Majorca's Greatest Celebrity

Monday this week marked the sixtieth anniversary of the death of Errol Flynn. Anniversaries of the passing away of long-ago stars of Hollywood wouldn't typically attract any great attention in Majorca. However, Flynn's anniversary was different. This was because Flynn had an association with the island during the 1950s that surpassed pretty much any other celebrity link, including one with Hollywood, that had preceded him or was to come after him.

Maybe one can say that they don't make celebrities like Flynn any more, though in terms of the type of excess that Flynn was famously capable of, this wouldn't be entirely accurate. For Majorcan purposes, though, a Hollywood figure with the status of Michael Douglas represents a quite different proposition to Errol Flynn. Douglas was, for some years, a promotional face of Majorca and the Tramuntana in particular. When he's in Majorca, as he was earlier this year, a great deal of interest is aroused. Naturally so. Even allowing for the steady flow of celebrities in the summer months - some with rather greater celebrity than others, it's fair to say - Douglas commands attention for being an internationally known figure, a genuine A-Lister. His celebrity was used to promote an alternative image of Majorca - one of culture, heritage and mountains, and so therefore removed from the sun and beach of the resorts.

In the 1950s, the Franco regime had come to the conclusion that a way of improving Spain's image was to engage the assistance of Hollywood. At the end of that decade, the tie-up resulted in American film producer Samuel Bronston relocating his production operation to Madrid. El Cid was the most successful result. The regime was so delighted that the film was officially declared to be in the Spanish national interest.

Had they thought in terms of a promotional face in those days, Flynn's might well have been Majorca's. He spent a great deal of time on the island. He had international fame. For the American tourism market, which was firmly on the Majorcan radar in the 1950s, Flynn might have made perfect sense. However, they didn't think in those terms, while Flynn might not have proved to be an acceptable promotional face either to the Americans or to Spain's political hierarchy.

His career had peaked in the 1940s. It wasn't so much that he was on the wane that would have counted against him; it was his reputation. Apart from the drinking, there had been, for example, the case brought against him for underage sex. Neither the Americans nor the Spanish would particularly have approved of what turned out to be his last film, the documentary Cuban Story: The Truth About Fidel Castro Revolution; Flynn, initially at any rate, approved of Castro.

What set him apart in Majorca, though, was the fact that - certainly up to a point - he embraced a local style of life, and drink was at the centre of this. There is the story of a hunting expedition, which was probably in 1953. Accompanied by a group of locals from Maria de la Salut and a bottle of vodka, he headed off for a day's shooting in Son Serra de Marina. Following the hunt, he apparently organised a chicken dinner in Maria, to which most of the residents turned up, if only to get a glimpse of him.

Flynn's association had nothing at all to do with any link between Hollywood and the regime. He and his third wife, Patricia Wymore, were on their way to Gibraltar for their honeymoon. The year was 1950 and they were on board Flynn's yacht, Zaca, which he had acquired after the Second World War. Refuge from a heavy storm had to be sought. This was in Pollensa Bay.

Flynn was to choose southern Majorca rather than the north as his base. The villa he rented in Cas Catala was demolished in 1989; there is of course a plaque in his honour there. The Bon Sol Hotel in Illetes was one of his watering holes, and the drinking was certainly the stuff of legend - having to be carried out unconscious from a Palma bar, falling overboard from Zaca because he was so drunk.

And the yacht itself acquired something of a legendary status - Ava Gardner, Orson Welles were among those who were invited on to it, or were said to have been anyway. After Flynn's death in 1959, the yacht was moored at the Palma's Real Club Náutico. It remained there until it was taken to Villefranche-sur-Mer in southern France by British millionaire playboy Freddie Tinsley. He had been entrusted with the yacht's sale, but had instead stripped everything of value from it.

Sixty years on, and some in Majorca may have been raising a glass to remember the island's Hollywood star. Flynn would have approved, though he would have recommended more than just the one glass.

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