn’s third and final wife – was that Arnella had continued to be photographed and placed on magazine covers and had lived in New York and married a photographer and in 1976 borne a son, Luke, who People magazine last year named one of the fifty hottest men.
That’s of interest. But what happened to Arnella? I scoured more Flynn websites. Arnella either wasn’t mentioned or was again merely listed as having died in 1998. Meaningful facts were essential, and nowadays we know what to do. We plug her name, not her father’s, into a search engine and press enter. There weren’t many responses, and only one offered substantive information. That was an October 1998 piece by Kevin Smith in Splash News. Smith had also been wondering what befell Arnella and to find out he hustled to Jamaica where she had spent a lot of her youth and had returned for the final sordid years of her life.
The privileged patch of Jamaica that Arnella came home to in 1995 is known as Errol Flynn Estates, a three thousand acre plantation caressed by several miles of sea. Errol had been seduced by the island’s beauty in the late 1940’s after his yacht was hurled ashore during a storm. He soon purchased the land where cattle are now bred and coconuts grown. Patrice Wymore, evidently, is a fine entrepreneur, and also owns a boutique and a hotel nearby.
We must infer from Kevin Smith’s article and the websites that Arnella was no longer married and that her modeling career had ended. Her mother provided a place in the family home and plenty of money. Thus, the woman who had never really known her legendary father – he left his wife for fifteen-year old Beverly Aadland when Arnella was three and died when she was five – could live like Flynn. She was a celebrity on the island and had endless free time. And like her father, Arnella filled her idle hours with drink. She didn’t just put away a couple of cold ones. She drank Overproof White Rum straight. Have you ever chugged an ounce of booze? You probably haven’t done it often unless you’re an alcoholic. Arnella Flynn was an alcoholic, though that word hasn’t been publicly used. She was an alcoholic like her father and like him she used other drugs, including ganja. From there they diverged in their methods of self-destruction, Errol preferring opiates and barbiturates and Arnella craving the white demon – cocaine.
This is the sad sight that emerged: Arnella daily staggered up and down the beach with her Rastafarian buddies and boyfriends as they drank booze and smoked the region’s high-grade marijuana. Kevin Smith talked to a lot of them and all said they liked Arnella, that she’d been very pretty and cool and unpretentious but had a lot of problems, the principle one being her perpetual consumption of cocaine. The laid back Rastafarians said they didn’t do coke with Arnella and tried to talk her out of using the drug. For most, that’s probably true. At any rate, it is ultimately the responsibility of all individuals to control themselves or to at least seek help if restraint is not otherwise possible.
Patrice Wymore was not interviewed for Smith’s article but one doesn’t need to read any quotes to know how she was affected by her daughter’s plunge into the abyss. She doubtless had innumerable conversations with Arnella, urging her to quit. She probably invoked the image of her once heroic father slaughtering himself into an unrecognizable old man dead at age fifty. Such warnings rarely work. I know. I’m an alcoholic and was unfazed by reminders that my father had drunk himself into ill-health by his mid-thirties and later cigarette-smoked himself to death. I might not have been able to stop drinking if I hadn’t squandered my modest inheritance and lost the option of too much leisure.
Easy money is an enabler for alcoholics, an outright coconspirator. Patrice Wymore understood that. She first cut off Arnella’s allowance – and it’s an ominous sign when anyone that age isn’t working and needs such assistance – then banished her from the main house but provided a smaller place on the estate. One supposes she also tried to get her daughter into treatment. Nothing worked. Arnella began growing tomatoes and carrots and selling them at roadside stalls. The proceeds were used to buy more cocaine. But the white death is infinitely more expensive than edible produce and Arnella frequently ran out of money and started heisting coconuts from the family plantation. Her mother then hired security to guard the cash crop.
It was too late. Her once flowing golden hair pulled back severely, her face crinkled by exposure to the tropical sun, her body emaciated, Arnella Flynn continued to stumble around in a haze, downing straight rum and getting coke any way she could. When her body was discovered, the response was similar to what it had been when her father died: people were shocked but not surprised. Both had made a pact with death: take me early, just let me be loaded till I arrive.
Dashing Luke Flynn has not been publicly quoted about his mother’s death, and his feelings are none of our business. He has made this statement about his grandfather: “He was a cool guy …who had a lot of fun… and I intend to do the same.” To young Luke Flynn, I offer this unsolicited warning: have fun sober. Otherwise, it won’t really be fun.