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1938 was a busy year for Errol Flynn. Fifteen days before he stepped in front of the cameras to shoot Four's a Crowd, he had just completed a very long production schedule for The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). Having already established himself as Hollywood's preeminent swashbuckler, Flynn was anxious about falling into a typecasting rut. With this in mind, he demanded that Warner Bros. put him into other types of films, especially screwball comedies, then a popular fixture of 1930's films. The studio came up with Four's a Crowd (1938).
Playing opposite Flynn were Rosalind Russell, Walter Connolly, and his co-stars from Robin Hood, Patric Knowles and Olivia de Havilland. It was well known around the studio that Flynn had an unrequited crush on de Havilland. During the filming of The Charge of the Light Brigade, shot in 1936, Flynn confessed the following in his autobiography: "I was sure I was in love with her; so that acting in that hard-to-make picture became bearable. It took a long time to produce this vehicle, and all through it I fear I bothered Miss de Havilland in very teasing ways thought I was really trying to display my affection. Olivia was only twenty-one then. I was married of course, unhappily, Olivia was lovely and distant. She must have actively disliked me for the teasing I did, for I sprang some very obstreperous gags. There was the time she found a dead snake in her panties as she went to put them on. She was terrified and wept. She knew very well who was responsible and it couldn't have endeared me to her. It slowly penetrated my obtuse mind that such juvenile pranks weren't the way to any girl's heart. But it was too late. I couldn't soften her. Later, she told me that she lived in terror of what bit of idiocy I'd spring next." Their relationship, according to de Havilland, remained friendly but strictly platonic, although she did admit in later years that she wished she'd had a fling with Flynn.
Ever the prankster, Flynn couldn't resist playing one on Patric Knowles. A few days before filming of Four's a Crowd started, Flynn and his wife, actress Lili Damita invited Knowles and his wife Enid for dinner. According to author Charles Higham in his book Errol Flynn: The Untold Story, "In the midst of the meal, the doorbell rang. The maid went to the door to discover two policemen standing there, asking to see Patric Knowles. The maid announced to Knowles that the cops wanted to see him. Shocked, wondering what he had done, he rose and went out. He was handed a summons stating that he was accused of alienating the affections of Carole Landis from her lover, Busby Berkeley. He protested loudly that he scarcely knew Miss Landis. Angrily, he thrust the warrant in his coat pocket and began walking back to the dining room. The policeman shouted, "You can't go there. You have to come back with me to the station." Knowles was pushed into the police car and driven to a building in downtown Los Angeles. He was interrogated by police and was too bemused to ask for his attorney. Just as he was being trundled off to a cell, the policemen burst out laughing. They revealed to the exasperated actor that they were on Errol Flynn's payroll."
Four's a Crowd was supposedly based on the life of Ivy Ledbetter Lee, a public relations man who thought up publicity stunts for the Rockefeller family. The story has PR man Flynn working for a wacky millionaire (played by Walter Connolly) and falling for Connolly's daughter (de Havilland). At the same time, he's also romancing hard-boiled newspaperwoman Rosalind Russell, who Warner Bros. had borrowed from MGM. Director Michael Curtiz, who had been assigned the movie when Edmund Goulding turned it down, built his sets nearly identical to the three Los Angeles newspaper offices he had visited. Although he went eleven days over the shooting schedule, Curtiz managed to stay under budget by $12,000, despite additional expenses incurred by the film's star. Flynn refused to wear his own clothes in the film, even though he had a large personal wardrobe. He told Warner Bros. that he had nothing suitable to wear and wanted them to find something for him in the wardrobe department, which he would then take home with him and Warners would have to foot the bill. Studio head Jack Warner refused and told Flynn to go out and buy some suits but Flynn refused. He aggravated Warner by wearing a moth-eaten cardigan under his suit. When Warner saw the cardigan, he ordered the scenes to be re-shot. In the end, as he usually did, Errol Flynn got his way.
Producer: David Lewis, Hal B. Wallis, Jack L. Warner
Director: Michael Curtiz
Screenplay: Casey Robinson, Sig Herzig, Wallace Sullivan (story)
Cinematography: Ernest Haller
Film Editing: Clarence Kolster
Art Direction: Max Parker
Music: Eddie Durant, Ray Heindorf, M.K. Jerome, Heinz Roemheld
Cast: Errol Flynn (Robert Kensington Lansford), Olivia de Havilland (Lorri Dillingwell), Rosalind Russell (Jean Christy), Patric Knowles (Patterson Buckley), Walter Connolly (John P. Dillingwell), Hugh Herbert (Silas Jenkins).
by Lorraine LoBianco
Errol Flynn: The Untold Story by Charles Higham
My Wicked, Wicked Ways by Errol Flynn
The Casablanca Man: The Cinema of Michael Curtiz by James C. Robertson
The Internet Movie Database