compiled by Patrick H. Moore
On February 6, 1943, the famed film actor Errol Flynn, after a month-long trial, was acquitted of the rapes and statutory rapes of Peggy Satterlee and Betty Hansen. The jury deliberated for 13 hours before returning with their unanimous not guilty verdict. According to Trove, Flynn, who had been uncharacteristically subdued throughout the lengthy ordeal, shouted gleefully upon hearing the good news:
Gosh! I feel like whooping!
We’re not sure if “whooping” is a euphemism for sexual intercourse but it certainly sounds like one. What is known is that while the trial was going on, Mr. Flynn was pursuing and romancing 18-year old Nora Eddington, a teenage redhead who was the lobby cigarette girl at the courthouse. Flynn, who was never shy about expressing himself, explained:
I carefully checked her age. She was eighteen, safe ground. Her name, it turned out, was Nora Eddington. What I didn’t know was that her father was Captain Jack Eddington of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office.
Flynn later married Nora Eddington, but like his other marriages, it was doomed to fail.
The jury forewoman, a Mrs. Anderson, explained that during the 13 hours the jury was out, there were seven votes of 10 to 2 in favor of an acquittal. Finally, however, the two “hold- outs” capitulated. While all this was going on, Flynn literally could not sit still and “lit one cigarette after another while rising from his chair and sitting down again.”
Naturally, the courtroom went wild when the verdict was finally read. In addition to shouting about the joys of “whooping,” Flynn“jumped from his chair and rushed across the court-room to the jury and shook hands enthusiastically with the forewoman and others. Spectators cheered and crowded around Flynn and thumped his back.”
The Judge stated that he believed that the evidence was evenly divided but that he felt the verdict was correct.
Flynn, who has been accused of many things including having Nazi leanings, commented in an interview:
Peggy Satterlee said: “I knew those women would acquit him. They just sat and looked adoringly at him as if he was their son or something. The trial was an awful strain and the verdict horrible. I wish they had taken Betty Hansen and left me out. I was working and minding my own business.”
Given Errol Flynn’s “skin of his teeth” escape, not unlike his many magnificent escapes in his swashbuckling films, one can’t help but wonder who his adversaries were. Who were Peggy Satterlee and Betty Hansen?
It seems that Flynn got entangled with two lovely young things at two different times in the space of a year. One was a Miss Betty Hansen, aged 17; the other a Peggy Satterlee of even more tender years.
The girls were irked with Flynn and their parents were irked with him. The State of California, having been duly applied to, decided to try him for both charges at one and the same time. The public, to say the least, never had it better.
Flynn claimed that the whole thing was ridiculous; although he knew the girls, he had no knowledge that they were under 18. Flynn had a point. Both young women appeared to be of the age of legal consent:
Miss Satterlee danced at N.T.O’s Florentine Gardens, clad mostly in a plunge neckline, and Miss Hansen had come to the coast with movie ambitions. When dressed for the kill, they could, both of them, have been an attractive pair of youngish grandmothers, what with their warpaint and mascara.
Satterlee and Hansen, however, hardly looked like “youngish grandmothers” in the courtroom. No doubt their attorneys had advised them on the need for innocent presentation:
Miss Satterlee appeared without even powder, clad in a little girl’s billowy dress and flat wedgies, and she had her hair artfully rigged in two long braids down her back caught with fetching bows.
She could have been ten. And Miss Hansen, also eschewing cosmetics, wore flat heeled shoes and a plain drab smock.
Miss Hansen was the first to take the stand. She claimed to have gone to dinner at the home of Flynn’s friend, McEvoy, where she had been given an “evil green drink” which had made her very sick. Always the gentleman, Flynn had taken her upstairs to take a “nap.” He had also helped her undress. On cross-examination, Flynn’s lawyer, the famed Jerry Geisler, inquired of Miss Hansen:
“But when you found you were not going to sleep, didn’t you try and push him away?”
Miss Hansen admitted she had not pushed him, kicked him or scratched him.
Miss Satterlee’s testimony was similar in nature except, in this case, Flynn’s unwanted advances had taken place on his yacht, the Sirocco. She stated that she had not screamed for help even though there were people nearby. She stated quaintly that she had not thought it worthwhile because: “the refrigerator was running.” With logic like that, it’s not surprising that Flynn was acquitted on both charges. Newsweek (yes they had Newsweek way back then) stated:
It happened in the best Hollywood tradition. The defendant leaped joyfully to his feet. Spectators cheered. Flashbulbs popped…”
Flynn was innocent. Not one seemed to be particularly put out over the not guilty verdict, not even Betsy Hansen’s mother who issued a statement from her home in Lincoln, Nebraska:
Oh well, nobody got hurt. I have no hard feeling toward Mr. Flynn. Betty is the cutest little thing you ever saw…a clean little Christian girl!
MORE ON THE TRIAL
Jurors are prone to speaking out following verdicts and the Flynn jurors were no exception. Motion Picture in conjunction with Hollywood Magazine brings us the following:
What really convinced the jury that he was innocent?
