Yes, I’ve heard. Even at rest on a green hill overlooking Hollywood, I know my wives and final girlfriend are now gone, and as I remember them I sometimes wish news reports and video images, from a world I was ready to leave, would stop bombarding me. That’s a terrible clip of me entering the chapel for Humphrey Bogart’s funeral early in 1957. Youthful Ronald Reagan, only two years my junior at age forty-five, arrives handsome and sober, escorting Nancy. Gregory Peck’s only about forty and looks great. I’m afraid I wince when my tired and bloated face moves by.
What happened to Captain Blood? Where’s Robin Hood? People too often ask.
We all age, old boy.
But not so fast as you.
Some are surprised I attend Bogey’s service. He starred on Broadway in the twenties but is playing subordinate movie roles when I arrive, quite inexperienced, in the United States in 1935 and several months later captivate millions as Peter Blood. I see Bogey’s seething but don’t insult him. Jack Warner does that in 1940, using the contract system to force him to play a mustachioed Mexican criminal I smash in Virginia City. His accent is classic. Half the lot imitates him.
In the forties and fifties, when Bogey soars and I fade, he doesn’t gloat. He bruises me with unspoken memories. I don’t care. I usually tell people problems don’t bother me. A bottle a day of vodka’s fine and so are heroin and morphine. Sometimes I admit the 1942 statutory rape trial cuts my soul. But from this distant point of acute observation, I suppose I’d abuse myself anyway. I can handle it. I think I can and often say so, but, really, I can’t stop. I don’t want to. Sobriety’s hell, and Errol Flynn must always evoke joy and excitement and those I seek in a stupor that mercifully ends when I’m fifty.
Reluctantly, I still sometimes think about Lili Damita, my first wife, who I should hate, and really I do for she loathes me and, with her ravenous attorneys, pursues me the final twenty years, clawing for money, my ranch on Mulholland Drive, and, ultimately, my yacht and my dignity. I nevertheless concede, and indeed emphasize as a matter of historical verification, that Lili is the greatest lover of all, a master of amour, the finest of a rather large group. She and I still have that unmatched passion, in memory, and we have our dashing son Sean, who’s prettier than both of us, but, like his father, loves danger, and pursues the Vietnam War, disappearing into 1970 Cambodia. Lili hires soldiers, mercenaries, attorneys, and others to search while she waits for a miracle. She waits until senility overtakes her and dies in 1994, before incorrect reports that Sean perished in a filthy prison about a year after his capture. We no longer need specifics. He’s gone.
I meet Nora Eddington, sweet and legal at age nineteen, during my 1943 trial, which is a farce staged by district attorneys anxious to publicly flog a celebrity. The process is punishing but they don’t convict me of accepting the advances of two star chasers whose birth certificates I fail to check. Afterward, the judge says he’s sure everyone has enjoyed the trial. I wish his ass had been in the dock.
Nora sometimes understands we’re happier living apart. She doesn’t like to see me drink. She’s even more appalled by my use of narcotics. I tell her they produce heaven and she should understand. Only twice, when she’s particularly unpleasant, do I grasp and shake her shoulders. She needs to settle down. By 1947 we have two daughters, but Nora starts screwing around. I know it. I have her followed by a private detective. She’s carrying on with Dick Haymes, who I call the Boy Crooner. I can dally but my women should be faithful or I feel quite betrayed. Please, stay with me, Nora, I urge, and several times she returns but decides I can’t be reformed, and she’s correct. I’m sorry she too becomes an alcoholic but pleased she lasts until 2001.
I’m certainly not without companionship. Character actors, stuntmen, and various roisterers regularly visit my ranch on Mulholland Drive, and we drink and gamble and ride horses and screw an array of beautiful young women famous and unknown. Sometimes I step into the attic and over to a special bedroom to watch festivities through a one-way mirror in the ceiling. Most guests never learn. Those who do aren’t always pleased.
I don’t care. My career is sliding. I blame Jack Warner for offering mediocre roles but realize I look rather weary on screen. While making a dreary western I meet Patrice Wymore, who at twenty-three is not too old, and she’s a fine actress and lovely lady and ready to dedicate herself to me as I forsake Hollywood, where I no longer have a house anyway, and sail the seas in my yacht the Zaca, my home and refuge from Hollywood and former wives and alimony and all worries except drinking. But I’m not really worried. I’m still vigorous. Patrice and I have a daughter, Arnella, and I resolve to produce my own movies, beginning with William Tell. I invest hundreds of thousands to be matched by investors in Italy where sets are being built and we start filming. They disappear and I can’t pay anyone and the project collapses. I’ll deal with it. I’ll have another drink. I’ll have many more and as much morphine as I can get.
Patrice is a wonderful woman, and becomes a fine entrepreneur and mature woman who lasts till her late eighties, but even young she bores me. It’s not her fault. I always need someone new. In 1957 I meet beautiful blond Beverly Aadland.
Fool, friends say, she’s only fifteen.
She’s a girl no more, I counter.
We travel and live together. I don’t care what authorities may say. Beverly amuses me and I won’t live long enough to be prosecuted. She’s anyway seventeen now and we’re headed to Vancouver. I must sell the Zaca to pay Lili and others who believe it’s just Flynn, take the bastard for everything. I’m not concerned about that. Returning to the airport, my back, long a problem, is absolutely aflame. And I don’t feel at all well. Quit drinking and taking drugs, you might say.
It’s rather late for that, and I tell my hosts, please take me to a doctor.
It’s a Sunday and he receives me at his fine home. After being examined, and no doubt appalling the old boy, I brace myself in the doorway and tell stories about John Barrymore and others and everyone’s amused. I can still delight an audience.
Let me lie down on the floor a little while before we depart.
Fine, say the doctor and his wife.
When Beverly checks on me I’m barely breathing. They try to revive but can’t. I wish this could be easier on Beverly, who’s hysterical. She needs to understand this is what I need. And I’m thankful, a half century later, that I’m not there when she’s consumed by diabetes and congestive heart failure while only sixty-seven. That’s the best part of dying young. You’re less exposed when others depart.