Excerpt: 'The Big Love' by Mrs. Florence Aadland


From The Adventures of Robin Hood, Warner Bros. Pictures, 1938

A friend of Errol’s met us out front and he paid the cab driver. When we went into the big lounge, Errol was standing behind the bar pouring vodka into a glass. I had met scads of big celebrities during the years of Beverly’s career in Hollywood, and I could take them or leave them. But this was different. Errol Flynn was a really big star, one of the very biggest – the Great Swashbuckler, lover of a thousand lovely ladies. As he walked over to us from the bar I was about ready to faint, overwhelmed by the fact that my baby called this man Errol.

He was absolutely the most handsome thing I’d ever seen. The moment I saw him I knew there was no truth to those stories that he was a prematurely aged man at forty-eight, over the hill, burned out by constant drinking and debaucheries.

He was extremely tall. He was dressed in yellow tennis shorts, a tan sport shirt, a sport sweater, tennis shoes and yellow socks. He had wonderful legs; they were muscular, but not bulging with muscle. There was more red in his brown hair than I expected and it contained no gray whatsoever. He had very nice teeth, a dimple, and, of course, I couldn’t help but be impressed by that famous moustache, that remarkable chin with its cleft and his terrific boyish smile.

But his eyes impressed me the most. They were the most beautiful male eyes I have ever seen. They were a medium brown, flecked with gold – and how they twinkled! Have you ever seen a kind of reddish brown sandstone flecked that way? That’s what Errol’s eyes resembled, and I discovered as time went by that much of his twinkle was from those gold flecks. None of Errol’s children have those unusual eyes. His son Sean, for example, has dark brown eyes, much darker than Errol’s, more like the eyes of Lili Damita, who was Errol’s first wife.

Errol said hello to Beverly, quite fondly, and then he smiled at me and bowed. He acted like a knight of old, very continental, his manners perfect.

He kissed my hand and said, “I’m very, very happy to meet you, Mrs. Aadland.”

He put me at ease almost at once. I think he really enjoyed meeting me. I wore my gray nylon dress, nylon stockings, black pumps with medium heels and my harlequin-style glasses. I was forty-three years old then, and I know he noticed the similarities between Beverly and me. I’m smaller than she, five feet two, but my hair, which I wear upswept, is blonde and my complexion is fair, like hers.

Errol glanced at my right foot, which is artificial – the result of an auto accident – but he made no comment about it. He knew all about my foot before meeting me because Beverly had told him about it. Being such a perfect gentleman and host, he simply ignored the matter, not that it was important anyway, and invited me to have a drink.

He fixed me a vodka and 7-Up and mixed a vodka and tonic for himself. He asked Beverly if she would like something, a plain orange juice or Coke, but she wasn’t thirsty.

So Errol and I sipped our drinks together and started getting acquainted. We hit it off very well. Later when we got to know one another better, we became very good friends. We

could speak the same language. He could be very frank sometimes, and so could I. He could be very tough – and so could I. There were times when we traded four-letter words, and I know he respected my ability to use such language when the occasion demanded.

But during that first afternoon when I first made contact with the rare and wonderful world of Errol Flynn I was quite bowled over. All around the lounge, near his phone and on the tables, were letters from famous people, his intimate friends. The letters and notes were open and easy to read and I couldn’t help notice some of the writing. “Glad to see you back, old boy,” they said. Or “When will we get together?”

Not long after Beverly and I arrived, Errol had a long-distance call from Hawaii. It was Doris Duke and when he finished talking to her he turned to me and said: “She’s a fine person, a very dear friend of mine. She has a lot of money, of course, but very few people she can call true friends. It’s a shame that she never knows whether people are after her friendship or her money.”

After that Errol spent some time showing Beverly and me some ancient Grecian vases that he was very proud of. They were relics, possibly 2,000 years old, that had been discovered in the ocean by skin divers.

While we talked I was continually amazed at how wonderfully he treated my daughter. He seemed like a little boy. He was so eager to do things for her, so eager to please her. It was as if she were a great star and he was a very youthful admirer of hers. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever see the great Errol Flynn acting so marvelously toward her.

It was a busy afternoon. The phone rang again and Errol talked to one of his children. Then a middle-aged woman and her husband arrived. She was Errol’s former housekeeper and he wanted to engage the two of them to run the lodge for the next couple of months.

While Errol talked to them, Beverly and I walked outside onto the patio and gazed down from the hill at Hollywood and Los Angeles, which looked very clean and lovely in the sunlight. Standing out there, we had a chance to talk by ourselves.

It was a pretty good mother-and-daughter talk. I was still amazed by his attitude toward her, his fondness and sweetness.

“I don’t know what’s happening,” I said, “but for God’s sake be careful. Watch your step. Your career is going leaps and bounds and I don’t want to see anything happen to you.”

“Of course not, Mama,” she told me. “Nothing’s going to happen.”

I hadn’t the slightest thought at that time that so much had gone on between them. I really wasn’t worried a bit about Errol’s intention. I simply talked to her casually and easily about her future the way we had talked many times before.

I guess I was fooled by Errol then. In fact, I’ll admit that I was taken in. That was the way he was. He completely disarmed me from the moment I met him. I trusted him. While I was around him, I wasn’t the slightest bit afraid for Beverly.

Not for an instant did I dream that he had already had his way with her. Thinking about it now, I can’t blame Beverly too much for not telling me that afternoon while we stood out there on the patio. The subject simply didn’t come up. She was still as confused as any girl of fifteen had a right to be. She was still too shocked about what had happened to know how to tell me.

And, besides, he had won her over completely. I could see that she was attracted to him, as any girl or woman would be. But I didn’t dream that she was already thoroughly and impossibly in love with him.

Excerpted from The Big Loveby Mrs. Florence Aadland, published by Spurl Editions, 2018. Excerpt republished with permission of the publisher.