Nowhere Men

By D. R. Haney


Errol Flynn at the courthouse

I was in the basement of the downtown Los Angeles courthouse, where I was researching a possible nonfiction book about an overlooked film-noir actor whose offscreen brawling and balling led to occasional trouble with the law, as well as comparisons to his better-known colleague at Warner Bros., Errol Flynn. The basement is where old case files are stored on microfilm, and one of the files I needed was lost, so that I kept returning to the courthouse to see if it had been found. I was out of luck again that day, headed to the elevator when I was stopped by a nondescript man of sixty or so. He couldn’t find his way out of the basement, he said. I told him to follow me. He did, remarking on the flatcap I was wearing.

“I used to know somebody who wore a hat just like that,” he said. “She was a big racing-car driver back in the thirties. She was friends with my family.”

He repeated that. He repeated everything he said. Something was clearly wrong with him, though whatever it was, he was in no way menacing. Evidently obsessed with height, he informed me, apropos of nothing, that he was six feet tall. Then he asked how tall I was, and before I could answer, he said, “Six-one, right?  You’re six-one.”

“Very good. People usually think I’m taller.”

“No, you’re six-one.  I used to know somebody who was taller than you. He disappeared in Vietnam.”

That was all he said, but I instantly blurted out, “Sean Flynn?” I had once considered collaborating on a screenplay about Sean Flynn, who disappeared during the Vietnam War and was, I knew, tall. I suppose it was simply a guess, but it somehow felt like more than a guess, and I could tell by the man’s spooked expression that, yes, he meant Sean Flynn.

“How did you know that?” he said. 

“I don’t know how I knew. I just knew.”


Errol and Lili during a rare moment of peace

Like most movie legends of his day, Errol Flynn, Sean’s father, fades from collective memory a little more each year, but he was once so famous that “in like Flynn” was a winking expression for sexual success, per its inspiration’s well-earned reputation for promiscuity. He claimed that he never chased women, they chased him, and that was certainly true of Sean’s mother, Lili Damita, a French actress who met Tasmanian-born Errol aboard the ship that was carrying him from England, where he began his career in theater, to America, where, on the strength of a screen test, Warner Bros. had placed him under contract. Already a movie star, tempestuous Lili campaigned for marriage, threatening suicide when Errol balked. They wed in Yuma, Arizona, an incongruous setting for an international pair, and back in Hollywood, Lili used her influence to land Errol the title role in Captain Blood, the pirate movie that established him.

Errol Flynn

Naturally, his celebrity attracted other women. “Sometimes,” he said, “they come into my dressing room at the studio and shut the door and do it to me. I just let them, that’s all.” Lili retaliated with tantrums and dalliances of her own, and the couple separated and reconciled as a matter of course before Lili became pregnant with Sean. Then thirty-eight, eight years older than Errol, Lili wanted a child and he didn’t, and after he left her conclusively, she “devoted many years of her life to pursuing him through the divorce courts and trying to destroy him,” in the words of Flynn biographer Jeffrey Meyers. Finished with acting, she moved to Palm Beach, Florida, the better to keep Sean from his father. It was just as well, since Errol had become addicted to heroin and cocaine, to say nothing of his outstanding addiction to alcohol, which he considered the deadliest drug of all—a seasoned opinion that should give us all pause. His calamitous marriage to Lili seems to have permanently soured him on older women: his second wife was nineteen to his thirty-three when they met at the courthouse where he was being tried for statutory rape. (He was acquitted.) His third wife was two years younger than his second, and his last girlfriend, a year younger than Sean, was fifteen when she got together with forty-seven-year-old Errol. “This little girl could well become your mother someday!” he would razz Sean on the rare occasions they saw each other. “Don’t talk to your mother that way!” Meanwhile, he provided Sean with hookers.

Sean and Errol in TV production

But Sean was never the womanizer his father was, probably because of his close relationship with Lili—too close, at times, for Sean. He was her only child—Errol went on to have three daughters—and she fussed over him, polishing his manners and overseeing his education at an elite prep school. He was a senior at that school when his father died of a heart attack at fifty, so disfigured from years of debauchery that he could have been taken for seventy, and Sean flew to L.A. for the funeral, where he turned heads. His future agent recalled him as “maybe the most beautiful boy I had ever seen.” Beautiful is a word that reliably occurs in memorials of Sean, most notably in his friend Michael Herr’s justly celebrated Vietnam memoir, Dispatches, which has introduced Sean to many with: “Sean Flynn could look more incredibly beautiful than even his father, Errol, had thirty years before as Captain Blood, but sometimes he looked more like Artaud coming out of some heavy heart-of-darkness trip…” The Conrad allusion anticipated Herr’s screenplay work on Apocalypse Now. (He also co-wrote Full Metal Jacket.)

As a child, Sean had done a few small parts in productions featuring his father, and at home in Florida, just before he enrolled at Duke University, he did another small part in Where the Boys Arearranged by its male lead, George Hamilton, who had grown up with Sean in Palm Beach. Photos of the two of them on the set of Where the Boys Are were seen by the producer of Captain Blood, stirring his memory of having met Sean at Errol’s funeral and sparking a brainstorm: The Son of Captain of Blood, starring the son of Errol Flynn. Sean had only been at Duke for three months when the producer contacted him.

On the set with George Hamilton

Acting didn’t especially interest Sean. Nor did school interest him. He liked cars, guns, boats, travel—and here was an offer that could subsidize all that, Lili being something of a tightwad. Torn about the offer, Sean discussed it with a Duke classmate who later gave an account of their talk to Jeffrey Meyers. If he did this movie, Sean projected in what Meyers rightly characterizes as “a shocking (and surprisingly prescient) forecast,” he would end up moving to Hollywood and “getting into that whole moviemaking scene,” though he would “probably get very bored with it.”

“After that?” asked the classmate.

“I’ll go sailing around for a little while.”

“After that?”

“I’ll go to Africa and do some hunting.”

“Then what?”

“Then, I’ll probably find some way to get myself killed.”


sean the pop star

Sean didn’t take to Hollywood, as predicted. There was an embarrassing stab at pop stardom, undoubtedly orchestrated by others, but he wasn’t much of a singer, and he wasn’t much of an actor, either. Errol could handle dialogue almost as gracefully as he could handle a sword or steed, and though Sean was equally athletic, he seemed self-conscious in dialogue scenes. He was sensitive to the inevitable comparisons to his father and wary of the inevitable questions about him, telling reporters they were practically strangers, or as he said to one, “He sired me, that’s all.” Errol’s absence from Sean’s childhood, Lili’s bitterness toward him, the debt his fame forced on Sean: all guaranteed Sean’s ambivalence about his father. But he wasn’t ambivalent about Hollywood. “Everyone I met [there],” he remarked later to his friend Zalin Grant, “was extremely cynical and knew everything. To them, screwing a girl had nothing to do with love. Even liking a girl was a kind of therapy. Life just didn’t have much meaning.” It’s interesting that he emphasized sex in dismissing Hollywood to Grant, as if making a coded contrast of his Hollywood father’s treatment of women and his own.

sean movie posters

He moved to Paris, where he lived in his late grandmother’s apartment in the 17th arrondissement, and without much enthusiasm, he continued to act in movies, including three Spaghetti Westerns. Between movies, he satisfied his taste for sport and travel, at one point working as a safari guide in Tanzania, another fulfillment of his prophecy at Duke. Back in Paris, he dabbled as a fashion photographer and appealed to Paris Match to send him to Vietnam as a war correspondent. His famous surname trumped his inexperience: Paris Match complied.

Sean in Paris

During the Spanish Civil War, Errol had likewise tried his hand as a war correspondent, one of several efforts, foreshadowing Sean, to prove he wasn’t just an actor. He funded and documented a science project for his biologist father and wrote a play and three books: a novel, a nonfiction account of his sailing expeditions, and My Wicked, Wicked Ways, his autobiography. The first two are out of print, but the third has never been out of print since it was published soon after his death, and it’s often cited as the gold standard of movie-star memoirs. Errol had help with My Wicked, Wicked Ways, but he nevertheless could turn a phrase, as when he summed up his marriage to Lili as an “impossible snarl of two volatile people” from which “there came something good anyway.” The something good was Sean.

Errol’s career as a war correspondent was a short-lived fiasco. Wounded and reported dead in Spain, his hasty retreat to Hollywood prompted derision and accusations of cowardice, which Jeffrey Meyers believes unfair. In any case, just as Sean had followed his father onto the screen, he now followed his father to war. Impeccably polite, reserved but approachable, humble despite his glamorous appearance and background, he “blew minds all over Vietnam,” Herr writes in Dispatches, popular with military personnel and his fellow journalists alike. With three of the latter, among them English photographer Tim Page, he rented a Saigon flat that he described in a letter to Lili as a “lovely place” with “good company when I come back from the field. We have a houseboy and his wife, stereo music, PX cards to get food & liquor from the Army. I enjoy myself very much here.”

Sean in Vietnam

He was enjoying more than food and liquor at Frankie’s house, as the flat was called after the houseboy. Tim Page, who soon became one of Sean’s closest friends, is said to have been the model for Dennis Hopper’s wiggy character in Apocalypse Now, and he set the tone at Frankie’s house. A lot of women came and went. A lot of pot was smoked. So was a lot of opium.

War photography is, to say the least, risky business, but Page took more risks than most, and Sean did as Page did and, like Page, was injured, though not as routinely or seriously. He parachuted into combat and walked point on patrol missions in areas filled with booby traps and snipers. He carried a gun and sometimes participated in firefights, which further endeared him to GIs. “Mud and fear, blood and death, where no films exist, is where my life is,” he told a reporter who surely punched up the quote. Either way, low on cash, Sean left Vietnam for a few weeks to make a film, his last, Five Ashore in Singapore. It was shot, of course, in Singapore, and when it opened in Vietnam, it was billed as starring “Saigon’s own Sean Flynn.”


He left Vietnam again during this period to cover the Indonesian-Malaysian Confrontation in Borneo, and the following year, interrupting a visit to the States, he flew to Israel to cover the Six-Day War, which was over by the time he arrived. There were other travels: to New Guinea, where he turned some aborigines on to pot; to Laos, where he shacked up with a local girl; to Bali, where he fell in love with another local girl and was briefly jailed for assaulting a taxi driver who, he thought, had insulted her. It’s said that he planned to marry the girl in Bali and settle there with her, but that may have been a pipe dream, since he knew the girl’s wealthy parents looked down on him and would never give their blessing. Besides, he felt that for “some incredible reason” he belonged in Vietnam. The era of Frankie’s house over, he and Page got a new flat and new flatmates: the writer Perry Deane Young and the photographer Dana Stone. Young would publish Two of the Missing, his book about Sean and Dana, who vanished together. You would never think, to see pictures of the short, spectacled, Scoutmasterish Dana, that he once worked as a stripper in San Francisco; but you would also never think that the movie-star offspring of two movie stars could reinvent himself as a war correspondent, or that another war correspondent was a former model for Coco Chanel. Michèle Ray had been a Chanel model, and her capture and release by the Vietcong, the South Vietnamese insurgents, may have factored in the fate of Sean and Dana.

If Sean aimed to become something other than Errol Flynn’s son by going to Vietnam, he had gotten what he came to get: Herr notes in Dispatches that he impressed people who “had barely ever heard of Errol Flynn.” He had also found his calling. Apolitical and vaguely patriotic before he arrived in Vietnam, it didn’t take him long to realize the war was a mistake, and he spoke against it in images, which suited him better than words. He admitted that he “may not have been as good a photographer as some of the other newsmen in [Vietnam], but I went into some places and got into some situations which they did not. This was the difference. I took some idiotic chances—but here I am.”

Photos by Sean Flynn

He said that in March 1967. He disappeared in April 1970. Famous last words are seldom said last.


For twenty years after Sean disappeared, no one entered his apartment in Paris, as if to do so would cause him to stay away, per The Year of Magical Thinking. The apartment, then, except for the cobwebs and accumulated dust, was left exactly as Sean left it when he was last in Paris in 1969, and pictures of it were taken and run in a tabloid after the door to the apartment finally opened again. A book on the kitchen counter, unopened letters, ties and jackets hanging in a closet, professionally laundered shirts: we see similar shots all the time online now, and the ones snapped at Sean’s place are just are unremarkable unless you’re acquainted with their unique backstory.


But other shots are remarkable without need of the backstory. Sean’s apartment looks almost like a page from the collage diaries of Peter Beard or Dan Eldon, like Hemingway’s den if Hemingway had been twenty-eight, Sean’s age, in 1969. Animal heads and hides are mounted on the walls, and so is a human skull with antelope horns arranged like tusks on either side of it. Beads circle the skull and dangle from its teeth, while nearby peacock feathers graze a poster of Che Guevara, blending with his beard, so that the feathers, which stand in a white urn, look like the stems of an uprooted flower, the urn its bulb, the head of Che Guevara its blossom. There are psychedelic posters, one that reads HAIGHT-ASHBURY, as well as posters of Jimi Hendrix and Ho Chi Minh, and glossy photo prints, including a self-portrait of Sean shot while parachuting, and Chinese lanterns, and rattles, and stacked poker chips, and the decorated sheath of a scabbard, and a turntable on the dining table, which suggests that Sean usually ate at restaurants and not at home.

Of course he did.


