Tag Archives: errol flynn

The Son of Captain Blood

War kills indiscriminately, sometimes even claiming the life of a person with a famous pedigree.

That happened on this date in 1970 when photojournalist Sean Flynn, the son of actors Errol Flynn and Lily Damita, went missing in Cambodia during the Vietnam War.

Flynn was born in L.A. in 1941, a year before his parents divorced, and inherited his father’s dashing good looks and addiction to adventure. For a time he followed his parents into acting, first appearing at age 15 on his father’s television show.

Errol Flynn died in 1959 at the age of 50, and two years later Sean starred in The Son of Captain Blood, the sequel to the film that first rocketed his father to stardom in 1935.

Flynn made a few more films over the next four years, mostly in Europe, before tiring of the “hurry-up-and-wait” aspect of the movie business. For a short time afterwards, he pursued a singing career, before heading to Africa to work as a safari guide.

He returned to Europe in the mid-60s to appear in a couple of Spaghetti Westerns before picking up his camera and flying to South Vietnam in 1966 to be a freelance photojournalist.

Flynn quickly earned the reputation of taking any assignment, however dangerous, to capture the most compelling photographs, even parachuting into hot zones with the 101st Airborne Division.

A few months after his arrival in Vietnam, he was wounded in the knee. During his “recuperation” he covered a war in the Middle East and starred in a film in Singapore.

He eventually returned to Vietnam, where he created the independent Dispatch News Service with John Steinbeck IV, the son of the Nobel Prize-winning author. Together, they helped break the story of the My Lai Massacre.

On April 6, 1970, the 28-year-old Flynn was inside Cambodia on assignment from Time magazine, when he and CBS journalist Dana Stone were captured by Khmer Rouge guerrillas.

Despite a fortune spent by Flynn’s mother chasing down leads to her son’s whereabouts, he was never seen again. It’s believed he was held in captivity until being executed in 1971. He was declared legally dead in 1984.

Flynn has since been the subject of a smattering of books, films, and songs, including Sean Flynn by the Clash on their Combat Rock album.

Last year, it was thought for a time that Flynn’s remains had been discovered in a Cambodian mass grave, but later DNA tests proved otherwise.


Meeting ‘God’

Comedian George Burns, who died 15 years ago today just after turning 100, had an amazing 90-year career.  After starting out in vaudeville, he and his wife Gracie Allen enjoyed successful runs in radio, film, and television as the comedy team Burns and Allen. After Gracie died in 1964, George continued working, winning an Oscar at the age of 80, and whimsically portraying the Supreme Being in 1977’s Oh, God!

I met George Burns on two occasions. “Met” is actually too strong a word – encountered would be more accurate.

The first encounter took place at LAX when an escalator malfunctioned and he stumbled on top of me. I helped him up, made sure he was okay, gave him a knowing nod after recognizing who he was, and we went on our merry ways.

The second took place at the spot where you can find him today: Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale.

I was supposed to be in church that morning because the religious college I was attending at the time required that I go, but was powerless to make me happy about it. I made an appearance, but when I saw a jerk that I knew mount the podium to deliver the sermon, I grabbed a friend and bolted for the door. 

My friend knew that I liked to explore cemeteries to find the permanent homes of the famous and infamous and had always wanted me to give him a tour of Forest Lawn. It seemed like a perfect place to hide out for a couple of hours from the all-seeing eyes of the church police, so we drove to Glendale.

I took my friend around to the graves of all the biggies at the top of the hill – Walt Disney, Errol Flynn, Spencer Tracy – and then went inside the mausoleum to introduce him to lots of other folks, like Nat King Cole, Alan Ladd, Clara Bow, and George Burn’s late wife and comedy partner, Gracie Allen.

We exited the building and turned the corner, and for the second time in my life, I literally ran into George Burns.

Now, I’m not a big guy, but compared to me, George Burns in his eighties was a Smart Car next to a Hummer. (It was like the time at Warner Bros. when I rounded a soundstage, and bounced off John Goodman like a pinball.)

Luckily, he was none the worse for wear, and gave us a quick “Hello, boys,” before heading into the building to visit his beloved Gracie.

After he walked away, my friend turned to me and said, “See what happens when you talk me in to cutting church? God himself shows up!”

I stop by Forest Lawn from time-to-time to check in on George and Gracie. They are now entombed together with Gracie’s name listed first, since George wanted her to finally get top billing.