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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

tres cool: ‘Errol & Olivia: Ego & Obsession in Golden Era Hollywood’

I don’t know if Hollywood has seen another couple like Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. She was 19 and he was 26 when they met doing screen tests for what would turn out to be the awesome 1935 adventure flick Captain Blood, and the chemistry between them — onscreen and off — was pretty much instant. And the delicious gossip about them is only made juicier by the fact that they were never really “officially” a romantic couple… and, a few hints to the contrary aside, may never even have been lovers. But their tempestuous relationship, over the course of the eight movies they made together across only six years in the late 1930s and early 1940s isn’t fascinating merely for the pure gossip fest it was: it also encapsulates the heyday of the studio system, from the power de Havilland and Flynn wielded personally as stars to how the studios wielded their stars as publicity weapons.

So it’s not just all wonderfully salacious as Hollywood historian Robert Matzen recounts it in Errol & Olivia: Ego & Obsession in Golden Era Hollywood, just released by GoodKnight Books. This huge, gorgeous hardcover — jammed with tons of photos, many never seen before — also offers intensely intriguing background on the making of their films together, like how their 1938 Robin Hood was a financial and technical risk probably on a par with the likes of Avatar today.
For every bit of admittedly delicious tittle-tattle about how de Havilland totally flummoxed the notorious womanizer Flynn was, there’s an enthralling tidbit like this: Flynn’s professional reputation for being difficult on the set by not learning his lines and getting easily distracted may, in fact, been more a result of what today we’d call ADHD than his being a deliberate pain in the ass. And there’s also stff stuff on the movies Flynn and de Havilland didn’t make together, such as Gone with the Wind; de Havilland ended up playing Melanie Hamiliton, of course, but imagine Flynn as Rhett Butler, the role for which he was much discussed.

This is a beautiful book, as informative to read as it is sheer pleasure to browse like a photo album. The holidays are coming… someone on your list will love it. Or maybe you should treat yourself to this glorious look back at the screen couple that personified Hollywood’s Golden Age.

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