This trippy bachelor pad is so specific to its time that it could never be recreated now and, by itself, demonstrates Sean’s transformation from a clean-cut preppy to the stylishly shaggy globetrotter who somehow died in Cambodia, where the war had spread. The Vietcong and their confederates, the North Vietnamese, had established bases in the Cambodian jungle, which the U.S. was bombing, driving the communist Vietnamese deeper into the country and closer to its capital, Phnon Penh. Cambodia, meanwhile, had its own communist insurgency, the Khmer Rouge, and a flimsy government, led by Prince Sihanouk, under mounting pressure from without and within. When Sihanouk was ousted by his prime minister in a coup d’état, the result was chaos: some reports had Phnon Penh about to fall to the Vietcong and North Vietnamese. This is what Sean and Dana, on assignment for Time and CBS News respectively, had come to document.

Phnon Penh didn’t fall, not yet, but two days after they arrived, Sean and Dana heard that the Vietcong had attacked Chi Phou, a town ten miles from the Vietnam border, and they hit the road on rented motorcycles. Another journalist told them they looked like characters in Easy Rider—in fact, Sean could have doubled for Peter Fonda—and Sean corrected him with: “Queasy riders is more like it.” He was hoping to be captured by the Vietcong.

Sean and Dana in Chi Phou

So it’s conjectured, based on his overheard quarrel with Dana at a café in Chi Phou a few hours before they were captured. Or maybe they didn’t quarrel. Dan Southerland, a Christian Science Monitor reporter who was with them at the café, has written that they “seemed to be in a light-hearted mood” and that Dana was “joking” when he said of Sean: “This guy wants us to get captured.” But whether Sean did or didn’t want them to be captured deliberately, he was almost certainly thinking of the “war from the other side” stories filed by Michèle Ray and a handful of others after their release by the Vietcong. Ray played cards with her captors, who composed poems about her and made her a pair of custom black pajamas when she proved too tall for a guerrilla uniform. According to Tim Page, Vietcong units “had explicit orders to handle all journalists correctly,” since their superiors “knew the value of the press and the persuasive power of propaganda.” Even so, the Vietcong refused to cooperate with foreign media, so that Sean may have been trying to persuade Dana that they could return from captivity not only with their own “war from the other side” stories but the photos that none of their colleagues had been able to get.

The last known images of Sean were shot by a French news crew that turned up later that day on a stretch of National Road 1, almost four miles from Chi Phou, where a white car had been abandoned in the middle of the road and villagers told of seeing four men being marched by the Vietcong at gunpoint into the surrounding woods. Three of the men proved to be French and Japanese journalists—the fourth was their Cambodian driver-interpreter—and the same villagers were to witness Sean and Dana being forced off their rented motorcycles and led away at gunpoint.

Route 1 footage

Though the abandoned white car is in the French news footage, Dana is strangely absent while Sean, on camera, warns the crew that Laotian guerrillas are in the woods. Why did he say the guerrillas were Laotian? And why did he scare the crew away? Was he concerned for their safety or afraid of being scooped? Whatever his state of mind, the crew credited Sean with saving their lives: still more journalists would vanish in the same area over the next week or so, and none of them were ever seen by Western eyes again.

“This will be the end, I know,” Lili had sobbed to a friend on learning that Sean was headed back to Vietnam that March. Interviewed by the Palm Beach Daily News the day after her only child, and only living blood relative, was reported missing, she quoted the close of the letter he had written to her minutes before his flight from Saigon to Phnon Penh. As if he shared Lili’s sense of foreboding and was bracing her for the news to come, he encouraged her to take comfort in “this idea that all things here in the world are God’s toys, you, me, Cambodia. Make peace with Him and your heart is still. Do you know how to do it? Watch the plants, rains, sunsets, bugs, the changes in the wind, sea and clouds. Watch them and relax in peace. There is a place for all us.

“Must go,
Love, Sean”


captive of the khmer rouge

I once bought car insurance from a Cambodian man who had escaped from a Khmer Rouge prison camp. He had seen his entire family murdered, he told me as I signed papers at his office on Sunset Boulevard, and he had to help bury the corpses in a mass grave. He was tortured for the slightest infraction. The Khmer Rouge were monsters, and if they’re rarely mentioned now, that’s surely in part because, except for 1984’s The Killing Fields, their atrocities have never been been dramatized by the world’s most popular historian, Hollywood, which continues to dramatize the atrocities of the Nazis, prompting twenty-first-century children to the conclusion that mass extermination was practiced by the Nazis alone. Yet from 1975, when the Khmer Rouge took control of Cambodia, to 1979, when Cambodia was invaded by Vietnam, by then a united communist state, as many as three and a half million people were wiped out by the Khmer Rouge. The exact number is disputed—the Khmer Rouge claimed it was two million—though it’s accepted that half the victims were officially executed and the other half died of starvation and disease in the killing fields. The Khmer Rouge sought a perfect society of godless and purely Cambodian peasants, so that Christians and Muslims and Buddhist monks had to be eliminated, as did professionals and intellectuals, that anachronistic class, as well as the various ethnic groups, Thai and Chinese and Vietnamese, who called Cambodia home.

All things here in the world are God’s toys, you, me, Cambodia. There is a place for all of us.

Khmer Rouge victims

Sean and Dana, along with the other journalists taken prisoner near Chi Phou, were turned over to the Khmer Rouge by the Vietcong at some point in 1970 or early 1971. Few, if any, Westerners knew much about the Khmer Rouge at the time, so that the journalists probably figured they would be treated by their new captors as they’d initially been treated by the Vietcong, and that wasn’t altogether bad, according to an American intelligence report. Able to bathe and move freely about the house where they were kept, the journalists only lost such privileges shortly before they were delivered to a Khmer Rouge POW camp, and from there to a Cambodian rubber plantation where, surprisingly, the Khmer Rouge restored their privileges, allowing them to roam the plantation in black pajamas and sandals fashioned from rubber tires. So Cambodian informants told Tim Page. However, Page was further told, the journalists later went on a hunger strike, demanding their release, and in June 1971 they were beheaded with a sharpened hoe because the Khmer Rouge didn’t want to waste bullets on them.


Jeffrey Meyers has likewise dated Sean’s death to June 1971, though under different circumstances. In a magazine article titled “The Nowhere Man” and again in Inherited Risk, his book about Errol and Sean, Meyers referenced a Cambodian report of a malaria-stricken man who was euthanized with three injected ampules of Thorazine at a field hospital, though he may have been in a coma and not yet dead when he was buried. The report stated that this luckless man, despite “a large beard that made it difficult to recognize his face,” was “physically similar to Mr. Sean Flynn,” and Meyers is convinced the man was Sean, while Tim Page is equally convinced that his own version of Sean’s end is the correct one.

Other versions have surfaced over the years: Sean was burned alive; he was shot accidentally or intentionally; he was beaten to death with clubs and shovels. Zalin Grant, who, like Page, has spent decades trying to find the remains of Sean and Dana, believes that Sean, at least, wasn’t executed by the Khmer Rouge until late 1973 or early 1974. A former Army Intelligence officer, Grant first investigated the case at the behest of CBS News anchorman Walter Cronkite, and he was friendly not only with Sean and Dana but Dana’s wife, Louise, who conducted her own investigation, “becoming an accomplished intelligence agent” in the qualified view of Grant. She followed case updates even as she was increasingly debilitated by multiple sclerosis, dying in Kentucky in March 2000, a month shy of the thirtieth anniversary of her husband’s disappearance.


Lili died in March 1994, four months shy of her ninetieth birthday. In her later years, remarried to a wealthy dairy farmer and dividing her time between Palm Beach and Fort Dodge, Iowa, she was known as Lillian Loomis, and she spent a sizable chunk of Mr. Loomis’s millions on search missions for her missing son, hiring soldiers of fortune who journeyed to Cambodia and returned with nothing. She had Sean declared legally dead in 1984, and, in the hope that his remains would turn up one day, she left behind a sample of her blood to help identify them.

In 2010, a search team sanctioned by Sean’s half-sister, Rory Flynn, thought it may finally have discovered his remains during a dig in Cambodia, but forensic tests concluded that the excavated remains were of someone else. With an estimated 20,000 mass-grave sites in Cambodia, courtesy of the Khmer Rouge, it’s “like [trying to find] a needle in a haystack,” Rory has said of the search for her brother’s bones, though she has vowed to keep searching, determined to give Sean the proper burial he deserves.

the killing fields

Not everyone agrees. Sean got exactly what he deserved by taking the risk he did in April 1970, some say; but there’s no shortage of ways he might have died in a war zone even if he had never been captured. The great photojournalist Robert Capa was killed by a landmine in Vietnam while covering the First Indochina War in 1954, after surviving Omaha Beach on D-Day and the Spanish Civil War, which his photojournalist lover, Gerda Taro, did not survive; she was crushed by a tank near Madrid in 1937. Larry Burrows, for my money the best Vietnam War photographer, died in a helicopter crash caused by enemy fire in Laos in 1971. Twenty-two-year-old Dan Eldon was stoned to death by an angry mob in Mogadishu in 1993. Tim Hetherington, on assignment in Libya for Vanity Fair, was fatally injured in a mortar shelling there in 2011.

Tim Hetherington

The death of Hetherington shocked me. Only a couple of months before, he and Sebastian Junger had been interviewed by my friend Terry Keefe about their Oscar-nominated documentary Restrepo, which focused on a Marine base in Afghanistan, and I had seen the movie only days before I heard the news from Libya. Even President Obama took official note of it, releasing a statement in which, “saddened,” he reminded us that journalists “risk their lives each day to keep us informed, demand accountability from world leaders, and give a voice to those who would not otherwise be heard.” Oh, I thought, that’s what they do. American journalists, anyway, are no longer the watchdogs they once were—I was repulsed by their gung-ho attitude when the Bush Administration invaded Iraq on a blatantly false pretext—but I’m nonetheless concerned about the phasing out of journalism as a paid profession and unconvinced by the fashionable notion that, in a world where everyone carries surveillance equipment, we can rely on Joe Blow to keep us informed. Personally, I’m far more skeptical of Joe Blow than I am of most journalists, and besides, I’ve never seen an Instagram photo as powerful as “Reaching Out,” Larry Burrows’ shot of one wounded soldier rushing to check on another, just I’ve never seen, and don’t expect to see, a book as durable as Dispatches tweeted 140 characters at a time or less, brevity being the soul of our age.

Reaching Out

Dispatches and Sean figure in a 2011 piece by Gary Brecher, otherwise known as the War Nerd, about Hetherington’s death. “Somebody with a face finally died in Libya,” the piece begins, and not only did Hetherington “have an Oscar-nominated face, it was a real good-looking face, too, which all the tributes to him seem to repeat over and over.” For Brecher, one such tribute recalls the “ridiculous” description of Sean in Dispatches—“incredibly beautiful” and so on—and Sean and Hetherington, an Englishman educated at Oxford, are “the same breed,” children of privilege who “soak up the blood and the cool of a war zone without getting any of it on their hands: they take pictures of it instead of getting dirty shooting people.”

Gary Brecher is the alter ego of John Dolan, who, under his own name, was the first critic to openly question the veracity of James Frey’s bestselling rehab “memoir,” A Million Little Pieces, and its sequel, My Friend Leonard, ultimately leading to Frey’s notorious public flogging by Oprah Winfrey. In “A Million Pieces of Shit,” Dolan’s opening salvo against Frey, he wrote in terms that evoke his take on Sean and Hetherington: “Rehab stories provide a way for pampered trust-fund brats like Frey to claim victim status. These swine already have money, security and position and now want to corner the market in suffering and scars, the consolation prizes of the truly lost.” But Sean and Hetherington were literally lost, and while I concur with Dolan about Frey, I think his general loathing of “pampered trust-fund brats” hinders his judgment of Sean and Hetherington, whom he further scorns in his piece about the latter as “decadent freaks, no-touch perverts who want to roll in the gore without getting dirty”—that word again. In fact, Sean did get “dirty” in Vietnam: he was known to have shot and killed at least one enemy soldier. That doubtless isn’t dirty enough for Dolan, whose work I almost always enjoy for its black humor and flippant insight, and there’s insight when he concludes about Hetherington that his death was a publicity coup for the rebels fighting Khadafi in Libya, since none of the other victims of the civil war there had “got an Oscar nomination in their lives” and they “weren’t all that good-looking, either.” They were, to add to Dolan’s point, as faceless to the world at large as the millions of victims of the Khmer Rouge, except for two, if I count Dana, who might also be faceless but for his capture alongside the other one.

mia bumper sticker

Meanwhile, a glance online tells me that 1,655 Americans who served in the Vietnam War, most of them surely not by choice, are still “unaccounted for,” a number down from the 2,646 it was in 1973. How many of those Americans once appeared on buttons, bumper stickers, and matchbooks by way of calling attention to the MIA/POW cause? How many inspired a song by the Clash?

As far as I know, just one.

So, yes, even in matters of war, it pays to have a good-looking face and Hollywood credentials, though they didn’t pay for Sean Flynn when it mattered most.

MIA button and matches


I had no doubt that the man at the courthouse had known Sean; he corrected me on details I only dimly remembered from the research I’d done years earlier, for the screenplay about Sean that I never wrote. For instance, I mentioned that Sean had grown up in Miami Beach, and the man said, “No, it was Palm Beach. Sean grew up in Palm Beach. That’s where I met him.” His family used to spend a few months in Palm Beach every year, he told me as we spoke outside the courthouse for maybe fifteen minutes, and one day, at a swimming pool, he almost drowned and Sean dove in and saved him. Afterward he met Lili, who, it turned out, had been friendly with his mother back in L.A. Lili and his mother reconnected, and Sean became like an older brother to him. They stayed in touch for years, even after Sean first went to Vietnam. But Sean changed, he said.

