Sunday, June 1, 2014

A little bit of cinema history: The guy above is Sean Flynn, son of actor Errol Flynn.

He was born May 31, 1941. His mother was the actress Lili Damita, who was married to Errol Flynn from 1935 to 1942. It was an unhappy marriage, and Lili fled with Sean to Palm Beach, Florida, when the divorce was final. She had to sue Errol in 1946 and again in 1947 to the $1,500 a month alimony payments. (She sued him every year, practically, to keep the money flowing.) Sean barely knew his father, who was busy making motion pictures, and it was not until he was in his mid-teens that they began spending time with one another. Errol soon supplied Sean with teenage hookers. When Sean was 17 he had a 14-year-old girlfriend; his father stole the girlfriend, fucked her, then taunted Sean that "this will be your stepmother some day". He later told reporters that he and his father were practically strangers. "He sired me, that's all," Sean said.

Sean attended Palm Beach Private School as a child. When he was five years old, he became infatuated with a local gun dealer's wares, and with Lili's permission the man taught Sean how to shoot. For years, Sean and his friends would biccyle or drive out into the country, loaded down with pistols and rifles, and take pot-shots at trees, stumps, and sand dunes. Sean attended Lawrenceville -- an exclusive prep school in New Jersey -- during his middle and high school years. One of his childhood friends was George Hamilton, who'd started his own film career. The summer after Sean graduated from high school, Hamilton called him to invited him to be an extra in a film Hamilton was making, Where the Boys Are. Sean had a couple lines, but his role ended up on the cutting room floor.

Sean enrolled at Duke University in 1959, and was elected freshmen class president. But his grades were terrible, and after only three months director Harry Joe Brown called him to offer him a role as the lead in Son Of Captain Blood. In 1961 he tried his hand at singing, and crooned two terrible songs for an American company. He continued to act, appearing in B-movies made in Europe like Son of Zorro (1963), Waiting in Marienborn (1963), Special Agent in Venice: See Venice....and Die! (1964), and Sandok, Strongman of the Jungle (1964). having saved most of his money, he moved into his his late grandmother's apartment in Paris and began turning down film roles. He tried his hand at big-game hunting, leading safaris in Tanzania, and working as a game warden in Kenya. By 1965 he was dead broke, so he returned to acting in Italy and made two spaghetti Westerns: Seven Great Guns and The Pistol Twins.

But he just didn't like making movies. During the making of his first film in 1960, he was miseerable. Although he was interested in acting, but he felt he was always fighting his father. Always fighting the image of his father. Always being compared to his father. Acting because of who his father was, not because of who he was. It felt false.

On his way back from Italy, he stopped in Spain and purchased a Leica camera. He had no idea how to use it, but tried his hand a fashion photography. That effort failed, but he learned how to use the camera. Like his father, danger appealed to Sean. It was also a way of "not being Errol Flynn's son" -- of becoming his own person. Sean spoke to the people at Paris-Match, the French news magazine. He suggested that he could take better pictures than their staff photographers, because he was an American. The magazine agreed to send him to Vietnam -- not because he was any good at photography, but because he was Sean Flynn. They thought he'd help boost morale among the French and American soldiers he met, and that this naive young American would come back with pleasant pictures of a winning war. On the off chance that the United States might draft him, Flynn found a compliant doctor who certified that Flynn had a severe knee injury that prevented him from serving in the Army.

Sean Flynn arrived in Saigon in January 1966. Flynn loved acting the part of "seasoned war photographer". Within a day or two of his arrival, he picked up some combat fatigues and four M-26 grenades. He was so inexperienced, he had not taped down the safety lever of the grenades. (Soldiers always tape down the safety lever. That way, if they are bumped or dropped and the safety pin comes out, the grenade won't explode and killing everyone around.)

Within a week of his arrival in Vietnam, Flynn met war photographer Tim Page (the inspiration for Dennis Hopper's character in Apocalypse Now). In February, he moved into the house Page rented from a Vietnamese man Page nicknamed Frankie, and who acted as houseboy at the place. "Frankie's House" was full of food, liquor, pot, opium, hookers. Flynn loved war. He liked the excitement. He liked being tested by combat, liked knowing that he could function under fire. Once his Paris-Match assignment was over, Flynn had no accreditation. Page introduced him to the people at Time, who agreed to accredit him as a journalist.

