Wednesday, 23 July 2014

CINEMA SIDE: Errol Flynn & the Russian Princess

Published posthumously in 1959, Errol Flynn’s autobiography My Wicked, Wicked Ways has never been out of print and has sold more than one million copies.  Once described as the handsomest man in the world, Flynn candidly talks about himself in the book and provides a sharp, intimate view of Hollywood in its golden years.

Among the many personal anecdotes given by the author/actor in his autobiography, is an incident that occurred following Flynn’s discovery in a Stratford-on-Avon festival stage production that resulted in a six-month contract with Warner Brothers in Hollywood.

Leaving England for New York, in 1934, on board the Paris, the young and still unknown actor found himself sailing with the up and coming stars, Merle Oberon, Louis Hayward, and Lili Damita (Flynn’s future wife).  Also, among this group, was a woman whom Flynn identified in his autobiography as “the Russian princess, Naomi Tiarovitch”(165)

Too shy to attempt an intrusion into their more celebrated circle, Flynn confessed that he watched the group from afar, his eye particularly drawn to “the beautifully dressed Damita arrogantly walking the deck” (Flynn, 165). 

After one failed attempt to ingratiate himself to his future wife on board the Paris, the young actor arrived in New York, checked himself into the St Moritz Hotel, and entered the hotel’s elevator, where, with only an elevator boy between them, he was surprised to find “the very alluring Princess Tiarovitch”(165).

Flynn recalled, many years later, that he and the princess had seen each other on board the Paris, but had never spoken, and that even in the elevator she gave him no sign that she recognized him from the ship.  In the elevator, Flynn reported, the princess only spoke to the elevator boy, asking him, “What floor is Room 801 on?”

Flynn continued to his own room on the tenth floor, but had understood.  He immediately called her rooms, and she immediately invited him down to them.  Shortly afterwards, Flynn remembered, “she was in my arms” (166).  They made love.  Then, after a murmur of soft male tones and the purr of little Russian whimpers, they began again (Flynn, 166). 

It was during this second bout that the dynamics of the encounter changed.  “Suddenly,” Flynn recalled, I lept up “with a yell, a real scream of pain.  I clutched at my buttocks.  It seemed as if I had been bitten by ten scorpions.”  Bringing his hand up, the handsome young actor saw blood all over both hands (Flynn, 166).  Staring at the princess then, he said, he recognized “a strange gloating in her eyes, a truly savage look” (Flynn, 166). 

Flynn’s Russian princess had introduced what the author described as “a hairbrush with a long handle” that “looked like a miniature baseball bat,” and since he could not be sure whether the bristles were made of hair or some kind of thin steel, Flynn thought it best to back off, get dressed and immediately end the brief affair.

Disguised by Flynn in his autobiography, the true identity of the Russian princess has, for some time, remained unknown.  Just recently, however, The Errol Flynn Blog claims to have solved the mystery.  According to the site, her real name was Natalie Paley LeLong and she was both Russian and a princess.

Photo of Natalie Paley LeLong by Man Ray, 1934

Flynn, Errol. My Wicked, Wicked Ways. New York: Berkley Books, 1985

Photo of Natalie Paley LeLong courtesy of The Errol Flynn Blog

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