With MOTION PICTURE-HOLLYWOOD’S policy of bringing you the inside story behind all front-page Hollywood news, we went to the individual jurors and asked them. Nine women and three men—all mature, intelligent and conscientious—sat in on the fate of Flynn, but because they are respectable citizens with families and want to avoid the spotlight, we have respected their desire for privacy by not quoting any member by name.
One of the jurors told me significantly, “It was not so much Flynn’s testimony that helped him as it was the testimony of both the girls who brought charges against him.”
“Their testimony proved to us that they were not always telling the truth. For instance, Betty Hansen first said that she undressed herself, and then said that Flynn had undressed her. During the preliminary hearing she said that the alleged act took place on a large bed in a large room, but on the stand she said it was a small bed in an alcove.”
The appearance of the girls did their cases no good either, according to the jurors. “There were no tears, no grief in recalling the alleged acts. We felt that a girl whose virtue had been molested would be unable to control her emotions on recalling the incident, but Betty Hansen and Peggy Satterlee were belligerent and displayed no regret.
“Besides, Mrs. Satterlee knew that her daughter was living in the apartment of a married man and was accepting money and gifts from him.”
“I felt sure,” a pleasant-faced, motherly juror told me, “that Betty Hansen first brought charges against Flynn out of hurt feelings and a sudden desire for revenge, and that when her case was weak, Peggy Satterlee was brought in.”
“Betty, on the other hand, was furious at Errol Flynn because he had paid no attention to her at Fred McEvoy’s party which she had crashed. She had come uninvited to that party with the express purpose of playing up to Mr. Flynn to obtain his help in getting into pictures…”
The jury was alert, not only in weighing every word uttered in court, but in making their sage analysis of the evidence displayed. The snapshots of Peggy Satterlee in a bathing suit taken on Sunday a few hours after she said she was attacked, told them plenty. “She looked happy and carefree, not at all like a girl who had suffered a harrowing physical experience as she had claimed.”
Not a thing missed their keen scrutiny. When Peggy told how she and Cathcart-Jones had played tag one night in a mortuary and how she had placed her face next to that of a dead man, they were revolted and arrived at the conclusion that a girl who could do that must be too calloused to be as deeply hurt as she said she was.
The Judge himself admonished the jurors that a birth certificate need not be viewed as conclusive evidence.
“We never felt that the girls were as young as they claimed,” several jurors explained. “Betty told us that she had been graduated from high school and then had gone to Teachers’ Training for two years before she came to Hollywood. Even a very bright girl—which Betty obviously was not—couldn’t have accomplished so much under the age of 17. Peggy looked and acted worldly; and on many occasions had sworn that she was older. For instance, she and her mother insisted that she was 18 when she applied for a driver’s license, and she said she was 21 when she applied for a job at a night club. Apparently she thought nothing of adjusting her age to suit the circumstances.”
One of the jurors stated that Errol Flynn’s reputation as a glamorous Hollywood star had no influence in her decision to vote for acquittal:
“Believe me,” one of the women told me, “I have seen him on the screen only once. I looked upon him as a man seeking justice, not as a dashing film star with a handsome profile…”
How can one argue with such eloquence?
THE week after Errol Flynn’s trial was over, the boys and girls who attended it and wrote it up gave him a party where the whole cast was re-enacted, amidst much merriment. The party was in payment for one Errol threw for them on the ninth floor of the Hall of Justice, while the jury was out cogitating as to his guilt or innocence. Errol had his butler bring down two cases of liquor and lots of sandwiches, and a merry time was had by all except the judge and jury. Errol also wanted time on the radio to thank the Great American Public for giving him such a fair trial. Networks wouldn’t go for it.
Naturally, we can’t help wondering what happened to Fynn after the trial. It is noted that the well-known expression: “In Like Flynn” stems from his acquittal. The website For Shame! brings us the following:
Errol’s career didn’t really suffer from the trial, but rather from negative public opinion when he didn’t enlist during WWII (sidenote: not his fault, he wanted to, didn’t pass the physical, remarkable considering sword choreography prowess which you’d think the Army could use somehow). By the early 50s he’d really embraced a late-Kerouacian diet of cake and whiskey, resulting in alcoholism and weight gain.
But Errol, the scalawag, the rapscallion, had to go out with an inappropriately younger bang: at the age of 50, he met and fell in love with a FIFTEEN YEAR OLD whom he planned TO MARRY and with whom he planned to move to Jamaica. Very, very unfortunately, Errol died of a heart attack in 1959 before he could really love or marry his little island childbride. Sad.
Although the moralists among us may despise Errol Flynn for his caddish, inappropriate and downright sexist behavior (not to mention his alleged Nazi leanings), he never seemed to express any regrets for his many flaws. But what can you expect from a man who stated in his typically flippant manner:
“I like my scotch old and my woman young.”
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