Sean Flynn proved to be a good war photographer. His physicality and disregard for danger allowed him to capture images others might not, which drew the attention of Time and Life and United Press International. Within a few days of his arrival in Vietnam, he badgered CBS News reporter John Laurence into taking him along on a medical evacuation of some soldiers who had attacked the village of An Thai. The evac operation was a disaster, as U.S. APCs fired on their own troops. Laurence, Flynn, and others huddled in a graveyard while shells fell all around them. Laurence returned to Saigon with the evac helicopters. But Flynn stayed in the field for a week with Alpha Company. A Vietcong artillery shell exploded in a tree next to him. The man ahead of Flynn was killed, but Flynn wasn't even scratched. He was considered incredibly lucky by everyone: On March 6, 1966, in combat with the Green Berets in the A Shau Valley in the mountains west of the coastal city of Huế, Sean was only slightly wounded when a grenade fragment hit his knee. (With trees all around, he could not be evacuated by helicopter. He walked on the wounded leg all day.) In April 1966, Flynn was again out on patrol with a Special Forces group consisting mostly of Nung when a Vietcong machinegun opened fire on them near dusk. Flynn used an M-16 rifle given to him by the Green Berets and killed several guerrillas. In May, Tim Page, Japanese journalist Shima Iwashita, and Sean Flynn were covering the Buddhist uprisings. They were in Danang, and took cover behind a low concrete wall to observe the action. A rebel lobbed a grenade over the roof, but it bounced several times and landed too far away to seriously hurt anyone. (Page was slightly wounded and had to be evacuated.)

Flynn often attached himself to U.S. Special Forces units and to Long Range Patrols ("lurps") operating in enemy-held territory. Once, he was with a South Vietnamese special forces unit made up largely of Nung tribesmen. The U.S. Army officer leading the group was shot while ahead of the unit, and lay wounded -- begging for help while the Vietcong fired on the Nung. The South Vietnamese didn't move to help him, so Flynn stood up, threw his arm back, screamed "Come on!", and waved the men forward. Astonished, the Nung followed. Flynn saved the man's life, but could easily have lost his own.

Flynn would disappear for weeks at a time, and then return with only a few rolls of film. He once spent six weeks with III Corps But his photos were unlike anyone else's. The troops loved his good looks, masculinity, and bonhommie attitude. They allowed him to photograph things they would never have permitted anyone else to see: The torture of Vietcong operatives. In one of his most famous photographs, Flynn captured a shot of a North Vietnamese guerrilla, tortured to death, hung upside down from a tree by South Vietnamese officers.

In May 1966, Flynn traveled to Borneo to cover a Communist insurgency there. By late summer, however, Flynn was running out of cash. So he left Vietnam for Singapore in August to make one more movie, Five Guys in Singapore. When he got back to Saigon, he had no credentials again. His friend Dana Stone got him accredited with UPI. Flynn jumped right back into the action. Although he had no training, he made a parachute jump with the 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division in December 1966.

At the beginning of 1967, Flynn took a vacation from war. He traveled first to Paris, where he resided in his grandmother's old apartment again, and then traveled to Palm Beach to see his mother. The vacation was taken, in part, because Sean Flynn was very strung out on drugs. In Palm Beach, he swore he'd never do drugs again. But that pledge went by the wayside... When the Six-Day War broke out between Israel and its Arab neighbors on June 5, 1967, Flynn was at home in the United States visiting his mother. He immediately requested and won a transfer by UPI to Israel. The war was over by the time he arrived, but he ended up covering the aftermath of the war. Flynn returned to Vietnam again after the 1968 Tet offensive. According to his friends, Sean was increasingly plagued by guilt about his fascination with combat. More interested in film than photography, he now had with plans to make a documentary about the war. Flynn shared an apartment with Page, Stone, Perry Deane Young (a UPI reporter), and John Steinbeck IV (the famous writer's son). Flynn made regular runs to the border to bring back sacks of pot from Cambodia and Laos. From February to August, he shot more than 10,000 feet of film for a documentary on the war, and shipped it to his home in Paris. Twice he left Vietnam to edit it.