“What do you mean?”

“He was moody. You couldn’t talk to him anymore. He stopped calling me. He didn’t write. Why did he change?”

“Well,” I said, not sure that he expected an answer, “I guess war will do that to you.”

He would call Lili every so often, he told me, after Sean was taken prisoner and she was spending more time in Iowa, and every time they spoke, she would say, “Why did Sean break my heart?” He repeated that more than once. He also repeated, again and again, “Why did Sean change?”

I had to go, but before I did, I asked him for his email address. I knew I would never write a screenplay about Sean, so it had nothing to do with that; it just seemed significant, somehow, that I had instantly guessed, as we were waiting for the elevator, the name of his tall friend, and I wanted to have some way of reaching him if I ever had cause. But he didn’t have an email address, he said, and he wasn’t on Facebook, and he didn’t have a cellphone. I believed him. There was something a bit otherworldly about him, like a man out of time, and I’m not sure how else to describe him other than that he was six feet tall, as he had informed me in the courthouse basement, and a tad flabby and balding and dressed blandly, so that he looked like any other sixty-year-old white guy, invisible to the world. But so am I. So are most of us, once we’re robbed of any physical beauty we may once have had. I walked away and turned for a moment and watched as he grew smaller and smaller until, like we all do, he disappeared.

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D. R. HANEY is the author of a novel, Banned for Life, and a nonfiction collection, Subversia, the inaugural publication of TNB Books. Known to friends as Duke, he lives in Los Angeles.

93 responses to “Nowhere Men”

  1. D.R. Haney says:

    A note about sources.

    I drew a lot for the piece from Jeffrey Meyers book “Inherited Risk,” which some have criticized because it’s far more about Errol than it is about Sean. However, there simply isn’t as much out there about Sean as there is about Errol, and “Inherited Risk” is full of information about Sean that can’t be found in any other book of which I’m aware, aside, possibly, from a recent French biography, and my French isn’t good enough to read that one. Also, I didn’t have time, before beginning work on this piece, to read Perry Deane Young’s “Two of the Missing,” though I did make use of an article that Young wrote in 2011 about Sean for “Open Skies” magazine.

    Tim King of Salem-News.com has written many articles about the search for Sean’s remains, and he posted online the photos of Sean’s flat in Paris. I hope he won’t mind that I reproduce them here. I also took the quote from Rory Flynn from an article at Salem-News.com.

    Zalin Grant has posted a number of pieces online about his experiences during the Vietnam War. One thing I didn’t mention in the piece, though I tried to fit in, is that he dated Michèle Ray. He also made one trip to Cambodia to search for Sean’s remains alongside my old friend Richard Linnett, who wrote about the experience for “Outside” magazine, though the piece didn’t run there; it finally ran in the now-defunct British magazine “JACK.” Richard probably won’t remember me, but should he see this: Hello, Richard! Your piece was helpful to the writing of this one about Sean. I’m also grateful to Dan Southerland, whom I quoted in the piece.

    I must admit to being a little afraid of John Dolan, but anyway, his piece about Tim Hetherington provided a whole other way of looking at Sean – a crucial one. I’m not sure what he thinks of “Dispatches,” aside from his remark about the description of Sean in it, but obviously, I couldn’t have written the piece without “Dispatches,” which is one of my favorite books. It did not, by the way, introduce me to Sean; I first heard of him through a book by David Niven, “Bring on the Empty Horses,” which I read years ago.

    There are numerous clips of Sean, I should mention, as well as clips pertaining to Sean, at the YouTube channel SeanFlynnCambodia.

    About the included images: I’m afraid I don’t know who took most of them. I know that the picture of Sean in Paris ran in “Paris Match” in 1967. I know that the picture of Sean in the recording studio was taken by Allan Grant for “LIFE” magazine, which also owns the rights to “Reaching Out,” the great photo by the great Larry Burrows. The photo of Tim Hetherington is owned by AP/Outpost Films. Sean, of course, took the cluster of Vietnam photos at the end of the third section of the piece, and the photo of Sean next to the wall in the dark is a self-portrait. Aside from that, again, I can’t produce bylines, though I would if I could, and I hope I haven’t stepped on any toes by reproducing any of these images.

    Once more, many thanks to all of the above, including those people I’m unable to identify.

    • Mary Bartlett says:

      Dear D. R. Haney, A friend forwarded me this article about Sean which I read with great interest. Sean and I my brother Gus Bartlett became good friends at a summer camp (where they were supposed to improve their grades before entering boarding school). We lived outside of Philadelphia and therefore close to the boys’ schools (Lawrenceville and Blair.) Sean used to spend some holidays with us and my mother and Lili Damita became friends through their correspondance. I was eight years younger than Sean and Gus. He was, as you describe, a very handsome and incredibly sweet young man.
      The two boys went to a lot of dances and parties and had a great time. My parents thought that Sean was rather shy – but perhaps they were thinking of his father.
      My brother met Errol Flynn once: he was in New York and invited the boys, who took the train, and stayed overnight – a fairly wild time, according to my brother.
      In 1967-68, I was in Paris in school and saw Sean just before he left – We had coffee at La Coupole and he was just as sweet and charming as ever. I think he said he was working for Paris Match as a photographer at that time.
      My brother ended up spending his life in Costa Rica and died on his ranch as a result of Hurricane Mitch in ’98. He was always very sad about Sean.
      After Sean’s disappearance, my mother heard less and less from Lili who was really devastated by Sean’s disappearance.
      Thank you for this article – Mary Bartlett

      • D.R. Haney says:

        Dear Mary Bartlett:

        Your words mean more than you know. I wanted so much to create a portrait of Sean that would ring true to those who knew him and make him liked by those who had never, until now, heard of him. I tried my hardest to do that, and you help me to feel that I succeeded.

        My heart aches for everyone who suffered because of Sean’s disappearance, and for everyone who had a friend or relative who disappeared, or died, during that war. I had relatives who served, but they all returned alive and unharmed.

        But to radically change subject: I must say, I envy you for having lived in Paris at the time you did. I never tire of watching Godard films, which of course were shot on location on the streets of Paris, and in cafes, and so on.

        I really can’t thank you enough for writing what you do to me. I only wish the response were as good as the initial comment, but I’m racing out the door and wanted to answer you immediately by way of letting you know, again, how much I appreciate your comment.

        My very best wishes for a wonderful year, seeing that it’s still not very far into it —


  2. Max says:


    thank you once more for this beautiful piece. Sean Flynn is definitely one of those characters that would intrigue you. And I’m happy you put attention to what happened in Cambodia… It always angers me that all those mass murders are so easily forgotten, starting with the Osmanic Armenians early in the twentieth century and probably not ending with the Rwandan Tutsi and those Muslims in Bosnia (not all too far from were I grew up in Austria) in the 90s. Especially in those cases of extreme inhumanity war journalists play a crucial role if we don’t want to sink into a swamp of misinformation, propaganda and unfounded opinion. Thanks for bringing all that up.
    I recently read an interesting article on Martha Gellhorn, American war journalist and once the wife of Hemingway, have you heard about her?

    I’m on my way to Hamburg now… A city many people claim would suit my character better than Berlin. Berlin tried to keep me by making my ATM card disappear, but I’m on my way now with a two hour delay. Let’s see what the harbour does to my brain.

    Hope you are doing fine,

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Hey, Max:

      I envy that you’re going to Hamburg. I’ve been fascinated by that place, from afar, ever since my Beatle-obsessed days, though of course I know there’s bound to be almost none of the Beatles’ Hamburg left.

      I think we’re programmed to forget, or to try to forget, about atrocities and to paint for ourselves as rosy a picture of human nature as we can. Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to go on.

      Oh, and thank you for this: “Especially in those cases of extreme inhumanity war journalists play a crucial role if we don’t want to sink into a swamp of misinformation, propaganda and unfounded opinion.” This is why I have immense respect for war journalists, and it was very important for me to place Sean in the company of Capa, for instance, and the others I mentioned, though there are, of course, many others I didn’t mention.

      I do know about Martha Gellhorn, having once been a Hemingway freak. I don’t know much about her life after she divorced him, however; only that she was very respected and continued to work as a journalist, I believe. I know she was friends with Eleanor Roosevelt.

      I think the harbor will do very good things to your brain! I know it would mine.

      Is there a chance that we could communicate while you’re in Hamburg? That would almost be like my being there. Well, not really. But it’s as close as I’m likely to get for a while.

      You. Are. The best.


      • Minh says:

        Page, PDY, Flynn and Stone idolized Capa so to place them in the same category is good!

        Page wouldn’t be full of holes and Flynn wouldn’t be dead if Capa didn’t exist and if Burrows wasn’t there as the transition between generations

      • Max says:

        Hey Duke,

        Martha Gellhorn’s war reports were recently translated into Germany and were praised by the press as some of the best of the 20th century. Might be worth checking out!

        Let me know if I should call you today. I’d love to.

        And hey, can I use this place to advertise myself? I recently finished my new bilingual homepage of poetry and music: http://oravin.tumblr.com/

        Your prisoner of the 21st century,

        • D.R. Haney says:

          The homepage looks great, Max. I’m going to have to look around there in depth, though I don’t speak German, of course, which limits how much I can take in. Also, maybe I should look into Martha Gellhorn. If she’s as good as all that, I’m glad that she’s enjoying a reputation in the twenty-first century as something other than Hemingway’s wife. Or one of his wives: he had four.

      • Max says:

        PS I’m already in love with Hamburg. But I’m deeply troubled by the stories of insanely rising rents. For the first time, I understand that this is not a local Berlin phenomenon but a global or at least Western one that totally redefines what living in a city means. Fucking scary! I also read an article recently that New Yorkans take over the small towns of NY State now…?
        And Duke, while I could have guessed your obsession with a character like Sean Flynn, I couldn’t say the same for the Beatles. But I’m sure Hamburg has changed completely since that time.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          If this were The Nervous Breakdown as it used to be, I can promise you that your remark about New Yorkers in small towns would have given way to a whole thread. Now that the message boards here are dead, however, there’s only me to chime in.

          Anyway, New Yorkers have been fleeing NYC for cheaper climes for a while now. It started in the eighties, when young people and artist types were priced out of Manhattan and began to move to Brooklyn. It used be a badge of dishonor to live outside of Manhattan; now, for some, it’s a badge of dishonor not to live in Brooklyn. Also, many towns just over the river in New Jersey started to be colonized by the young and artist types — often the artist types were young, of course — and I think Philadelphia got a big boost from young people who, in another age, might have moved to NYC. Anyway, yeah, the urban rent-hike thing is scary, though I didn’t realize it had spread even to Hamburg. I was going to suggest that you move to Hamburg! That would give me incentive to visit.

          I was into the Beatles as a teenager. I didn’t know anybody else who was, which was of course part of the reason, but I played the goddamned Beatles so much then that I don’t need to hear them ever again; every last goddamned note of every song tattooed on my brain, which is like a Beatle iPod.

  3. Ian Carter says:

    “His calamitous marriage to Lili seems to have permanently inclined him toward younger women; his second wife was nineteen to his thirty-three when they met at the courthouse where he was being tried for statutory rape. (Though technically guilty of the charges, he was acquitted of them.)”

    This is NOT TRUE – he never touched those girls, he was setup because Jack Warner wouldn’t pay bribes to “Officials”. The judge threw the case out of court.

    • Minh says:

      Correct! Warner didn’t pay the cops or the gangsters off so they decided to destroy his studio’s credibility by taking down their biggest star

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Hey, Ian:

      I wrote what I did based on the Jeffrey Meyers book. But, if you’re seeing this comment again, you’ll note that I have cut the passages that I copied from the Meyers book a few hours earlier.

      Hope that helps.


      • Ian Carter says:

        On behalf of the Flynn family you are are shameless for printing this slander on the day the memorial to Sean and others is unveiled obviously to get publicity for yourself. You do not mention Jack Warner! You dare do this on my FB page before checking with me!

        “We can’t always see behind the veil of public figures but sometimes the truth gets revealed by a lie that sticks regardless. For though it may not be true in fact, it is true in spirit. In November 1942 Flynn was falsely accused by two underage girls of statutory rape. He was no billed by the Grand Jury but the DA was out to make a name for himself and pressed forward with the trial. ”


        • D.R. Haney says:

          Ian, the piece is meant as a memorial to Sean, and the last thing I meant to do was upset you or anyone in the Flynn family, and believe me, there is precious little “publicity” to be had in posting a piece like this one at The Nervous Breakdown. I have revised the offending line of the piece. I thought I had it right, as you can see by the passages I copied out. But revising the comment is all I can do, it seems to me, except apologize, which I hereby do.

  4. Minh says:

    Is this written for you thesis? B plus! It’s Obvious you have never been to Prey Phadau Nau where the 11 were captured. Further mythologizing, more legend than facts!

    • D.R. Haney says:

      You are correct that I have never been to Prey Phadau Nau. I just tried to google it and got no results.

      If you don’t mind my asking, what are the facts? It’s very hard to locate much in the way of facts with regard to “the 11.” What I learned is what I wrote.

      Thank you for the B plus.

      • Minh says:

        I don’t know what are the facts on google? It’s all there right?

        • D.R. Haney says:

          It is not.

          There is a great deal of mystery, as well as controversy, surrounding the disappearance of these men. I did the best I could with what I could find, and I am not going to continue this dialogue with you. You were condescending at the start, and now you’re frankly nasty.

