2. Errol Flynn and the statutory rape allegations in the 1930s
During the 1950s the phrase In like Flynn meant that someone was in an enviable position, with the success of whatever venture was being undertaken all but ensured. In the 1940s the namesake of the phrase, Errol Flynn, found himself in a position neither enviable nor likely to lead to success. Sex with minor females – those under the age of 18 in California – was statutory rape, and Flynn found himself so charged by not one, but two underage young ladies, threatening his reputation, his career, his marriage, and his freedom. Both girls, 17 year old Peggy Satterlee and Betty Hansen, also 17, accused Flynn of seducing them, Peggy on Flynn’s yacht and Betty in the home of a friend. The press was largely against Flynn (like Chaplin before him, Flynn was a foreigner, and thus possessed of un-American morals).
Flynn was eventually acquitted in both cases, and during the trials his attorneys managed to point out both girls had been previously involved with other married men, of lesser fame and wealth. It was also pointed out that prosecutors had coordinated both cases when presenting their accusations. Flynn’s acquittal did not restore his reputation in much of the public’s opinion. There was, after all, that pesky fact that he was a foreigner (Flynn was Australian) and xenophobia was at its height in the early days of the Second World War. The press eventually went on to other things, but Flynn’s image was permanently damaged, and he never again enjoyed the reputation of being a romanticized gentleman, cultured and debonair.