In August 1968, Flynn stayed with the South Vietnamese Special Forces at their camp at Ha Than. The Vietcong attacked the camp several times while he was there, and a number of times he saw Special Forces camps overrun by the enemy. He was under fire and attacked by grenades repeatedly. But although this was the most intense fighting Flynn had yet seen, he didn't like to talk about it. The battles seemed to thrill him as much as they disturbed him. However, it is clear that Sean Flynn was doing more than just photographing the war. He was participating in it. Dana Stone was there on September 5, 1969, when U.S. Special Forces retook a South Vietnamese Special Forces camp from the Vietcong. Flynn wasn't just a journalist. For this battle, he was in full combat fatigues and armed with rifel and grenades. Flynn claimed not to know what happened during the battle, just that one officer went down, and then another, and another... and soon Flynn found himself at the front of the charge. It was lead, or be defeated, so he he claims. Stone caught a photo of Flynn holding a grenade, with arms outstretched and right boot in midair, charging over the top of the hill and attacking the Nort Vietnamese. This famous war photo went out to the world with a caption indicating this was an anonymous "Special Forces officer" -- but it was later clearly identified as Sean Flynn. Civilian.

Sean was wounded for the second time by shrapnel in September 1968. By this time, a number of Sean Flynn's friends were exhausted by the war in Vietnam. They resolved to travel around Asia, see other countries, do something other than fight the war. While some friends went to Malaysia or Burma or Spain or Sweden, Sean went to Cambodia. He visited Angkor Wat, spending weeks bicycling around and taking photographs and getting stoned. He then moved to Laos, where he bought a motorcycle. Technically, he was working for Time-Life, covering the slow-moving war in that country as the United States carpet-bombed the Ho Chi Minh Trail. But he spent most of his time exploring the countryside, traveling into incredibly dangerous areas just for the thrill of it.

Sean was still in Laos in March 1969. The following month, his friend Tim Page was nearly killed when a land mine went off next to him. Sean spent the night smoking pipe after pipe of opium, then running outside to weep, believing his friend would die. He'd return, tell the hookers in the bar that his friend was dead, and repeated the process. He traveled the next day to Saigon, to see Page. For the next few months, Sean Flynn hung out in the same apartment on Tu Do street that he'd occupied in 1968. He spent his days slowly drinking, and smoking opium-laced joints in a bar in the evening.

In July, Time assigned Flynn to cover President Richard Nixon's visit to indonesia. With his assignment over, Sean traveled to nearby Papua New Guinea and photographed the then-little known Dani tribe. There, he introduced the indigenous people to marijuana. Flynn then rented a beach house in Bali. He stayed there for nearly a year. He'd been deeply moved by his month-long visit to Angkor Wat, and he'd taken LSD and experimented with photography again to try to record his visions and dreams. Increasingly, he began to see drugs as a trap and was increasingly attracted to a Buddhist philosophy that saw the world as one vast joke.

While living in Bali in the latter half of 1969, Sean fell in love with a high school girl named Lacsmi. He was jailed in Bali after a taxi driver mistook Lacsmi for a hooker. The taxi driver tried to fix the girl up with a john. Furious, Sean took a baseball bat and attacked the driver and the john, and was jailed for his trouble. Friends bailed him out, and Sean began to make plans to live in Bali and marry Lacsmi. It was a pipe dream, of course: Lacsmi's parents were extremely wealthy, snubbed him, and would never have consented to the marriage.

In January 1970, Sean returned to Vietnam and took up residence in the To Do apartment again. He spent several months smoking weed and telling his friends that he was done with war. So why had he returned to Vietnam? Because, he said, for "some incredible reason" he felt he belonged there. On March 29, 1970, however, the media reported that the People's Army of North Vietnam was marching through Cambodia, and might attempt to take Phnom Penh. Thrilled by the idea of photographing tank battles in the ancient city, Sean flew to Phnom Penh on April 1 and took up residence in the Hotel Royale (on assignment from Time-Life).

Flynn met Stone in Phnom Penh, and the two decided that covering Cambodia was going to be their last great adventure. Sean argued that they shouldn't look like reporters, that they should dress as casually as possible to blend in better. Stone agreed.