          I’m sorry that you aren’t pleased with the piece. I have removed the remark that upset Mr. Carter, and I corrected the typo that understandably annoyed Mr. Luehring, and when I have a chance, I am going to reword the section involving the “announcement.” But when people drop all civility and haul out the profanity — nope, I ain’t playing no more.

  5. Michael Kronenberg says:

    A gripping, beautifully written piece that I could not tear myself away from (despite numerous graphic design deadlines piling up). I tweeted a link to your piece and posted a link on Facebook.

    Framing the article with your chance meeting at the library transcends it into a piece of classic noir. My highest compliments to you.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Thanks so much, Michael.

      If I had never had that encounter, I would never have written the piece, so it had to be included, I thought. You want to think such an encounter “means” something, if you’ve ever had something odd like that happen to you? Well, I suppose I thought I was “meant” to write something about Sean Flynn.

      I hope, by now, you’re already trying to beat those deadlines.

  6. Ian Carter says:

    For the record, this story defames Errol Flynn

    Truth here


  7. Mike Luehring says:

    It’s amazing to me how many people write about Sean Flynn and get it totally wrong.

    The recovery effort for the Flynn family that David MacMillan and I ran was not in 2000 but 2010. In addition our team never “announced” we had found Sean, that was spread through the press by jealous journalists that were not present or involved in our efforts. You should mention other quotes from those Salem News articles that Tim King, David Macmillan, and myself were involved with. The next time around when we do find Sean, and we will find him, will handle it much differently.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Many apologies, Mr. Luerhing; that was a typo. I made another big one when I somehow wrote that Tim Hetherington died in Libya in 1971, not 2011. Fatigue will do that to you. Anyway, I’ve now corrected the typo, and when I have a chance, I’ll correct the way the “announcement” part is phrased. The correction of that is a little more complicated, requiring attention to getting the words just right, and I don’t have time just now to get in there and do it well.

      In fact, this piece was pared down from a much longer version that covered the search for Sean’s remains in greater detail. It seemed to me it was already running long, and it’s very hard to hold the attention of people on the Internet especially. But I do appreciate your efforts, and those of David MacMillan, and everyone else who’s worked on behalf of the Flynn family to recover Sean’s remains.

  8. A riveting, haunting and sublime short work.

    The historical implications of the individuals within your writing provoke a continued curiosity. I was enamored by the “nondescript man of sixty or so” opening and closing this delightful article.

    “… Their atrocities have never been dramatized by the world’s most popular historian, Hollywood…” Amazing. Your striking ability to intermittently disperse blatant ironies tickled me throughout.

    This was such a splendid, rich and thrilling read.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      So glad you liked it, J.T.

      But don’t you think it’s true about Hollywood? I mean, don’t you think people tend to look at it as a history teacher, even when they turn around and deride it for inaccuracy?

      I would love to speak to the guy at the courthouse right now. I should’ve pressed harder in trying to find a way to keep in touch with him.

      • D.R.,

        I agree with your assessment of Hollywood, it’s characterization and those of us who at times fall prey to the historical fallacies the film community unwittingly and at times willfully fosters.

        That said, fact more often than not is subject to the interpretation of it’s bearer. Take Mr. Carter’s objections above as example and note that he is entitled to his position as you are yours in this instance.

        Your “nondescript man of sixty or so” renders to mind old folklore, since his presence can only be described by your limited crossing.

        This piece engulfed my interest for so many reasons. It was such a delight to read.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Honestly, I really tried to hit this one out of the ballpark. I mean, I tried to cram as much stuff as possible into it, as much of the stuff that I personally find fascinating, without bogging the piece down, and that’s one thing that made it so difficult to write: I had to keep going back and weeding out details, keeping only those that were absolutely necessary to the narrative.

          At the same time, I didn’t want to write just a profile; I wanted to talk a little about journalism and the sacrifices that journalists have made and how that’s all endangered, as I see it. Also, I didn’t want to make it too heroic, and that’s where John Dolan’s piece came in. When I read that, I thought, well, you’ve got to include it, because if you don’t, you’ll end up as just another idolator.

          Oh, hold on! I see that I just got attacked again!

          Do you realize that I’ve been writing at this site for almost four years now, and I almost never — and I mean NEVER — got attacked until now? Every time I posted something, I’d think, “Okay, it’s going to happen this time; I’m going to get blasted like people always get blasted online, often for no reason.” But my Teflon finally gave, I guess.

      • Minh says:

        O f course its history its not some fucken diatribe about the men who went down there, and I’m not surprised that you couldn’t GOOGLE Prey Phadau, I kind of forgot for a second that the facts of the case in a very isolated area of Cambodia in 1970 were widely recorded on websites. Don’t look at it as history and keep on pretending that 1588 just disappeared into blue sky.Legend is more important then the truth! right?

        • D.R. Haney says:

          I got five useless hits when I GOOGLED Prey Phadau — which, by the way, you didn’t “fucken” spell the same way as you did last “fucken” time.

          Learn to “fucken” spell and maybe people can “fucken” GOOGLE things correctly.

          And I never never “pretend[ed] that 1588 just disappeared into blue sky.” I have no idea what you’re talking about. You write in riddles — badly.

          • Minh says:

            The 12 men who disappeared within 14 hours in what you call as Chi Pou wasn’t in Chi Pou it was in Prey Phadau Nau, very difficult to translate into english from Khmer maybe you fellas should chase it up instead of writing hollow stories which “lend” allot of details

            • D.R. Haney says:

              I never said they were captured n Chi Phou, kind sir or madame.

              I wrote in the first instance: “on a stretch of National Road 1, almost four miles from Chi Phou…” In fact, it was six kilometers, I read in a Cambodian report, and by my reckoning, since I figured the piece would be read mostly by Americans, that’s almost four miles.

              In the second instance when I mentioned the site of the capture, I wrote: “Sean and Dana, along with the other journalists taken prisoner near Chi Phou…” Near isn’t in. Is six kilometers not, in a case like this, near?

              A final question: Is Prey Phadau Nau also known as “the Parrot’s Beak”? Because, according to my research, that’s where all of the journalists disappeared. But again, from my understanding, that’s in the area of Chi Phou.

              That, as you say, Prey Phadau Nau is very difficult to translate into English might make for difficulties with Google, no?

              • Minh says:

                Yes unfortunately they all disappeared in a non-googleable place

                • D.R. Haney says:

                  Okay, NOW we’re getting somewhere.

                  Again, I knew about the Parrot’s Beak, but as I’ve said to others on this board, I did not want to weigh the reader down with too many names and dates, and I felt I was pushing it as it was. As long as the piece is by Internet standards, it needs to be MUCH longer to do justice to the case or the people involved. I think, for the most part, everyone who’s read the piece understands that. They haven’t read this thing thinking they’re getting the whole story. They know it’s just an introduction to the case, and to Sean and Errol (if they don’t already know much about him) and Lili and Dana and everyone else about whom I wrote, and those who want more than an introduction will hopefully be inspired to do more reading and come to their own conclusions. That was my hope, anyway.

          • Minh says:

            Yeh I write in riddles badly but you know “f#@$ all” kiddo!

            • D.R. Haney says:

              I never pretended to be, and never presented myself as, an expert. The piece is an interpretation of Sean Flynn’s life, based on what I read about him. Meanwhile, although you keep telling me, in so many words, that I’m an idiot, you have yet to say one cogent thing about Sean Flynn. All I’ve seen so far are hints that you know the whole deal, and whenever I ask for s0mething concrete, I get more hints, riddles, and insults. I may know little, but I wrote what I know. You, who seem to know all, are apparently going to keep what you know to yourself and your intimates. So be it.

              • Minh says:

                No you are wrong, the mystery is no mystery if you actually have the balls to go out there and investigate it, but yes B plus piece anyway, its great that you wrote your article for American’s like we are all too stupid to understand, and defamed Errol

                • D.R. Haney says:

                  I like Errol. I always did. I had absolutely no intention of defaming him. I’m sorry that I trimmed the piece, because what I trimmed might have made my position about him clear. I think he was a very talented, highly intelligent, accomplished man who didn’t subscribe to the narrow-minded, moralistic codes that still prevail, and I admire him for that. Also, those things that others see as faults, his drinking and drug-taking and womanizing, that’s all rock-star stuff — again, to me, attractive. In fact, it’s funny that I’ve been taken to task in this way, because I was so sure that I was going to be taken to task the other, with people writing: “You seem to LIKE this guy, when look at how AWFUL he was!” That sort of thing. I must say, I was shocked to be accused of slandering Errol and so on, but again, if I hadn’t trimmed the piece, maybe my position would’ve been clear, or anyway clearer.

                  As for getting out to really investigate the case, I’m afraid I don’t have the money to do it, though I might consider doing it if I did. And I would be interested to know if others feel that I wrote “down” to them, as you say I did. I don’t assume that people have heard of the formerly famous, that’s true, or that they know much about the Vietnam War, since it’s been almost forty years since American withdrew from the war.

                  But enough. I don’t think there’s anything I could say that would raise the kind grade you’ve given me — and I do think it’s kind, considering that you clearly dislike the piece.

  9. Mike Luehring says:

    Mr Haney perhaps you might want to read David macmillans piece the same one you lifted the photo of Sean from to get the details of the case. This way at least you will be grounded in the true facts of the case.

    • D.R. Haney says:


      I did read a piece on Salem News about the search team, including David MacMillan, and in fact copied it into a file of all of the online articles from which I built my own piece. Not all of the research I did for it was done already by others, by the way. In other words, I dug into old newspapers as much as I could, and discovered some fascinating stuff there, stuff that no one else seemed to have done much with. What I wrote about Michele Ray was taken from a newspaper article that I discovered after reading a mention of her in a piece by Tim King, where she was identified, I think, as a Cover Girl model. I was so fascinated that I began to dig into her background, and discovered that while she had been a cover girl for “Elle” magazine, she hadn’t been a a model for Cover Girls cosmetics.

      I’m very grateful to the articles about Sean that Tim King has written and posted, and not only for their help to me in writing my own piece about Sean but because they’ve helped to keep the memory of Sean and Dana alive. Obviously I am in no way involved in the search for their remains, while Tim King has kept a close watch on that search, so I couldn’t begin to hope to write something along the lines of what he’s written. Rather, my aim was to introduce Sean to those who know little or nothing about him, and today my friend J.T. posted a link to this piece on his FB page, and someone I don’t know wrote this: “This was fabulous JT, thank you so much for sharing, I was unaware of lives of those that were focused on in this piece (Sean and Dana). I am eager to read more about Sean, will look for the books mentioned in D.R.’s sources,thanks again.” That’s one of the sorts of reactions I was hoping to get. Again, I was hoping to make people aware of Sean, and Dana, and a few other fascinating personalities of their time.

      So I didn’t focus as much on the search for Sean’s remains as maybe I should have done, because my focus was on something else, and as a result, I wrote very sloppily when it came to the search. I can understand very well, I think, the frustration of not having made an announcement in 2010 that the remains had been found, only to have someone like me come along and write that such an announcement had been made. And I still mean to correct that in the piece, though it’s more complicated to perform surgery on the piece than it is for me to write this message, and I’m operating on next to no sleep. I’ll address the piece when I’ve slept a little, which I mean to do any minute now.

      About the photo you mention: it seems to me that when I went looking for photos, I saw that one reproduced two or three times, so I don’t know that I specifically took it from a piece by David MacMillan. But if he was the one who originally posted it, fair enough. It was the last photo that I inserted into the piece, and I went with it because I thought it was a particularly good shot of Sean that, of course, he had taken of himself, but I’ll gladly take it down. Believe it or not, I was very aware that I might be stepping on toes with this piece, since I was very aware that others have a legitimate claim to his story that, of course, I don’t. But I was hoping that I could bring something to the telling of his story, anyway.

      All right. This comment was long three paragraphs ago.


  10. Man, I always love it how you drop in here with a metric ton of substance and insight to anchor these pages. Not only that but an old-fashioned controversy stirred up to boot.

    I will say this about this subject which, until reading your exhaustively researched and carefully plotted essay, I knew little about: I have an empathy for Sean Flynn (and his father as well) thanks to the pieces of his life you’ve assembled. Wherever dates or places might be up for dispute or wherever you as the chronicler may make subjective claims, it’s fairly obvious to this particular reader that you’re on a search through the fog (of war, of Hollywood) trying make sense of the larger story of a person you convey a clear compassion for. That you’re doing so at a remove and not telling the definitive story seems to be part of the point.

    But what really gets me, like it always does with your pieces, is where you pull the subject back to that point where it personally haunts you, how the disappeared person (like Dean or Monroe or even Elizabeth Taylor in previous posts) is rescued momentarily in your prose before they and the moment they captured continue the steady fade from public consciousness. Flynn, less of a household name to begin with, gets this treatment here in that disappearing you strike on so well in the last paragraph. The attempt to rescue the name feels even more urgent this time around somehow.

    In any case, once again, Duke, you’ve got people paying attention.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Well, I always look forward to anything you have to say about anything I write, Nat, as I think you know by now, and you make an interesting point about Errol: he does elicit empathy. There was remark about him that I fought and fought to keep but ultimately felt I had to drop because it felt like it was tilting the piece too much toward Errol, along with other details about him, and he was mostly important to the piece as a kind of foil for Sean: the ghost that Sean was always chasing, in part, paradoxically because he didn’t want to chase him; he wanted to be free of Errol’s long shadow, while still seeking, when it was too late, his father’s approval. Anyway, the remark was from Olivia de Havilland, Errol’s frequent co-star, who once said that was wary of becoming involved with him because he was “tormented. By what I don’t know, but he was tormented.” In fact, I don’t know that Errol ever loved another woman with the kind of pure love he had for de Havilland, and she loved him, too, but somehow nothing ever happened — or so she’s insisted. It’s been speculated that she might have saved him, had they ever become a couple. He needed a woman who was as strong as Lili but without Lili’s hysteria and need to dominate. Also, a woman with a kind heart, yet wouldn’t allow herself to be a doormat. De Havilland, from the little I know about her, sounds like she may have been just the ticket.

