Lilac Time

Hollywood headliner Errol Flynn was down on his luck when he agreed, begrudgingly, to appear in the British musical Lilacs In the Spring opposite Anna Neagle. Released in 1954, It was the first of two movies the stars made together, the other being King's Rhapsody. Released in the USA as Let's Make Up, the movie also heralded the feature film debut of a young Scots actor called Sean Connery. I wonder whatever happened to him?

Made by Everest Pictures, a new production company from producer-director Herbert Wilcox; who was also Neagle’s husband. Wilcox had made three films for Republic Pictures, and had hoped that the company would bankroll film versions of two Ivor Novello musicals he had purchased. When this did not happen, he was forced to obtain finance from another company, British Lion. Flynn only agreed to make the film to pay off the debts he had incurred from his own abandoned project, The Story of William Tell.

Neagle and Wilcox personally guaranteed a loan of ₤75,000 to make Lilacs In the Spring, but the movie was a flop, and the loss contributed to Wilcox's bankruptcy. It wasn’t helped by the 50-year-old Neagle playing the coquettish daughter of the 45-year old Flynn.

Flynn liked Britain, or perhaps Britain liked him; in the twilight of his career, it certainly seemed easier for him to earn a living here than in the States, where the Tasmanian devil had made his name. He enjoyed a renaissance of sorts in 1957 with his role in The Sun Also Rises, but that would be his last major hit. He died in October 19598 from a combination of heart disease and cirrhosis of the liver. 

Even though the hard drinking, womanising Flynn was no singer, he opted to use his own voice in Lilacs In the Spring rather than be dubbed by a professional. Neagle, on the other hand, was a talented and trained singer. Bizarrely, Philips in the UK decided to issue a 78 from the film, featuring Flynn mugging his way through Lily of Laguna on one side and duetting (of sorts) on the film’s title song, We’ll Gather Lilacs (written by Ivor Novello) on the flip – however he doesn’t duet with Dame Anna, but with his then-wife (and singer) Patrice Wymore. It’s not good…

Lily of Laguna was written in 1898 by English composer Leslie Stuart. Advertised as “the world’s greatest coon song”, by the time Flynn got in there the lyrics had been toned down somewhat, and his version lacks the original’s racial insensitivity. This ‘cleaner’ version had previously been recorded by Bing Crosby.

In an odd postscript, Flynn’s only son, Sean, (born 31 May 1941), disappeared in Cambodia in April 1970 during the Vietnam War, while and he and his colleague Dana Stone were working as freelance photojournalists for Time magazine. Neither man's remains have ever been found and, after a decade-long search financed by his mother, he was officially declared dead in 1984. It is generally assumed that the two men were killed by Khmer Rouge guerrillas. In 2010, a British team uncovered the remains of a Western hostage in the Cambodian jungle, but DNA comparisons with samples from the Flynn family were negative.

Just as an aside, in 1974 Errol Brown (of Hot Chocolate fame) attempted to launch a solo career, issuing the single From The Top Of My Head under the name Errol Flynn…

Enjoy!

Download Lily HERE


Download Lilacs HERE



Apologies for the poor quality of We’ll Gather Lilacs. I’ll replace the sound file when I track down a better version.

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