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The Rock-itt : September 2009
David DeWitt told me later: "I looked about me and felt we had all come to a marvellous party; each of us laughed and smiled and felt content; our hearts were warmed by every meeting, every glance and word between ourselves, every sight in front of our eyes... in the background you could hear Flynn's voice somewhere, Korngold's music... echoing in the air where Errol lived and breathed in life... Jack and Louise took care of everybody else first before themselves, perfect hosts. We all knew this was a one-of-a-kind moment, and we didn't want it to end... we were the happiest cats in the kingdom, down by the river Dee... each of us a happy Cheshire cat... I know I was!" There was much more of course. And there are other tales to tell: the wild rides and the malfunctioning GPS; the Pakistani liquor salesman who insisted I bag my booze ("Da law! Da law!" He cried, "You no break da law!"); the gap toothed Marilyn on Hollywood Boulevard; my encounter with two rather likeable Scientologists who learned from me first hand that L. Ron Hubbard was a brilliant pulp writer long before he created Scientology; getting lost in South Central without a gun; Catalina Island bikini bimbos; and bellowing at two horrified young tourists in the hotel hallway long after midnight "My next book is an action-packed western!" (Yes, I was intoxicated). The following evening we enjoyed one last hurrah with Robert Florczak who had Karl, Jack and myself enthralled by some impressive rare photographs, including a still from Desperate Journey signed by Ronald Reagan. The four days had passed too quickly. I had a day left, well spent with relatives, and then back to Chicago on Tuesday. It was over, but we had done right by the old sport after all. A number of guests mentioned the positive influence one of Flynn's films had on their lives. Flynn's wild and ultimately tragic life continues to captivate us, but he has been unfairly maligned by two hack writers and Jack Marino isn't happy about that at all. One of them, an ugly little man in England, is in Jack's words "The best pro-abortion argument I've ever seen!" And while these two hacks have been publicly criticized for their lack of historical accuracy (and fraudulent claims) Jack is coordinating efforts with several researchers and writers to produce ongoing factual analysis of Flynn's life and career. I don't know where all of this will lead, but I do know this -- Jack Marino is a force to be reckoned with. There is something intrinsically sad about a party's end. But we came away from this one grateful to Jack and his wife for having masterminded a heartfelt celebration. Flynn was represented by the best and I suspect the old boy's spirit enjoyed it as much as we did. But then it was over, and not even the bright California sun could dispel my melancholy. Or maybe I just had a hangover. On Tuesday afternoon I was standing outside of the hotel waiting for my wife when I heard a familiar sound. Over the sea, hearty and free, Troubles will soon be over.... Where had I heard that old sea shanty before? A tall figure was approaching me with his back to the sun. I squinted into the golden afternoon light and discerned a tri- cornered hat, a broad shouldered figure in a long coat, tall boots and a belt buckle that gleamed like gold. A pirate in Burbank? Robert Louis Stevenson and Raphael Sabatini and a dozen other writers had created just such a character. As he approached I stifled a laugh for surely this was one of Jack Marino's actor pals come to play a prank on me. It was just like Jack to pull a stunt like this. They probably paid this poor sod fifty bucks and dressed him in discarded costumes from the Republic Pictures cellar. I decided to go along with it. "Well, you old cutthroat!" I said bravely. "What brings you to Burbank!" He squinted at me, this black bearded corsair, and before me shimmered a composite of Robert Newton and Cornel Wilde and Ty Power and Basil Rathbone and Laird Cregar and that amazing Tasmanian his ownself staring at me from out of the past. His eyes gleamed and he flashed a row of teeth white as ivory. He smelled of the sea's salt spray and rum. "Captain's orders." He said. He pulled a slip of paper from a deep pocket and handed it to me. I marvelled at his accent. Not quite English and not quite Australian, but something from those long stretches of sea between the two. I unfolded the slip of paper and read the words written in black ink: Pirate Party on Catalina Island. Part Two. And after that was written the secret date. When I looked up he was half a block away and fading into the sunlight, and he was singing again. Or had I imagined him? No matter. Captain's orders. Break out those sails and watch them fill with the wind that's carrying us to Catalina. The eternal place where all things came and passed, and yet abide forever and would never change. Down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and sky. All I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by. I shrugged. Why not? Time flies when you're having rum. For Errol, with gratitdue Thomas McNulty, June, 2009