      As for Sean, even if his remains were found tomorrow, he would still remain mysterious. We’re never going to know what he had in mind on the day he was captured, and we’re never going to know how his life might have progressed. Would he have married the girl in Bali, or remained in Bali either way? I don’t think he was as close to settling down as he indicated to people at the time he disappeared; I think his identity was still in flux, and it might have continued that way for a while to come, with interesting results.

      Anyway, you’re right: it’s a subjective account, though not as subjective as I might have wished; there are a lot of detours I would like to have taken, and that’s the sort of work I had in mind with the film-noir actor I mentioned at the start of the piece. Norman Mailer did a sort of highly subjective biography that we haven’t seen much, if at all, since he died, and that’s the kind of work that, at least once, I would like to try. It’s hard to do that in short pieces like this one — yet this piece is very long by Internet standards! But there’s so much that could’ve been included that wasn’t.

      I do think, by the way, that it helps when a writer has some personal connection to the famous person whom he or she is trying to profile. I mean, if you don’t have that, all you have is the usual trotting out of known facts; a personal connection helps to make a piece come to life, I believe. In this case all I had was that moment in the basement of the courthouse, but that was even less than I had with Marilyn Monroe, yet I had even more trouble with this piece than I had with the one about her. On the other hand, this piece is roughly 2000 words longer.

      Ah, fuck it. Trying to write well is always a struggle, period. I don’t know that I succeeded here but I did as best I could do.

      I’m exhausted, operating on practically no sleep.

      You’re a good man, Nat. You’re a good man.

      Do I sound as exhausted as I am? Have I made any sense at all?

      • Honestly, you don’t sound exhausted, though I’ll take your word for it. When I try to write or comment exhausted, I end up with the syntax of Yoda and the clarity of a Parisian wino. If only most internet voices working on nine hours sleep and pounders of Red Bull had half the acuity that you do on zero.

        As far as subjectivity goes, I mentioned subjective claims being probably too generous to your detractors who’d shown up here. You’re right that you could have gone much more subjective, and written with significantly more conjecture than you did. I know I would have had I attempted to tackle this subject. Including likely imagined dialogues between the principals. Journalism always escapes me.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Despite what you say, I’m afraid to read my last comment, thinking it’s going to have the syntax of Yodo and the clarity of a Parisian wino. Jesus, are there Parisian winos? How can winos afford Paris? Even cobblestones must make for expensive bedding.

          I took journalism courses in high school, and was editor of the school newspaper, and I was about to say that I’ve forgotten everything I used to know, except a second later I thought, “Really?” and a lot of shit came back to me. The most interesting journalism, of course, occurs when the writer is allowed to write with his or her own voice, as with Mailer and Didion and Thompson, and not in the voice of the journal. You would think the Internet would be the perfect way for such writers to develop, but if there’s an Internet Didion, I’m unaware of her. I would elaborate on this point, but I have to run to the bank — which maybe I should rob.

          • One name that I’ve come across practicing this kind of most interesting journalism is John Jeremiah Sullivan. I may have said this before, but if you haven’t come across his collection of essays Pulphead, it’s worth checking out.

            Winos continue to be the best of Paris, the older ones that is, who refuse to take advantage of group squatter’s rights and park themselves in the middle of the roundabout.

            • D.R. Haney says:

              I do remember hearing something about Pulphead,, whether that was from you or someone else. Either way, thanks for the reminder. But were the essays originally posted online?

              Also, I’m glad to know that winos continue to inhabit Paris. Winos are a great urban tradition, and Paris must have them! Long live the winos!

  11. mo says:

    i thought this was a lovely and evocative profile of sean flynn. as you know, duke, i’m a big fan of that david niven memoir you mentioned and i couldn’t help but pull it off the shelf to find the passage that you mentioned. i remembered it dimly: i knew niven bumped into him at a party but on looking at the passage, i noticed it was how he introduced his section about errol, his friend and one-time roommate by introducing him through the tragic disappearance of his son (niven’s book was published in 1975). i think it’s very evident that you’ve investing this essay with a great deal of respect and empathy for errol and for sean and have done a good job of introducing him to the many people who don’t have the more intimate details of his life and disappearance at their fingertips. i appreciate how passionate people can get about somebody who goes missing, and i can’t even imagining how difficult it must have been for his mother and for the family sean left behind. that said, i didn’t think you were trying to present this as an authoritative account of his life. i do appreciate you saw fit to make some revisions but i read this before they occurred and i think you’ve done a good job of trying to assuage concerns without really affecting the flow of the piece. it rather reminds me of the profiles i used to read in the new yorker, when i used to read the new yorker (do they still do those? i imagine they do), in particular a classic one where the playright lillian hellman profiled ernest hemingway, and i took in that fashion: one man’s perspective on the life of another, in the fashion of compassionate memoir, and i’m sorry some of these other comments indicate that people might have construed it that way. we’ve never met in real life, but i’ve read your voice many times, and it seems to me that i can only see compassion and wistfulness, and esteem in this essay. i’d be happy to read any such memoir you wish to tackle because i believe it would be handled with the same even-handed empathy that i see here. congratulations of a fine and considered piece.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Thanks, Mo.

      I hope that, eventually, the recent French biography of Sean is translated into English. As far as I know, it’s the only book to date that focuses only on Sean. Even “Two of the Missing” is equally about Sean and Dana, apparently. I aim to read that one at some point in the future. It’s supposed to be very good. Anyway, I did struggle for accuracy, though some of the information I read was contradictory. For example, a footnote in the Jeffrey Meyers book said that everything in Sean’s flat in Paris was sold by one of his French girlfriends to pay for her drug habit. Obviously, that isn’t true, though what may be true is that, contrary to what was said in the magazine piece about no one entering the flat for twenty years after Sean disappeared, someone did in fact enter it and take anything of value. Also, when I wrote that Sean was popular with his fellow journalists in Vietnam, I could have mentioned that some viewed him with suspicion — you know: “Oh, here’s some movie star’s kid who wants to play war correspondent” — as mentioned by Herr in “Dispatches,” but to me the Dolan piece, while retroactive, amounted to a similar perspective on Sean, and for me it was a more interesting one because it made something larger of it.

      Personally, as I wrote to Nat above, I like subjective biography. I mean, biography is always and inevitably subjective, so why not say so, in the style of new journalism, up front? That’s why, for instance, I like Mailer’s biographies of Picasso (though it really only focuses on Picasso’s early years in Paris) and Marilyn Monroe and Lee Harvey Oswald. In what may be his best book, “The Executioner’s Song,” about Gary Gilmore, Mailer “disappears,” though you can feel him there in the margins.

      Meanwhile, you’re the only other person I know who’s read “Bring on the Empty Horses,” and of course the name of that book comes from the chapter on Flynn. I no longer have a copy of it, but I (apparently wrongly) remember the incident about Sean as going like this: Niven was in somewhere in southern France at a hotel in the early sixties, and this kid got out of the hotel swimming pool and came up to him and said something like, “I know you used to know my father, and I don’t want to hear anything about him,” and walked away. That would be a rare instance of rudeness on Sean’s part. Anyway, Niven had no idea who he was, and then a girl, a stranger, said to Niven, “That’s Sean Flynn. Isn’t he beautiful?” As I said in the piece, that word tends to come up in memories of Sean. Then Niven the narrator says, “Yes, he was, and I’m still upset that he’s missing in Vietnam.” I don’t remember any elaboration along the lines of, “He was working as a photojournalist,” and so on, and I think it stuck in my memory because I had the impression that Sean had been in the military. Anyway, I never gave him any thought until I read “Dispatches” years later. I never even connected Sean to the Clash song about him. I thought that song was about some Irish freedom fighter or something. I mean, there are bound to be a lot of Sean Flynns.

      Did Lillian Hellman profile Hemingway? I know another Lillian — the “New Yorker” writer Lillian Ross — profiled him, and apparently she got a lot of shit for it. She had him talking like: “Me go write now. Fight Tolstoy. Maybe win this time.” But, if that’s how she wrote it, that was bound to be the way he spoke to her. Also, as you may know, Dorothy Parker really had a thing for Hemingway. She was obsessed with winning his approval, and practically every time she wrote something or wore a new dress, she would say, “Do you think Ernest will like it?” So I remember reading somewhere.

      Thanks again, Mo. I believe this marks your TNB debut! Previously you’ve written to me privately, or anyway elsewhere, about stuff I’ve posted here.

  12. Brilliant, man. This is by far my favorite of your TNB essays. I have such a shitty attention span that I really struggle these days to read anything substantial, but this kept me gripped from start to finish, and honestly I was totally ignorant about Sean from the start. Never even heard his name before.

    S.E. Asia, as you know, has always been particularly interesting to me. Well, not always, but it is now and has been for a while. (I didn’t read this until now because I was in Thailand.) I started writing something at the end of last year about someone who goes to look for his father who went missing in Vietnam… except it wasn’t Vietnam, of course, because while we call it the Vietnam War, most Americans were posted in Thailand and most of the flights went over Cambodia and Lao. Anyway, that was a piece of crap story that has been subsequently abandoned but I still would like to write something about that part of the world.

    The quote about Hetherington being a handsome face and a semi-famous name lost in conflict, too, is true. I remember his death and being really saddened… but I don’t think I really knew anything about him. Why should I be saddened about his death when there are so many others every day? It’s the fact that people care about people like him more than the average guy in the street, and so when he dies they pull at the heart strings, yet when someone bombs a school…

    • D.R. Haney says:

      That you were gripped by the piece from start to finish, David, is already great praise. In fact, I myself skim most things I read online, and I knew it would be tempting for many to skim a piece as long as this one, which is after all about an obscure (to most) figure from the past, and the past is of less and less interest in a world obsessed with now, so I really worked my fingers to the bone to try to make this thing as compelling as I was capable of making it.

      The postwar period up to and including the sixties is, obviously, of great interest to me. It seems to become more interesting to me all the time, maybe because it’s become more and more clear that the sixties paved the way for today’s world in more ways than one. A friend who teaches recently told me that his students hate anything related to the sixties; they don’t even like the music, or, as he put it, “Listening to Jimi Hendrix would be their idea of hell.” He thinks that’s because the conflicts of the sixties have never been resolved, so, without knowing it, kids carry the tension of the sixties and naturally dislike the source of it — an original theory, I thought. However, the same kids, he has said, love anything that has to do with the seventies, which, it could be argued, were the sixties lite. Anyway, I have vague plans to write a novel that has to do with the sixties, though it wouldn’t entirely be about that, and of course the war would have to be mentioned in it, though I don’t have plans to place any of my characters in Vietnam (or Thailand or Laos).

      I was accused by someone above of mythmaking, or words to that effect, but certainly Hetherington belongs to the myth of the noble war correspondent, which is why his death resulted in so much news coverage, and of course he looked the part. I left out that another journalist, Chris Hondros, was killed as a result of that mortar shelling in Libya, because I was only going to deal with Hetherington in detail, but for some reason Chris Hondros, though American, didn’t elicit the outpouring that Hetherington generated – maybe because Hetherington had co-directed a documentary that was nominated for an Oscar. But I don’t think Sean has ever quite fit into the myth of the noble war correspondent, since some blamed him for his own death, and his background is just so unusual. But for me he fits that myth as good as any, and even Capa became a photojournalist by way of paying the bills and so could be accused of opportunism and exploitation and so on. Anyway, to repeat myself, I think appearance and prestige work on us even when we don’t know they are. I did, after all, write about Sean Flynn and not, except for a few mentions, Dana Stone.

      • The seventies and eighties have never been of much interest to me for some reason. The forties, fifties, and sixties are far more fascinating, I feel. Maybe it’s the Beat connection… I don’t know. I remember in American History class just having a lesson where we listened to music from the sixties for maybe an hour or two hours, whatever length those classes were. And everyone loved it. We were all students, of course, and that was basically what we did at home, minus the weed and computer games. Bob Dylan, Jefferson Airplane… For some reason, everyone just loved the sixties. I suspect it might have been related to the fact that we were going through the who Iraq War bullshit and so people were attracted to the spirit of rebellion. Or maybe it’s just one of those periods that students will always look back fondly upon, because the primary figures in the textbooks and whatnot were rebels. I seem to recall the same positive attitude studying Coleridge and co.

        That doesn’t really explain my lack of interest in the seventies and eighties. Even when I study Ginsberg or Burroughs, or write about them or read their bios or work, I get to about 1969 and just fade out. Maybe I’m just a hippy at heart, born a few decades too late…

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Well, you know, as a former punk rocker — though it could be said that, as with “once a Catholic,” there’s no such thing — I was trained in the idea that the punk and hippie movements were antithetical, but you may recall (but who rightfully could be bothered to remember?) that I argued in “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth,” my only TNB piece longer than this one, that punk was a belated response to the hippie movement, and was adding what the latter left out. Anyway, both were rebel movements, so both are interesting to me. I can’t help it; rebellion in whatever form tends to be of interest to me, and my main complaint about pop culture since the sixties is that, with the exception of punk, there’s been less and less in the way of rebellion, except for a prefab imitation of it; there’s a tremendous amount of that.

