Biographer Claims Actor Errol Flynn Was a Nazi Spy Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

While a number of biographies have discredited as untrue writer Charles Higham’s claims of film star Errol Flynn’s pro-Nazi loyalties, Flynn nevertheless has acquired a posthumous reputation as having been a Nazi spy. Later biographers counter that Flynn supported leftist causes, including the Cuban Revolution, indicating that Flynn was a political leftist and not a fascist.

Summary of Event

It is plausible to suggest that British writer Charles Higham’s book Errol Flynn: The Untold Story (1980) is not so much a biography as it is an exposé. Whereas biographies, at least in the truest sense, seek to offer an account of the events of a person’s life written by someone other than the figure in question, an exposé often aims to uncover revelatory, surprising, or shocking information about a particular person. That Higham’s Errol Flynn presents more like an exposé than a biography is substantiated to some degree by Higham himself. He claims in his prologue that the revelation of Tasmanian-born film star Errol Flynn’s apparently traitorous activities motivated his own personal sense of grief and shock, as well as his objective to “blow Flynn’s cover.” [kw]Actor Errol Flynn Was a Nazi Spy, Biographer Claims (1980) [kw]Flynn Was a Nazi Spy, Biographer Claims Actor Errol (1980) [kw]Nazi Spy, Biographer Claims Actor Errol Flynn Was a (1980) [kw]Spy, Biographer Claims Actor Errol Flynn Was a Nazi (1980) Flynn, Errol Treason;Errol Flynn[Flynn] World War II[World War 02];Nazi collaborators Nazi collaborators and sympathizers;Errol Flynn[Flynn] Higham, Charles Flynn, Errol Treason;Errol Flynn[Flynn] World War II[World War 02];Nazi collaborators Nazi collaborators and sympathizers;Errol Flynn[Flynn] Higham, Charles [g]United States;1980: Biographer Claims Actor Errol Flynn Was a Nazi Spy[01840] [c]Espionage;Nov. 29, 1979, and Jan. 31, 1983: Baseball Commissioner Suspends Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays for Casino Ties[01830] [c]Publishing and journalism;Nov. 29, 1979, and Jan. 31, 1983: Baseball Commissioner Suspends Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays for Casino Ties[01830] [c]Public morals;Nov. 29, 1979, and Jan. 31, 1983: Baseball Commissioner Suspends Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays for Casino Ties[01830] [c]Military; Erben, Hermann F.

Higham reportedly based his scandalous claims of Flynn’s activities as a spy on evidence he obtained under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act of Freedom of Information Act of 1966 1966. Higham claims he found evidence of Flynn’s political espionage and Fifth Column activities at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., as well as documentation supporting the same from both the U.S. State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Higham’s book also includes a list of declassified FBI documents that Higham argues either directly or indirectly implicates Flynn in espionage activities during World War II. Additionally, Higham claims that Hermann F. Erben admitted to him that he indoctrinated Flynn into Nazism, a claim Higham does not substantiate.

While subsequent biographers—perhaps most notably Tony Thomas in Errol Flynn: The Spy Who Never Was (1990)—have since denounced as fabrications Higham’s allegations of Nazi collaboration against Flynn, Flynn’s political affiliations continue to fascinate biographers and fans alike. In fact, a growing body of evidence supports the claim that Flynn maintained expressly leftist political leanings. Such claims include assertions that Flynn was a supporter of the Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and of the Cuban Revolution during the late 1950’s.

Just as Higham’s exposé undoubtedly sustained Flynn’s posthumous, though apparently erroneous, reputation as a Nazi collaborator and spy during World War II, the enduring interest in debunking Higham’s allegations continues to prolong that reputation. Most of the post-1980 biographical accounts of Flynn’s life recapitulate Higham’s assertion of Flynn’s double life as a Nazi conspirator, accounts that, in turn, contribute to the endurance of this allegation within contemporary popular culture.

