Sean Flynn: Hollywood to Vietnam

A previous blog discussed in detail the life of Errol Flynn, but I did not touch on his family. Flynn married French-American actress Lili Damita before she gave birth to their son Sean in 1941. His parents separated and despite a nasty custody battle was subsequently raised by his mother. Errol died in 1959 and willed his son $5,000 to go towards his education. After a brief stint at Duke University, he instead sought to follow in the footsteps of his notorious father. Sean starred in a few movies (including the sequel to his father’s hit film Captain Blood) and even signed a recording contract with Hi-Fidelity Records. By the mid-60s, he was growing bored with acting and tried his hand at other occupations (a tour guide for big-game hunts in Africa and working as a game warden in Kenya); but the money was not substantial, so he did a couple of Spaghetti Westerns.

Before filming his eighth and final movie in 1967, he went to South Vietnam as a freelance photojournalist for French Magazine Paris Match, Time-Life, and then for the United Press International. He quickly made a name for himself as a member of a select group of high-risk photojournalists. This group included North Carolina native Perry Young, infamous and controversial war-photographer Chas Gerretsen, legendary writer John Steinbeck‘s son John Steinbeck IV, and Dana Stone. During his time in Vietnam, he experienced many atrocities. A month after being wounded in the field, the Viet Cong ambushed him the Green Beret and Nung mercenaries with which he had been patrolling. That was not the first that he had to use the M-16 rifle, given by the Green Berets, to help them in combat. He went on to parachute with the 101st Airborne Division after identifying a mine near Vung Tau before flying to Jordan to cover the Arab-Israeli war in 1967. His return to Vietnam in 1968 found Sean sustaining more injuries at the hands of a grenade, but that did not stop him from going back into the field. Flynn and the group of journalists attended a government-sponsored press conference in Saigon. Dana Stone and Sean chose to travel via motorcycle and traveled on after the press conference to a checkpoint on Highway 1 to photograph members of the Viet Cong.

ABC news correspondent Steve Bell was the last person to see the duo, and the black and white photograph of them leaving on their motorcycles is the last known photo of the two. Viet Cong guerrillas captured Flynn and Stone before or at the checkpoint they sought to photograph. What happened after that moment is not known. Believed to be executed by the Khmer Rouge faction (also known as the Communist Party of Kampuchea), Flynn’s mother had him declared dead after a financially exhausting fifteen-year search. Flynn’s bravery had a deadly cost and thrust his name onto the list of over 63 journalists killed and missing during the Vietnam War.


Featured Image – Sean Flynn with soldier attributed to Dana Stone/AP , Fair Use.

The Son of Captain Blood attributed to (Original text: *Source: Compagnia Cinematografica Mondiale (CCM)) Distributed to theatres to promote the film “The Son of Captain Blood), Public Domain,

ARVN forces assault a stronghold in the Mekong Delta attributed to U.S. Information Agency –, Public Domain,

Men of the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, fire from old Viet Cong trenches attributed to Source Post-Work: User:W.wolny –, Public Domain,

Flynn and Stone attributed to Source, Fair use,

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s