          Personally, I begin to doze off after 1970, but that there would ever have been a course in American History in Scotland is fairly mind-blowing to me, since I was barely taught any non-American history in twelve years of public education. I remember a smattering of world history, most of it focused on Athens and WWII, in the fifth and sixth grades, but after that, nothing. But on my own, starting around age eleven, I read about English and Russian history, being fascinated by the Tudor period (after I had seen, on TV, a movie about Henry VIII, titled “Anne of the Thousand Days,” with Genevieve Bujold, who was one of my first celebrity crushes) and the Bolshevik Revolution (which started when I read an account of Rasputin’s bizarre assassination in my home encyclopedia). That I had to educate myself as a child in all the ways that mattered to me, is, I’m sure, one of the reasons that I lost interest in school and never planned to continue with so-called higher education after I was done with high school.

          As for Coleridge and the other Romantics — ha! no one ever mentioned them to me when I was in school. I knew about the Romantic movement from reading books about American Indians — you know, that whole Rousseau thing about the noble savage, etc. But whenever an eighteenth- or nineteenth-century painting of American Indians was shown in those books, it was usually (and rightly) mocked as a product of the Romantic sensibility. I didn’t associate Byron and Shelley (who were characters, briefly, in “The Bride of Frankenstein,” which I had seen on TV as a child) with the Romantics; I thought of them as irrelevant fops until, as a young adult, I finally understood that they were celebrity rebels very roughly equivalent in the twentieth century to Elvis or Brando or James Dean — whose middle name, by the way, was Byron.

          Oh, and General Custer had a dog named Byron.

          • I’ve always felt that since the sixties the main problem with rebellion is that has become too fashionable. Not that it wasn’t the case in the sixties, but I feel that this sincerity has been taken out of it. I remember being in high school when the second Iraq War began, and students were rioting and flipping cars and so forth… but it was all so absolutely devoid of reason. A tiny minority seemed to care or understand, and the rest were very much thinking, “Shit, this is cool.” Not to demean the genuine protests and interests of protesters today, but I really do think that whenever a cause is championed, a fucking huge number of the protesters are just there to spice up their Twitter feed or grab a couple of neat photos to put on Instagram.

            American history was always fascinating to me, and British history just so dull and boring. I realize how ridiculous that sounds. When I tell people I studied US history at university, they always sneer, “What history?” But I don’t know, each to their own. It just always appealed to me. Maybe because it’s so recent. It’s harder to get into the mindset of someone living a thousand or two thousand years ago than it is with someone hundred or fifty years back. Besides, the influence of US culture on the world today means that we are all quite Americanized and therefore it’s easier still to understand or feel that element of history.

            It’s interesting that you mention self-education, too. That’s definitely something that endeared me to US history and lit. In school we were taught about European history, and that bored me to tears. In fact, if they’d taught me American history it would’ve been just as dull. Like you, I got off on what I read in my own time. That’s probably why today I still spend hours looking at maps and re-reading Zinn’s People’s History.

            I did not know his middle name was Byron. That’s amazing. I was maybe 18 when I first read Byron and it really blew my mind, again because of the rebellious thing. His poem “Darkness” is still one of my favorites:

            “I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
            The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
            Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
            Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
            Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air…”

            It was written in 1816 when a volcanic eruption actually threw enough dust into the atmosphere to create a few months of darkness across Europe.

            • D.R. Haney says:

              I do remember reading about that volcano, though I don’t remember reading that poem. Thanks.

              Not of course that it matters, but I had the impression that most of Byron’s “serious” poetry, his most “Byronic,” isn’t esteemed any longer; his present-day reputation as a writer is based on “Don Juan” and his letters, which are wonderful — the best ever written in English, it’s been said, and some of the best letters ever written, period. (Only Flaubert’s letters are said to be better.) As for “Don Juan,” I never read it in its entirely, but what I did read is a hoot. Anyway, he cast a huge shadow over culture all over the civilized world for a good hundred years or so; for many people, he exemplified “the poet.” His portraits helped considerably, though they made him appear more svelte than he usually was; he struggled with his weight and would sometimes starve off the extra pounds. I seem to remember reading somewhere that he would wire his mouth shut so that he was unable to eat. But I’m sure you already know all that.

              I agree that rebellion became too fashionable, though of course what we’ve seen since the sixties has mostly been a pose of rebellion, a glib attitude without any foundation. Also, many of the sixties radicals folded after 1970 or so, which is why punks would always say, “Never trust a hippie.” I think Kent State was the turning point. It was just too dangerous, a lot of young people apparently concluded, to stand up and speak out.

              About contemporary protests: I remember reading a column by Matt Taibbi about protests against the war in Iraq when it began, and he said it was obvious that the protests were going to fail because the demonstrators would constantly take breaks to go sit in restaurants and that sort of thing, as if showing up and holding a few signs was enough. Hey, we did our thing, okay? Now let’s eat! Also, I watched a terrific BBC documentary by Adam Curtis, titled “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace,” and the first part ended with a thing about various “revolutions” in Eastern Europe in the early 2000s, including the one in Ukraine, and basically what happened was, people all got together and demanded change, they got it, then they basically went home and within a year or two things went right back to the way they had been, or worse. I suspect that, if Occupy had resulted in the kind of change it desired, the exact same thing would have happened. Again, people increasingly seem to think that protest alone is enough.

              About American history, I’m reminded of a quote by Gertrude Stein. I’ll have to cut and paste it, since I can’t perfectly recall the quote: “America created the 20th century, and since all the other countries are now either living or commencing to be living a 20th-century life, America having begun the creation of the 20th century in the sixties of the 19th century is now the oldest country in the world.” I think there’s something to that. Also, people mock L.A. especially for its lack of history, but in fact L.A. has a fascinating history, as far as I’m concerned, and if L.A. is as shallow as it’s often accused of being, the movies made there have had a huge impact on the world, which the French have always recognized, just as the French have always recognized what’s best about American culture, seeing things that Americans themselves have been incapable of seeing or appreciating.

              Like you, I used to favor American history over any other, but travel changed that for me; I would be told by locals about this or that thing that happened and find myself fascinated. I’ve never been to another country where people were as indifferent to their history as so many Americans are indifferent to theirs. We’re obsessed with the new and with what’s around the corner here. The old is just that: old. “Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead,” Blake wrote, and that’s exactly what Americans do, though not because some old, irrelevant poet said so.

              I love maps, and like you, will sometimes sit and study them. I still have a huge world atlas, which I prefer to online maps, as you won’t be surprised to hear; I just enjoy holding such a big book and letting my eye go where it will, instead of entering a location into a search box and having the computer call it up, to the exclusion of everything surrounding it. My atlas is falling apart, but that’s another of its appeals; I like that objects have a lifespan, that they age and deteriorate. It’s nice to see that my atlas is worn as the result of constant handling, you know what I mean? It has a character that impersonal online maps don’t have.

              • Despite my appreciation for technical doohickeys I do absolutely prefer old maps. Unfortunately – or not, I suppose, when I think about it – travelling so much means I rely on digital ones just because I can’t bring a suitcase full of atlases with me when I travel.

                But do you know what I like best about old maps? The world keeps changing… the human world, anyway – the world of nations and states… but the old maps stay the same. Whenever I make it back to Scotland I look through this giant atlas my mum gave me that has countries that don’t even exist anymore. It blows my mind. People go on Google Maps and point out shit like planes and people fucking in carparks and weird shit in North Korea… but somehow I really like looking at a map and saying, “Oh yeah, that used to actually be a country…”

                • D.R. Haney says:

                  Well, obviously, you travel far more than I do, David.

                  But my personal, and haggard, atlas includes maps of countries with their former borders, though those maps are smaller, and in a separate area of the book, than the main maps.

                  I don’t know. In terms of getting from one local spot to another, digital maps are bound to be more practical and therefore better; but when it comes to a larger perspective, including historical perspective, I tend to go for old-fashioned maps. Those are the ones I go back to study. I never think twice about the path from the metro to the place of rendezvous once I’ve successfully navigated that path.

                  • Whenever I come home from a trip, I try to save my maps. Any time I go someplace I’ll pick up a tourist map in the airport or bus station – one of those shitty paper ones covered in ads for local business – and I’ll follow it about for a few days. By the time I come home, even 24 hrs later, it’s usually totally fucked. I mean, shredded and smudged and has inexplicable holes in it. And I find these really fascinating relics of a trip, even more so than a photo or – god forbid – a souvenir. (I hate souvenirs.)

                    • D.R. Haney says:

                      I once drove what I considered a tremendous distance in a week, from LA to Seattle to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and from there to the Grand Canyon and then back to LA via Vegas, and I would stop on the road and take account of my map, and I swear, when I did so, I didn’t hear a sound or see anything other than the map I was studying while making notes in its margins. It seemed like a milestone when I finally trashed that map — because, I basically decided, it was just a souvenir.

                      But I wish now that I had saved it, if only so that I could see what I wrote in the margins.

  13. Zara Potts says:

    Now, see. This is the kind of thing I long to read when I open my magazines. I knew nothing of Sean Flynn and yet I read every word as if he was somebody I used to know.
    You have such a lovely documentarian eye. No detail escapes, you make me think for longer about things that I wouldn’t usually think about at all. That is a gift.
    I’m going to flick you a link to a story that was covered here in NZ about a young guy who disappeared into the bowels of Tuol Sleng in Cambodia. He was the brother of a very famous sportsman here, and there are parallels to your story.
    Fantastic writing, D. Just wonderful.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      As Becky said of James Irwin after he first became a contributor at TNB: Thank God you’re here!

      There were many details I wanted to include but didn’t. But while I did intend the piece as a profile, I was hoping it would also spur a little thought — about the future of journalism, about human cruelty, about the various ways that we’re influenced by fame, including the way that Sean was influenced by his father’s fame — and I’m glad, of course, that you say it made you think, Z.

      Now: where’s that link? Oh, and isn’t your birthday coming up soon, or has it already passed? Either way: happy birthday, Z.


      Oh, and where’s that link?

      • Zara Potts says:

        No, Thank God, YOU’RE here! – You know there’s an Australian comedy programme called ‘Thank God You’re Here.” – I always think of that show when I hear those words!
        I’ve left a link on your FB page. But I need to call you soon!
        Birthday still on its way – saturday. Jinkers.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          How long has “Thank God You’re Here” been on the air? I ask because I recently watched an Australian movie, set in the nineties, titled “Snowtown” — you’ll know what it’s about — and you constantly hear the sound of TV comedies in the background. It’s a great movie, I think: probably, aside from “Psycho,” the best I’ve ever seen about a serial killer. I really had to work myself up to watching it, assuming I was in for some upsetting shit, and I didn’t assume wrong. It’s profoundly disturbing, and that’s why I think it’s great: while it doesn’t wallow in gore, it refuses to pull punches. Also, it clearly links the horrors it shows to the banality of pop culture, as with the TV always playing in the background, which is equated in the movie with, for instance, a horrid diet: there are many scenes of people eating greasy slop.

          Where am I? Oh, right.

          I love that a TNB post can inspire phone calls. I’ll look forward to yours, Z. And don’t sweat the birthday; you look gorgeous, as many have told you, in your recent wedding photos, and I don’t say that in the spirit of the old “mendacious” (as I sometimes used to refer to it) TNB.


          • Zara Potts says:

            Oh god, Snowtown is just HORRIFYING. It’s an awful, awful movie. One I couldn’t quite get out of my head, even though I shut my eyes for a lot of the scenes. What’s so awful about it is that it’s true and that awful man that plays the killer is just so believable. You’re totally right, it’s the banality and boredom and the waiting for something, anything, to happen that is so very frightening. Adelaide, where it’s set, is the capital of murders in Australia. I know you liked ‘Animal Kingdom’ – which I loved to, and ‘This is England’ – but ‘Snowtown’ is something else.
            It’s the kind of movie you don’t want to have in your dvd collection because it just feel grim.
            You are too sweet to be so kind – but I’ll take the compliment! thank you! Look forward to talking to you, D.

            • D.R. Haney says:

              But, again, Z., I had to appreciate, as much as I was appalled by “Snowtown,” at how it didn’t hint at horror, as so many other movies do, especially those made in America. It really took you there. It’s the real thing. It only stops short in that it only shows you a couple of scenes of one of the victims being tortured by his killers, and even then you’re only shown brief samples — but the samples are more than enough! — of him being tortured. But I don’t think that’s shown by way of titillation; I think the movie really wants you to understand how atrocious all of the crimes of the case were, including the rape of the main character by his half-brother. If evil is, per the cliche, banal, this is a movie that, more than any other I’ve ever seen, really makes that clear. I felt as if, by seeing it, I’d been changed a little, and I can almost never say that of movies.

              But enough about “Snowtown.” I look forward to speaking to you, too.


  14. seanbeaudoin says:

    This is a great piece of journalism. Fascinating and very deep. It made me want to bring up 23 different things for discussion, perhaps most pressingly Robert Capa, but I will table them in favor of simply saying bravo.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Yeah, I guess this is an example of my new “journalist” style, as pioneered with the MM piece. I aim to write a number of others like it for a collection of movie-related stuff, but I also plan to write some “personal” pieces, since I’m not sure that many readers can endure a whole book of this type of thing. Anyway, I want to mix it up, you know, and hopefully even work in a few laughs, since God only knows there aren’t many laughs to be mined in pieces like this one.

