Saturday, 4 April 2009

Celebrity Chess - Errol Flynn The Chess Player

Errol Flynn playing chess with Olivia de Havilland:

This photograph shows Errol Flynn playing chess with Olivia de Havilland on the set of the film, They Died with Their Boots On. Flynn co-starred with Olivia de Havilland in a total of eight films, including Captain Blood, The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), The Adventures of Robin Hood, Dodge City, Santa Fe Trail (1940), and They Died with Their Boots On (1941). The image above comes from the book, From a Life of Adventure: The Writings of Errol Flynn by Tony Thomas (Ed.), Secaucus, 1980.

Errol Leslie Flynn (1909-1959) was born in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. His father, Theodore Thomson Flynn, was the foundation Professor of Biology at the University of Tasmania from 1911. His mother was said to be related to midshipman Young from mutiny on the Bounty (William Bligh was the subject of the mutiny), though there is no firm documentary proof of this.

Flynn was a hyperactive-impulsive child who was 'impossible to baby-sit', so much so that when his parents did require a baby-sitter they would often use a male, such as a member of Professor Flynn's staff. In modern times Errol Flynn would likely have been diagnosed as having ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). He excelled in athletics, but he underperformed in his other studies. He was expelled from a number of exclusive schools for being disruptive in classes and also other alleged misdemeanors. The chess player Cecil (CJS) Purdy (link) was, for a short period of time, a student at the same Hobart school as Flynn.

With adulthood Errol Flynn spent years "roughing it" in Australia and Papua New Guinea (age 18-24 years). He was for a time a schooner captain and plantation overseer. There are allegations that he was involved in blackbirding and diamond smuggling (link).

In the 1930s he moved to the United Kingdom where he took an acting job with the Northampton Repertory Company. He starred in the Australian film, In the Wake of the Bounty (1933) playing Fletcher Christian. He was signed by Warner Brothers, after starring in the 1934 film Murder at Monte Carlo, as a contract actor and moved to the USA. His big break came with the 1935 film Captain Blood, where he starred alongside Olivia de Havilland.

By the 1950s Flynn was an unwell man because of the ravages of alcohol and drug abuse, together with an enlarged heart, tuberculosis and recurrent malaria (contracted in Papua New Guinea). He died of a heart attack at the age of 50 years, with the coroner commenting that his body at autopsy was that of a 75 year old man.

It is interesting that Errol Flynn's childhood behaviour is likely consistent with a diagnosis of ADHD. If he had had the benefit of amphetamine therapy during his childhood then he may not have had so many problems with alchohol and substance abuse in his adult life. Stimulant treatment of ADHD in childhood appears to (recent meta-analysis result) reduce the subsequent risk for substance abuse by about half.

Chess Quote - Cecil Purdy on Pawn Endings & Golf

C.J.S. Purdy
[Chess World, December 1951]

"Pawn endings are to chess as putting is to golf."
-- C.J.S. Purdy

The Australian chessplayer Cecil John Seddon Purdy (1906-1979) was born in Port Said, Egypt. There is some debate about his birth year as discussed in Edward Winter's Chess Notes (here). His family moved to New Zealand, then to Hobart (Tasmania), before finally settling in Sydney (New South Wales) when he was aged 12 years. Whilst in Tasmania, Purdy apparently went to the same school as the future film star Errol Flynn (1909-1959).

Purdy devoted his life to playing and writing about chess. He was the first World Champion in correspondence chess. He was also awarded the International Master title in over-the-board chess, and the Grandmaster title at correspondence chess. He was a very good chess writer and described by Bobby Fischer as being an excellent chess teacher.

Purdy is reported to have died of a heart attack whilst playing chess - his final words were allegedly "I have a win, but it will take some time" (Dunne 1991).

Dunne, A (1991) - The Complete Guide to Correspondence Chess, Thinker's Press, ISBN 0-938650-52-1
Edward Winter (2007) - Chess Notes - 4924. Purdy’s year of birth (Link).
Wikipedia - Cecil Purdy (Link)