The special appendix of Buster Wiles’s 1988 autobiography My Days with Errol Flynn, “The Flynn Controversy,” written by William Donati, accuses Higham of having falsified his primary-source material to prove his own thesis: that Flynn admired Adolf Hitler, Adolf [p]Hitler, Adolf;and Errol Flynn[Flynn] Hitler, was both Nazi sympathizer and agent, and was bisexual, Anti-Semitism[AntiSemitism];and Errol Flynn[Flynn] anti-Semitic, and a murderer. Moreover, Donati, like Tony Thomas in Errol Flynn: The Spy Who Never Was, argues that the true source of the Flynn controversy was never really Flynn at all but rather his association with photographer Erben. Flynn reportedly met Erben for the first time in Salamaua, New Guinea, on April 14, 1933.

That Flynn narrated and appeared in a documentary produced by Victor Pahlen called Castro, Fidel The Truth About Fidel Castro [sic] Revolution (1959) is accepted, in part, as evidence of his outward support of the Cuban Cuba;and Errol Flynn[Flynn] Revolution against the regime of General Batista y Zaldívar, Fulgencio [p]Batista y Zaldívar, Fulgencio Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar. Flynn and Pahlen reportedly owned a movie theater in Havana when revolutionary Fidel Castro arrived in the city on January 8, 1959, to spearhead plans to install a revolutionary government. Castro himself appears in the film.

Moreover, Flynn himself appears to have substantiated claims that he supported the Cuban Revolution. In My Wicked, Wicked Ways My Wicked, Wicked Ways (Flynn) (1959), for instance, he writes that he considered Castro a friend. Furthermore, Flynn also traveled to Cuba to experience the revolution at first hand. Indeed, he scooped the world press by securing the first interview with Castro following the revolution. Other public declarations that seem to indicate Flynn’s leftist leanings include his appearance on a Canadian television program called Front Page Challenge, which aired on January 13, 1959. During the program, Flynn stated, among other things, that Castro will rank in history with some of the greatest leaders of all time.

Impact

Most post-1980 biographical narratives about Flynn, whether in book form or on film, include the scandal motivated by Higham’s biography in their accounts dedicated to the events of Flynn’s life. As such, it is possible to argue that such accounts continue to sustain and strengthen the controversy itself because the question of Flynn’s anti-British and anti-U.S. political affiliations did not surface publicly during Flynn’s life but rather some twenty-one years after his death.

In 2006, director Simon Nasht released the film Tasmanian Devil: The Fast and Furious Life of Errol Flynn. Written by Robert de Young and produced by Sharyn Prentice, the film highlights the lesser known aspects of Flynn’s personal life and professional career, including his documentary filmmaking enterprises with Castro (The Truth About Fidel Caestro Revolution). The project received script development funding from Film Victoria (Australia) and ABC TV (Australia). In fact, publicity for the project claimed television presales were brokered with ABC TV (Australia), the British Broadcasting Corporation British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC; Britain), ZDF/Arte (Germany/France), AVRO (the Netherlands), YLE (Finland), DR TV (Denmark), and TV Ontario (Canada). That these projects persist shows a real and continuing international fascination with the private and public life of Flynn. Flynn, Errol Treason;Errol Flynn[Flynn] World War II[World War 02];Nazi collaborators Nazi collaborators and sympathizers;Errol Flynn[Flynn] Higham, Charles

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Flynn, Errol. My Wicked, Wicked Ways. New ed. London: Aurum, 2005. Flynn’s telling autobiography, first published in 1959, was cowritten by Earl Conrad, author of Errol Flynn: A Memoir. Flynn writes tellingly of his association with and support of Fidel Castro, even considering him a friend.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Higham, Charles. Errol Flynn: The Untold Story. New York: Doubleday, 1980. In this scandalous biography, Higham alleges that Flynn was a fascist sympathizer and Nazi spy during World War II.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McNulty, Thomas. Errol Flynn: The Life and Career. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2004. McNulty’s documentary analysis of Flynn’s life and career includes rare and some previously unpublished photographs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thomas, Tony. Errol Flynn: The Spy Who Never Was. New York: Citadel Press, 1990. This account denounces as fabrications Charles Higham’s allegations that Flynn was a fascist sympathizer and Nazi spy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wiles, Buster. My Days with Errol Flynn: The Autobiography of a Stuntman. Santa Monica, Calif.: Roundtable, 1988. The appendix written by William Donati, “The Flynn Controversy,” accuses Higham of falsifying his primary-source material to prove his own thesis: that Flynn was both a Nazi sympathizer and an agent for the Nazis.

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