      Obviously, I’m a huge Capa admirer. I even started reading in the bathtub after learning that he used to do that, starting when he was a teenager. The bathroom was the only place he could find any privacy in his family’s crowded flat in Budapest.

      All right, that’s one topic of discussion down, twenty-two to go, but I won’t hold you to that. I’ll depart with the bravo before it’s rescinded, and offer my gratitude in return.

  15. Joanne says:

    What a fascinating and thought-provoking essay. My feelings about Sean Flynn are torn between sadness regarding the tragedy of his ultimate end, and frustration about the thoughtlessness with how he threw away his life. In hindsight he seems incredibly naive. Ooh, let’s go to a foreign country and get captured! Funsies! What great pictures we’ll get! And… as a result… he was most likely tortured to death. His poor mom.

    Is there some kind of moral to the story here? When I was a university student back in the ’90s, I spent a great deal of time in Belfast, and would regularly go tripping off in dangerous parts of town to take photos and sketch things. I suppose something Really Bad could have happened, but I didn’t think of it. Was it just because I was lucky? Was it because I had a reasonably good head on my shoulders? God knows.

    Anyway, this post is really well-written. Ignore the trolls!

    • D.R. Haney says:

      The trolls seem to have retreated beneath the bridge, thank God, though I always half expect to hear more from them.

      Anyway, here’s what’s interesting to me: last night I dreamed that this piece had won some sort of award. I never have dreams like that, and although I constantly dream of work in progress — usually anxiety dreams in which there are typos I haven’t corrected or there’s a paragraph that desperately needs to be rewritten — this piece went up months ago, and I’m on to other things, right?

      Well, what happens? I wake and immediately receive notification of your comment. So there’s some support if you believe dreams are prophetic. Yes, I’ve decided your comment is an award. Why the hell not?

      About the moral of Sean Flynn’s story: If there is one, I think it has to do, murkily, with family legacy, and possibly with fame. Sean was clearly, deeply, ambivalent about his father, just as he must have been ambivalent about his father’s fame, which opened doors for him even as he knew, every time he walked through one of those doors, that he was encouraging comparisons to Errol. So I think he was competing with Errol, and since he was bound to have known about his Errol’s Spanish Civil War adventure, he was trying to better him in an area in which Errol, in the opinion of many, had failed.

      But I sometimes get the feeling that something deeper was at work, that Sean was almost genetically predisposed to take the risks he did, or he was anyway so deeply wounded by his sense of having been abandoned by Errol that he might just as well have been genetically predisposed to take such risks. Only the most extreme remedy would do, if I’m making any sense. There’s something mysterious about it all that I feel I can almost, but not quite, palpate.

      I’m glad nothing Really Bad happened to you in Belfast, or otherwise. I used to take a lot of idiotic chances. It’s a wonder I’m still alive, really.

      Thanks again for posting your thoughts and making a dream come true.

  16. Duke, a wonderful and well researched article. A topic you clearly are passionate about, and that shows through. For anyone interested in further referencing Sean Flynn, detailing his demise, there’s a Tim Page doco titled ‘Danger on the Edge of Town’, in which he tracked what he believed to be Flynn and Stone’s movements as POWs.

    Read more: Claims of Sean Flynn Remains in Cambodia Spark Feud – TIME http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1983766,00.html#ixzz2mMsD7ODV

    I’ve long been fascinated by Errol Flynn and his legacy. A remarkably flawed human being, very self destructive and an unsurpassed bacchanalian liver of life. But at the same time a great questioner of our existence, and why we’re here. A difficult task to live up to the image of the larger than life and largely absentee father, Sean was no doubt searching for himself in Vietnam, as many of us do in our inner and external travels.

    Cheers, Philip

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Hey, Philip:

      Good to “meet” you.

      It’s funny; I renamed this piece the other day — it was posted originally in February, as you may have seen — and in doing so I accidentally erased its Facebook history, but since then it seems to have been read by two people, including you. (The other read didn’t comment publicly.) Anyway, it’s rare for people to read a post that’s been up that long and comment about it, in my experience, so thanks for that, as well as for what you say.

      I had, shall we say, some firsthand experience with at least one person involved in the “feud” of your TIME link. I tried to locate a copy of “Danger on the Edge of Town” while I was researching the piece, but I didn’t have any luck. I still hope to find a copy at some stage. Meanwhile, I followed this piece with one about Jim Morrison — I’m slowly amassing a nonfiction collection — and in the course of researching that one, I learned that Tim Page knew Morrison. He took this photo, among others:


      Errol is a fascinating character. It was difficult to not write about him at greater length in the piece, since I agree that Sean was trying to live up to an image of his father. It occurs to me now that a connecting theme of my proposed collection is the impact that movie images have on us; it’s come up in every piece I’ve written so far. Huh. Well, there’s my epiphany of the day — as if I have one every day.

      Sean’s self-destructive streak is easier to explain, I think, than Errol’s. What was it, I wonder, that made Errol as “tormented” as his great (unrequited?) love Olivia de Havilland said he was? He had everything, it would seem.

      I had a glance at your website, and I envy your travels. I haven’t made it to Asia or, for that matter, Australia, but I aim to amend that in the future. Do you ever make it to Los Angeles? I see that you’ve made films, and filmmakers are so often drawn here. It’s how I ended up in the tar pit.

      I’m joking. I think.


  17. Cheers for your reply Duke.
    I’ve been wanting to write a screenplay based on Errol for a few years now … have started more than once but have reached brick walls each time. Not wanting an action adventure but wishing to show the man through his actions – both the careless extrovert and the inner man which held a sensitivity and enquiring philosophy. And to show the reasons for him being such a tormented soul (his parents relationship, his upbringing).

    I’ve read numerous biographies and books referring to Flynn (yes, the chapter in Niven’s Bring On The Empty Horses is great, as is Inherited Risk). Main problem has been trying to create a make believe narrative involving real characters (his friends and cohorts), while covering just a short period. Liberties have to be taken with realities to show his complexities. I’m still trying!
    A good friend of mine is close with Tim Page. I’ve never met him, though would be fascinating to talk with him about SF, though I sense he is well tuned to protecting his own image (good with his self promotion) as a war photographer.

    Yes, from all accounts it was an unrequited relationship between Olivia and Errol. His torment I think came from his upbringing, a warm but largely unavailable father (a situation unintentionally recreated in the Errol/Sean relationship), and a selfish/self centred mother with whom he had a life long conflict. He was always a rebel, and largely selfish I think, no matter what he was doing – and that lead to conflict in friendships, marriages, work and play.

    BTW, I only found out about this article and the web site via a posting on the Errol Flynn blog of which I’m a member – you may find some fun here:


    Yeap, hope to be back in LA before long – I lived in SF a while. I like that part of the world. You write v well – was the article written for a publication or borne out of your passion and self expression?

    Cheers, Philip

    • D.R. Haney says:

      I suppose it was something of the latter. A few months had passed since my encounter with the man at the L.A. courthouse, and I had never stopped thinking about it, and I finally thought, well, I’ll never write a screenplay about Sean, but I could do something else with the research I did for the screenplay. I felt as if this encounter had happened for a reason, you know? But the truth is, really, that I wanted to give it a reason.

      I’ve been a contributor to this online magazine for four and a half years now, and many of my earlier pieces had been collected and published as a book, and this piece cinched the proposed next book, which I mentioned already to you. I wrote a piece about Marilyn Monroe to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of her death, and an idea for a book of similar pieces was proposed to me around then, but it wasn’t, again, until this piece that I began to take the idea seriously. The first book was all memoir; this kind of writing, which combines memoir and journalism, was new to me until that MM piece, which I undertook almost as a dare. She’s just so famous, you know? How do you write about someone so famous? But I did manage, I flattered myself, to find a way to do it.

      I’ve been asked a few times why I never proceeded with the screenplay about Sean. I didn’t because I learned that his nephew was writing a script about him, and I figured his script would stand a much better chance of attracting investors than mine, and as someone who made his living for a long time as a screenwriter, I knew that it’s pointless to write a script that doesn’t stand any chance of being financed. But Sean is a much easier character to convey in a film, I think, than Errol, who’s larger than life, a kind of Australian prototype of Neal Cassady. I don’t know that there are people like Errol any longer. They were always rare, of course, but how many people seek adventure in a time when “adventure” for most amounts to visiting a new Web site or buying furniture online? Our expectations of life are greatly diminished, I’m afraid.

      I read somewhere — was it in “Inherited Risk”? — that Errol killed a man in New Guinea, and I always thought that had something to do with his later torment. Then, too, he may have recognized the toll that his selfishness took on others while feeling powerless to curb it. We believe we can transform for the better, especially if we’re visited by ghosts on Christmas Eve, but I’m not that optimistic, generally speaking. “Stop me before I kill again” is closer to the truth that I’ve seen, alas, time and again.

      I’m not surprised that Tim Page tries to live up to his legend, or anyway promotes it in various, sometimes invisible ways. Oh, and I tried to leave a comment of thanks at the Flynn blog, but the site wouldn’t recognize my registration, so I sent a private message to the webmaster, if that term is still in usage. Thank you for alerting me to the link at the blog. I’m glad this piece has passed muster with a few Errol Flynn fans. It incensed others, because I originally wrote that he was technically guilty of the charges against him in his statutory-rape case, and I still believe that’s true, though I don’t think he should ever have been charged and tried, and of course the corruption of the D.A.’s office led to the charges. Anyway, Errol’s guilt or innocence wasn’t so important to the piece that it had to be mentioned either way, though I did think his promiscuity was important to Sean’s development. Sean wasn’t a womanizer, I think, because his father was one. But as I’m repeating what I said, more or less, in the piece, I should probably stop here.

      • Hi Duke,
        That’s an interesting take re the source of his troubles being from when it’s alleged he killed a tribesman in NG somewhere around ’29/30. Truth is he was already a wretch, a rebel and a rake before he left Australia. He also did a stint at blackbirding (more or less slave driving) during his NG days as well … something else it seems he had no guilt or angst toward. And there are those who attributed his demise to the Statutory Rape case, but he’d already been drinking heavily a while before that. I’d attribute his self destructive qualities mostly to his lifelong conflict with his selfish mother, and specifically that early childhood period which is most critical to anyone’s development. Anyway, the strongest themes of my few attempts at a screenplay was based on the mother/son relationship.

        Now that you mention it, may be it wouldn’t be a bad idea for me to refashion my screenplay efforts on Flynn into a short story, or an article not unlike your Sean Flynn beauty. As you point out, writing for the screen has such limited potential. I’m already put off. My collaborator on my most recent short film has been in the industry for more than 15 years, written at least 20 screenplays, with a couple of those optioned but to date none made into a feature. He’s recently turned his talents to be a novelist, and on his first effort already had his first novel published (Kirk Kjeldsen’s Tomorrow City) … better odds.

        Sean Flynn’s nephew may be writing a screenplay and have better odds at raising finance but he may not have the talent to create a tight and engaging story. Another of Errol’s grandsons (a model cum actor) supposedly wrote a screenplay about Errol’s days in NG, but that doesn’t seem to have amounted to anything to date. So I don’t believe a screenplay involving Sean written by anyone outside the Flynn clan should necessarily be dead in the water.
        A few months ago a new film on Flynn, ‘The Last of Robin Hood’ (with Kevin Kline as an ageing Flynn), with a storyline revolving around his relationship with Beverly Aadland (15 yo when they first met when he was 47) over the last couple years of his life, opened at Toronto Film Festival. There’s still life in the old dog yet!
        Where can your book of memoirs be found? I’ll check out your MM piece and look forward to finding out more about the 2nd.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          The first nonfiction collection, most of which is memoir, is called “Subversia.” I’m posting this link not as a suggestion to buy it but by way of telling you a little more about it:


          The new collection doesn’t have a title, but everything in it will be related, one way or another, to film. I have quite ways to go with it, alas. Matters such as Christmas get in the way.

          I well remember a quote from three-year-old Errol, about his vain mother, in “Inherited Risk: “Evidently, you are always at the powder puff.” Brilliant kid, yes? I wasn’t trying to suggest, by the way, that all of his troubles began with the alleged murder in New Guinea; I have much too much faith in Freud’s notions of “family romance” for that. But troubles are one thing and “torment” another; that’s a very dramatic word, and I suppose I imagined a dramatic incident at the root of it. But of course Errol’s relationship with his mother was certainly at the root of his mistreatment of his wives and girlfriends. He never trusted women, he himself said — more than once, I believe.

          The nephew I had in mind is Errol’s mode/actor grandson; he planned, he said, to make a film about Sean after he made one about Errol. I agree that that doesn’t mean his screenplays about them would have necessarily been good, or that there isn’t room for other screenplays. But it did slow my enthusiasm for writing about Sean in that particular way, and the more I thought about it, the more I decided I didn’t want another unproduced screenplay in my drawer (though many of the other screenplays in my proverbial drawer were in fact produced). But I was pretty burned out on the movie business by then anyway, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t continue with your script about Errol if you think that’s how you need to go about writing him. The question of need, as in “What does this need to be?” is a constant of my writing life, and maybe yours, and the answer is often elusive.

          I read about the forthcoming movie with Kevin Kline. I’m not particularly a KK fan, but the casting could be worse, I guess. If Scorsese were to direct a similar movie, we’d get Leonardo DiCaprio as Errol Flynn, and he’d be about as convincing as he was as Howard Hughes.