On April 4, 1970, Sean and Stone headed out of Phnom Penh. On April 5, they followed a press tour to watch the Royal Cambodian Army retake the city of Chi Pou, about two hours east of Phnom Penh. Only, there was no action that day, and most of the press returned to the capital. Sean and Stone sat in a cafe, debating what to do. The rumor was that there was a North Vietnamese roadblock on the highway about two hours east of Chi Pou. Three or four days earlier, some journalists had gotten to the roadblock, been politely questioned, and released. Yet, the day before, some other journalists had been kidnapped there. Sean and Stone weighed the danger, and believed that they should risk approaching the roadblock. This might be their chance to get on the enemy's good side, and see the war from their perspective. Stone was reluctant, but Sean kept saying the danger was worth it. Still Stone refused. Finally, Sean got on his motorcycle and headed off for the roadblock. Stone followed. The two men were seen in discussion (some say arguing) on the road.

Sean and Stone got to the roadblock, which the Cambodian army had seized. The Vietnamese had apparently retreated to the treeline to watch. Newsday correspondent Woody Dyckerman was there, too, having traveled from Chi Pou via taxi. The Cambodians began slowly pulling out, but Dyckerman says that women and children continued to work in the nearby fields -- so he felt safe. But his taxi driver decided to flee back to Chi Pou. Dyckerman left in his taxi, and saw Sean and Stone standing at the roadblock.

A few hours later, a French television crew from Chi Pou approached the roadblock in the mid-afternoon. The French said that they saw both Sean and Stone there on their motorcycles, although their camera footage only caught Sean on tape. Sean rode slowly toward them, shouting "Pathet Lao! Pathet Lao!" (It makes no sense, as this was not Laos. He should have yelled "Khmer Rouge" or "Vietcong".) The French, realizing they were in danger, turned and fled. They caught footage of Sean Flynn riding slowly back to the roadblock.

That is the last anyone saw of Sean Flynn or Dana Stone.

* * * * * * * *

Most sources agree that the North Vietnamese, not the Khmer Rouge, held that roadblock.

There is some second- and third-hand evidence that Sean and Stone were turned over to the Khmer Rouge later. But how much later? Some sources claim it was just three weeks later, but other say that the North Vietnamese didn't turn Sean and Stone over to the Khmer Rouge until late 1970 or early 1971.

The consensus judgment is that the Khmer Rouge held the two journalists until June 1971 and then executed them. But a few sources believe the two were still alive until late 1973 or early 1974.

Where did Sean Flynn die? No one knows. One rumor is that they were taken north to Kratie City and died there. But another is that they were held close to where they were captured. Were they tossed into a mass grave, or were they buried in a solitary one? No one knows. The Khmer Rouge didn't really begin mass killings until 1975, but it is not implausible to they killed many prisoners at once and dumped all the corpses into a mass grave. No one knows.

Sean Flynn was declared legally dead in 1984.

Tim Page recovered from his horrific wounds. In the 1980s, he returned to Cambodia and began searching for Sean Flynn and Dana Stone. In 1991, he dug up a mass grave and pulled out Caucasian skeletal remains that he declared were Flynn's remains. But when the remains were submitted to the Department of Defense's Central Identification Lab in Hawaii, DNA proved that the remains were those of Clyde McKay, a freelance mercenary who helped lead a mutiny aboard the USS Columbia Eagle (a ship under contract to the Department Defense). The ship was carrying napalm to a U.S. base in Thailand, but McKay turned it over to the Cambodian government and declared himself a war resister. McKay and another man had been hired by Louise Smiser Stone (Dana's wife) and Lili Damita to carry medicine and food into Cambodia to try to win Sean and Stone's release or at least find information about them. They were caught by the Khmer Rouge and executed in June 1971.

* * * * * * * *

This is Errol Flynn's grandson, Sean Flynn. He's mostly famous for being Jamie Lynn Spears' nerdy boyfriend-wanna be on Nickelodeon's Zoey 101 from 2005 to 2008.


  1. This is a sad story. I have studied Errol Flynn for a large part of my life. As a Psychologist and Vietnam Era Veteran, I have always had a keen interest in finding the remains of Sean Flynn. My guess is that they both died that day, he and Stone,at the road block. The best chances are to search that area for remains. Dr.Pratt.

    1. My sense is that, 45 years later, no remains are going to be found. Like so many in Cambodia.

  2. He outdid his dad in drama,
    but it shows how driven unloved children become.
    His love for warzones was obviously suicidal, as a writer living in Hollywoodland its a grimm reflection...