Thursday, October 14, 2010

#Errolivia Errol & Olivia: Ego and Obsession in Golden Era Hollywood by Robert Matzen

When I finished the book, I didn't know whether to kiss it or throw it across the room. In the end, I kissed it because I enjoyed the journey, frustrations and all.

by Robert Matzen
October 2010
$39.95 US
Paladin Communications/ Good Knight Books

I was contacted a while back about reviewing this book and I jumped on the chance. I had spend several nights recently with Errol Flynn for the review of the TCM Spotlight Boxed Set but I still had not had a taste of the Errolivia experience. Reading this book took me longer than usual. It's a 195 page plus coffee table book, chock-full of black-and-white and color photography, promotional stills, candids, portraits, etc. but it's also rich with information about Errol and Olivia's separate lives, their emotional yet distant relationship with each other and each of the 8 films they did together. It wasn't enough for me just to read about these movies, I wanted to watch them too but I only ended up watching half of them due to time restrictions and DVD availability.

Captain Blood (1935) *
The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) *
Four's a Crowd (1938)
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) *
Dodge City (1939)
Essex and Elizabeth (1939)
Santa Fe Trail (1940)
They Died With Their Boots On (1941) *

(by the way, there is no such handy-dandy list of these movies anywhere in the book which kind of surprised me)

Reading this book was at times challenging and frustrating and other times pure bliss. This isn't a book you can casually read for fun. This is a book you will want to have arguments with, will want to throw across the room but also want to pet and stroke and cuddle up in bed with. Since I work in the book industry, I'm very particular about books. This book to me seems almost self-published. The publisher, Paladin Communications, seems only to have published this book and Robert Matzen's Errol Flynn Slept Here. Not really what you'd call a big publishing house with only 2 titles and one author. However, I've been very impressed with their marketing campaign. They did a lot of blogger outreach, got people excited about the book, created a dynamic and active Facebook page, and even created complete with info about the book and a blog. The author recently asked on Facebook what his next topic of discussion should be on the blog. I suggested the Damita-Flynn-Curtiz love triangle which he doesn't talk about very much in the book. Lili Damita was a lively French actress who had a short career in the states. She was first married to Curtiz then to Flynn. Curtiz directed several Errolivia films and Damita would often visit Flynn on set to keep an eye on him. Wouldn't that be awkward? An Ex-husband directing, current husband acting and a wife lurking on set. The author seemed interested in my query so let's hope that he writes about it!

The book is very well structured and follows the parallel lives of Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland from their respective births and years growing up, to their Hollywood starts, their films together, their romance with each other and other people and it even follows Olivia de Havilland after Flynn's death but keeps Flynn in the picture as much as possible. The text never dallies or goes off track, it stays right on course giving the reader lots of great information along the way.

I did have a few issues with the book. It sometimes veered off into sleaze-ville. And of course, the sleaze was always directly linked to Errol Flynn who loved the ladies and loved the booze. One particular line that bothered me about Flynn having oral sex and intercourse with script girls and bit players during shoots. I thought it was both unnecessary and took for granted that the reader thinks Flynn is a womanizer (there was no footnote or reference). And I have to say this for the umpteenth time: Jimmy Stewart was NOT A WOMANIZER!!!

The author refers to Olivia as both Olivia and Livvie which threw me off because there was also Lili Damita, Lily Flynn and Lilian de Havilland. Oh the captions, let me just talk about those for a second. The author seems to take the photographs as an opportunity to write short 2-3 line sections of fiction where he over-analyzes what is going on in the image. My favorite one shows Flynn having lunch with Melville Cooper (who plays the Sheriff of Nottingham in The Adventures of Errol Flynn): it reads "[Cooper] toys with his glass uncomfortably, aware that Curtiz will have a fit if they don't get back to the set soon." Most of the captions are heavy on conjecture and not on fact. However, this improves drastically as the book goes along so in a second edition perhaps the earlier captions could be re-written.

I do think that if you are a classic film fan it is imperative that you pick up this book. There is a lot of great information about the studio system, the making of the Errolivia films and the general goings on of the Hollywood machine. Plus it makes for a really gorgeous looking addition to your collection of coffee table books.

Points in the book that I found particularly interesting:
  • Olivia's battle with Jack Warner and Warner Bros. studios. i.e, they did not treat her well.
  • Errol's marriage with fiery French actress Lili Damita (read more about her at Allure)
  • Flynn's $100 bet, They Died With Their Boots On (1941) and what de Havilland revealed to Michael Caine
  • How Errol upstaged Olivia in a scene in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
  • Errol's Mommy issues
  • Curtiz's hellish movie sets
  • Gone With the Wind (1939) and how Olivia fought tooth and nail for the part of Melanie!
  • Errol really did not want to be Rhett Butler.
  • Ronald Reagan and the mound of dirt he built to step on to upstage Errol Flynn (LOLing all day). One of the best captions in the whole book!
  • The physical toll the movies took on Errol and Olivia
  • Olivia snubbing sister Joan at the Academy Awards (I could have stared at this picture all day). Joan: Congratulations! Olivia: Bitch, get away from my award!

If you've read this book, please let me know your thoughts. I'd love to hear them. And if you do pick it up, please report back. Make sure you stop by Cliff's blog Immortal Ephemera as he'll be reviewing the book soon.

In the meantime, enjoy the the Errol & Olivia book trailer.


  1. Having watched most of the films that Errol and Olivia made together, I'm very interested in this book. Of course, from your review it seems it might infuriate me. I'm not sure how I'd deal with the writer over analysing the pictures!

  2. I've never picked up a single book about Old Hollywood, though I love to read! Rather strange really.

    I love Errolivia though. They're one of my favorite onscreen couples.

    If you get a chance, I'd highly recommend watching Dodge City. It's a decentish western, with some adorable scenes. (Errol falls on his tush at one point, while Olivia laughs at him unmercifully!)

  3. this is, no doubt, a book i need to have in my collection! i've seen all their films, some of them an insane amount of times and they're absolutely my fave screen couple. plus i'm a huge Flynn fan and i'm of the opinion Olivia was the finest screen actress of all time and man was she beautiful or what, so yeah i need to get this!

    i'll second that comment about Dodge City! It is, to me, Flynn's best western, it's very fast moving, very funny, beautifully shot by Sol Polito and has a great Max Steiner score! oh and lets not forget that bar fight, lol!

    on a diff note something i've often thought about and i think its true but i think Olivia Dehavilland made more technicolor films in the 1930's (she's in a total of 5) than any other major actor or actress.

    anyone out there know of anyone who may have made more?

    great post Quelle!

  4. Great job, Raquelle, on what I can now say was not an easy title to write about. You're so correct, there are things to both love and hate about this volume, the shame is for a book that looks so nice either on your shelf or in your hands that the content can be sometimes so upsetting. Stepping back from it I got the feeling that a lot of people would eat this stuff up though, so I wouldn't at all be surprised it became a favorite for many--after all, if you walk away liking the text then it's a hell of a book! And I don't believe factually there are any problems, for me it was mostly issues with the writer's voice--I felt more like I was tuned into E! than TCM.

    Thanks for the mention of my coming (and finally posted) post, I really do appreciate it!


  5. I had problems with the writer's voice as well. Too much reliance on speculation and gossip as opposed to fact.
    It did get rather sleazy at times and that really is too bad.
    But the thing with Errol Flynn is that most gossip is taken as the truth, and the author seems to take that and run with it.
    Nice pictures though, and I could live with less information about Lili Damita. In actuality she's wasn't a very striking woman, and vain, malicious and selfish to boot.


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