  18. timerider says:

    You can’t please everyone Duke! I thank you very much for the photos. I really like the digs Sean had and I remember the era like it was yesterday! At 66 I recall how we all felt about Sean and we took him as our own. Errol was an icon and a hero to us but Sean was ours! I had a Dad or shall I say Daddyo like Errol. Looked up to as a hero but really just my sire. It seems to me that Sean saw his own fate by what you write? That is spooky! Another spooky thing is that my Dad and Errol looked like brothers in their 40’s. Dad drank and smoked like a chimney while adventuring around this country in planes and boats and selling the humps of the back of camels, LOL! Here’s a good one, Dad’s 3rd wife’s name was Pat Moore!! Anyway, we do not have to be perfect to write as long as the deep focus is there. As for the argument about Errol’s trial, the girls were very real and some of the circumstances and the point of contact were real but the rape crap was all a setup as mentioned by others. I’m fascinated by the life and times of the Flynn family just as I am the Kennedy’s. However my family is a real trip and some of the characters just as colorful. Like Rory and others I miss Sean too as missing a cousin or member of my family. We should not die so young as did the Flynns!

  19. D.R. Haney says:

    Hi, there:

    I can’t take credit for the photos; I am but the messenger. But I did try to post some lesser known images of Sean, or related to Sean, including of course the photos of his Paris flat. Incredible, huh? I envy your memory of the era, and though you undoubtedly saw some smashing pads at the time, I’m going to guess that few were decorated like Sean’s.

    Did you personally know Sean, by the way? After the piece was posted, I heard from one person who knew him personally. She left a comment, which I was very happy to receive (just as I’m obviously very happy to have yours), near the top of the message board.

    Your family sounds interesting. My stepmother (my father’s second, not third, wife) is also named Pat, incidentally. Pat Wymore, as you undoubtedly know, still lives in Jamaica; I’ve thought of trying to get in touch with her to ask her about Steve Cochran. He’s the film-noir actor that I mention in the piece, and I want to write about him at some stage. Anyway, he did a movie with Pat Wymore, and he was friendly with Errol. Some have said that Steve lived his life as he did by way of imitating Errol, but I interviewed Steve’s second wife, who said that Clark Gable was the guy that Steve emulated, at least onscreen. I don’t remember what she said about Errol. I’m wondering now if we discussed him.

  20. Dear Mr. Haney:

    Your article on Sean Flynn is wonderful. I enjoyed it hugely. This is head and shoulders so much more interesting and compelling than the crap I encounter at so-called professional journalism sites like Salon.com or Slate.com.

    So, I’m curious about the identity of the actor who you were researching at the courthouse. Let me hazard a guess — Tom Neal?

    I’d appreciate it if you would drop me an email when your collection of profiles/articles is published. Yours is the kind of writing that ebtertains and makes me say, “I wish I’d written that.”

    Best regards,
    Peter Winkler

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Dear Mr. Winkler:

      I woke in a truly foul mood this morning, and your comment was a considerable lift to my spirits. There’s no greater compliment from a writer, I know, than to read the work of another and wish you’d written it, and I’m humbled that you say so — particularly because, months ago, I was using your own work to research mine. Another piece in my forthcoming book (if only it were already finished!) is about Mark Frechette, who was one degree removed from Dennis Hopper in a very particular way, as I know you know. There’s more I could say about this, but won’t for now.

      The noir actor I mentioned at the start of the piece is Steve Cochran, although Tom Neal is a good guess, and the two aren’t, of course, altogether dissimilar. But Steve was a better actor, I think, and he wasn’t as handy with his fists as Tom Neal; one of the cases I was investigating was a civil suit filed against Steve by a boxer who was clobbered with a baseball bat after a New Year’s Eve party at Steve’s house in Benedict Canyon. I have to say, though, that Steve did manage to draw blood in a skirmish with the boxer’s brother, without assistance of a baseball bat, before the boxer arrived later, bent on vengeance. Anyway, Steve interested me because so little has been written about him, but I’m not sure that I can make a whole book out of his story, while I’m also not sure that I can compress what I’ve learned about him into an essay like this one. But we’ll see, I guess.

      I will certainly be in touch in the future, and I hope you won’t hesitate to write to me for whatever reason.

      Thanks again,

  21. Dear Duke:

    After guessing Tom Neal, and further reflecting, I wondered if it was Steve Cochran.

    Because I love to encourage writers with an interest in somewhat obscure but nonetheless fascinating characters like Cochran and Neal, allow me to suggest that you could self-publish something that fell between essay and book length through Amazon.com’s Kindle Direct Publishing program.

    You might also consider Filmfax magazine, which I’ve written for on several occasions. One of the articles they published was my nearly 10,000-word mini-biography of Nick Adams.

    Keep in touch.

    Feel free to give a call if you ever want to schmooze or tap my reservoir of film knowledge.

    Best tidings and Happy Holidays.


  22. D.R. Haney says:

    Hi, Peter:

    Thanks for the link to Imogen’s piece. I’ve corresponded with her a little in the past, after discovering something she’d written about “The Best Years of Our Lives” online, and she mentioned that Steve Cochran was a favorite. She wrote a book about rural noir, and “Tomorrow Is Another Day” is included in that, but here, of course, she covers more of Cochran’s career, while emphasizing his noir output, which is easily his best stuff. But I learned some things about him in the course of my research that, to say the least, put him in a poor light, and that was one reason I began to back away from writing about him. I’m now sure I will write about him at some stage, however, and I thank you for your suggestions as to publication.I wrote a 10,500-word piece about Jim Morrison that’s going to be published as a kindle single in the next few weeks.

    Did you speak with Bill Dakota, by any chance, while researching Nick Adams? I spoke with him about a different subject, and he seemed credible to me — meaning that he clearly believes everything he says. Anyway, as I’m sure you know, he worked for Nick Adams in the early sixties, I guess it was. So he says. Anything related to James Dean is, or was, of interest to Bill.

    I’m in the middle of packing for a flight in three hours, so I should get back to that. Happy holidays to you, as well, and I’ll email you before long.


  23. Dear Duke:

    I spoke to Bill Dakota. He was Nick’s friend in the ’50s.

    He writes about Nick here.


    • D.R. Haney says:

      Yes, I figured you had been in contact with Bill. I’ll tell you about the circumstances of my call to him when you and I speak.

      I’m really going to have to read your piece about Nick Adams — or have you written more than one? I don’t know an enormous amount about him, but I’m interested by what I do know. This clip, for instance, has stayed with me. It just seems to typify, or symbolize, something about the time and place.


      Do you, by any chance, share my enthusiasm for “Hell Is for Heroes”?


  24. I’ve seen the YouTube clip of Adams you linked. It’s Adams in his heyday. And it’s sad, in light of what followed.

    I wrote one article about Adams for Filmfax magazine. Email me at plwinkler – at – yahoo dot com and I’ll send it to you.

    I like Hell Is for Heroes, though I think it’s become slightly overrated. The pendulum swings. It seemed to go largely unnoticed when it was released, but has become much better known because of the interest in Don Siegel and Steve McQueen.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Honestly, when I watched “Hell Is for Heroes,” the pendulum hadn’t yet swung and interest in Steve McQueen hadn’t yet renewed. It was on a shelf at Jerry’s video store on Hillhurst Avenue (did you ever go there?), and I rented it mostly because of the title, and I was shocked by how much I really did enjoy it. But that was a long time ago, and I later realized it must have caught on with others because at one point there was a UK band called Hell Is for Heroes. That was back when there were bands.

      I will write to you about the Adams article directly.

  25. Nathan3591 says:

    I am an Errol Flynn fan thus I am inclined to reading everything related to him, including this piece.

    I do have the following comments:

    I always feel Errol Flynn should have never married Lili, his first wife. Based on his autobiography, he had never loved her. He should have the guts to reject the marriage before it happened (I always feel Errol was really thin-skinned not a tough guy). Yes, he enjoyed women. But if he was not legally tied up with this particular woman at his prime, he might have a chance to find a wife whom he truly loved thus he might moderate his womanizing behavior. Should we all agree that true love can conquer everything?

    Although I sympathize with Lili for losing her son, she appeared to be narrow-minded, strong-willed egotistic, thus unable to see the big picture. Her hatred toward Flynn was a good example. If a man didn’t love you, you should just set him free, especially he had dutifully paid you. But she allowed her hatred to go beyond reasoning by instilling her son a dislike toward his father and also by literally contributing to Flynn’s financial ruin. What good had come out for Flynn to associate with such woman?

    Shouldn’t an ex-wife have some consideration of her ex’s well-being, considering he was the father of your son? She didn’t give a dime but helped push her ex off a cliff, by forcing him to relinquish the only thing left–Mulholland Farm. A little bit moderation on her part the big picture might have emerged differently, considering how financially stressful Errol had experienced in his final years. I am not here to voicing a revisionist’s view, but expressing my sympathy for Errol’s fate. As far as I am concerned, he was a misunderstood individual in 1930’s and 1940’s America where rigid and puritanical social norms reigned.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Hi, Nathan, thanks for commenting. I received no notification of your comment, but just happened to stop by the site and saw what you’d written.

      I agree with you about Lili’s vindictiveness. She should have left him alone, but I suppose her pursuit of him in the courts was a way of perpetuating the marriage. As to why Errol married her, he may have found her willpower impossible to resist, and the marriage may even have been a way of punishing himself. I always think of what Olivia de Havilland said about him: “He was tortured. By what I don’t know, he was tortured.”

      I also agree with you about puritanical America’s misunderstanding of Errol, but I don’t believe that Sean altogether disliked his father, otherwise he wouldn’t have followed his path in more ways than one. It was a very complicated relationship, even if Errol wasn’t around to participate in it, with Sean seeking a belated closeness with his father while simultaneously trying to best him. He was similarly ambivalent about Lili, I think, though not as profoundly ambivalent as he was about Errol. But of course that’s pure speculation.

      On another note entirely, I was very sorry to learn of Patrice Wymore’s death. I had thought of trying to contact her in the last couple of years, since she knew Steve Cochran, who’s the nameless actor I mentioned at the top of the piece. I still hope to write something about him one day — a very underrated actor, I think. He knew Errol too, and it’s been said that he tried to emulate him, though I was told by one of his ex-wives that it was Clark Gable he tried to emulate.

      • nathan3591 says:

        Thank you for your response. I do have some follow-up.

        “the marriage may even have been a way of punishing himself”

        Above does sound logical to me?

        “He was tortured.”

        If you read his autobiography carefully, you can sense he suffered deeply from his relationship with this violent and vindictive “tiger” (that’s how he called Lili). At the same time, he was under tremendous pressure being a overnight sensation. We should not forget how many temptations existed in Hollywood for him to deal with. He admitted he felt he could go crazy for all these pressures. I feel “tortured,” in Errol’s case, was not an internal thing; rather caused by external factors. Before he went to the Spanish War, he almost had a death wish–being shot by a bullet would be a relief; it was better than dealing with all the pressures (I paraphrased what he said).

        Based on Errol’s autobiography, I really feel even though it was a suffering relationship for him, he tolerated it because he was already in it. Also, he might not recognize the harming effect immediately, especially if he was so busy working and living. And he had enough financial means to make it less unbearable (remember, he didn’t live with Lili under the same roof).

        This happens to all of us–sometimes we can only recognize something/some people harmful in hindsight.

        Any person dies young is a tragedy, including Sean.

        I do feel based on my understanding of Lili, she must have badmouthed Errol Flynn to his son. This might reinforce his ambivalence.

  26. nathan3591 says:


    “the marriage may even have been a way of punishing himself”

    I don’t mean — Above does sound logical to me?

    I mean — Above doesn’t sound logical to me?

    • D.R. Haney says:

      What I wrote in my original comment was speculative, of course, as needs must be where strangers are concerned. Anyway, I believe emotion has a logic of its own. Errol already knew that Lili was demanding and explosive when he married her. That he married her anyway, before his great success, is something only he could explain — and even he may have been unable to fully explain it, if you hold, as I do, that most of us are unable to fully explain ourselves, particularly in matters of the heart. As the Roman poet Catullus wrote over 2,000 years ago:

      I hate and I love. Perhaps you ask why I do this?
      I do not know, but I feel it happen and I am torn apart.

      • nathan3591 says:

        I understand what you meant. Yes we, humans, can sometimes be complicated. But I don’t like generalization. Here, we specifically discussed about Errol’s case with his first wife. My conclusion is purely based on his own writing–his autobiography. In it, he states–very clearly–he didn’t have intention to marry Tiger Lili–should this mean he didn’t love her enough? I believe most of the man would want to marry a woman whom they truly loved. He went ahead because she pressured him with tantrums, suicides, throwing things, and violence. Flynn might appear to be a tough guy to others or a non-conformist, but based on what I read what I really gathered is a man with thin skin. He certainly didn’t withstand well with the pressure of a tiger or was tough enough to reject.

        Here I may have to speculate a little bit–also this happened in the 1930s. Would the social norm give a man and a woman living together some pressure to get married? I don’t know?

        Anyway, it is a done deal. But if you read his auto carefully, you can almost realize how much a misstep this association with a tiger was, at least in hindsight. It was not only the loss of $1 million. It was being trapped with a vindictive tiger who enjoyed your downfall. Maybe for some women, love means to destroy if it can no longer belong to you.

        Here, I don’t mean to blame Flynn’s later years on Tiger Lili. I only can say without the bondage of Tiger Lili, the scenario of his life might emerge differently. He might as a result find the love of his life, thus not surrendering to cheap sex (yes he supposed to be a womanizer but how could we know he could not be tamed by a true love with a woman he truly respected (he obviously didn’t have respect for Tiger Lili)? He might drink less because he was not so unhappy.

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