Power (who turned 43 in 1957) was a very heavy smoker with an essentially undiagnosed heart condition. He suddenly seemed to age very rapidly in the last year or two of his life. He was far too old for the role he was playing in Sun anyway (the character in the book would have been in his late 20s), but even so, he did look older than 43. He also looked older (and was again too old in reality for the part) in his last film, Witness for the Prosecution, released late in 1957.
Oddly, he looked a bit better in the film he started shooting next, Solomon and Sheba, in the fall of 1958. But in most of that he had a beard and slightly thicker hair, which masked his aging; in the scenes where he didn't have a beard he didn't look as good, though still better than the year before. But that was the film on which he collapsed and died of a massive heart attack while shooting an exhausting duelling scene with George Sanders. After he collapsed, one of the last things he did in life was pull out a pack of cigarettes from underneath his costume and light one up. That, plus the ignorant decision to give him a tot of brandy as a stimulant -- one of the absolute worst things you can give to a heart attack victim -- helped kill him within minutes. Yul Brynner replaced him in the movie, but according to the director, King Vidor, Power was much better.
Interestingly, Errol suffered a mild heart attack on the set of a movie too -- Gentleman Jim in 1942 -- but recovered and resumed shooting. But he was only 33 at the time. Power was 44 when he suffered his fatal heart attack on the set -- more weirdly, exactly what had happened to his father, actor Tyrone Power (Sr.), who died of a heart attack on a film set near the end of 1931. But he was 62.
With Errol Flynn, his life was sort of a long-term suicide. He just did whatever he wanted, enjoyed himself, knew he'd pay for it at the end, and eventually that end did arrive. His health was much worse than Power's -- Flynn was kept out of the armed forces in WWII due to a heart condition and several other serious maladies, including a malarial condition. Given his heavy substance abuse, which included smoking, drinking and, later, drug use, on top of a poor physical condition, it's astonishing he lasted to 50. Reportedly Flynn's doctor told him in 1958 that he had less than a year to live, which to Errol wasn't an inducement to slow down but rather to speed up, enjoy everything he could to even more excess, before the end.
Like Power, Flynn didn't look too bad until the last year or so of his life. In The Sun Also Rises he seemed appropriately soused, which he undoubtedly really was, but basically looked like the character he was playing, an aristocrat now broke and drinking too much out of sadness. He still looked, if not healthy, then certainly not ragged and clearly dying. The same with his next one or two films, where he also played drunks, including a portrayal of his old drinking pal John Barrymore. But by Cuban Rebel Girls, however he'd been holding himself together before, he looked dreadful -- his entire countenace wasted away, his flesh sagging, hair thinning, speech slurred, eyes glazed -- terrible as well as sad. At least he had the good sense not to cast himself as an heroic or romantic figure in the movie, in which he actually appeared only sporadically. But that made the whole thing that much sadder.
Incidentally, Errol was a pretty good writer, as his two books attest, so it's amazing how shoddy, how truly awful, his script was for CRG. Just plain stupid where it wasn't confused. Curiously, he doesn't get any screen credit as an actor in this movie, just as the person who "presents" the film, and as screenwriter. Also somewhat strangely, although he plays himself in this movie, never once does anyone call him "Errol" or "Mr. Flynn" or anything. His real-life girlfriend (playing someone else's girl in the movie) thinks he looks familiar, but that's as far as it gets. Only once, in his narration, does Flynn himself make a remark about "the Flynn charm" or something. I think this near-anonymity might have been a sign of Errol's own fatalism, his own cynical summing up of his career -- the onetime star who was even now fading into obscurity. Perhaps that's the saddest thing of all in this film.
Thanks for the information!
Was Power a heavy drinker as well?
You're most welcome -- sorry I went on a bit long!
Power did drink but nothing like Flynn. Errol was certainly an alcoholic, but Ty was not, nor did he use drugs as Flynn did. Power might have been a slightly heavier smoker, but all in all as I think about it it really is surprising Flynn lived longer and was older than Power when he died, eleven months after Power. People were shocked when Ty died, while no one was really surprised when Errol checked out. You never can tell how such things will play out.
I believe Errol's last public appearance was a guest shot on The Red Skelton Show two days before his death. He and Red played hoboes...Flynn, an elegant hobo, of course. He was clearly drunk at the time, too. But funny!
Since you're a fan of Gregory Peck, do yo know what his problem was with William Wyler when they made "The Big Country" in 1957?
Yes, it arose over the "buckboard scene", as it came to be known. (Where Peck and Carroll Baker are in the buckboard and are besieged by Chuck Connors and company.) Wyler wanted Peck to play it one way, Peck another. They argued about it, and Wyler agreed to shoot it both ways and see which worked better. He filmed it the way he wanted it, but then refused to reshoot it Peck's way, only vaguely saying he'd do it later -- which, given the expense of setting up the scene again, was preposterous. The production moved on, but it was a source of friction between the two. As they were also co-producing the film there were fights there too. Peck wanted to rent a lot of cattle to dot the landscape behind his and Heston's fight scene, while Wyler insisted this was an extravagance and that only a few cattle were necessary. (Wyler got his way.) With one thing and another, eventually the two exploded and Wyler left as soon as he could. The film's somewhat hurried and disjointed end reflects his abrupt departure.
Neither Peck nor Wyler (who had worked very well together on Roman Holiday five years before) spoke again for two years. The ice was finally broken at the Academy Awards ceremony for 1959 (held in April 1960). Wyler was coming off stage after just having received the Oscar for directing Ben-Hur. Peck was in the wings waiting to go out and present the next award. As Wyler passed him, Peck held out his hand and said, "Congratulations, Willy, you deserved it." Wyler took Peck's hand and said, "Thanks, but I'm still not going to reshoot that goddamned buckboard scene!" With that, both men laughed, the feud was over, and they were once again good friends.
The Big Country co-star Charlton Heston, who owed a lot -- including his casting in, and subsequent Oscar for, Ben-Hur to Wyler -- nevertheless always sided with Peck on the buckboard issue, saying Wyler had given his word and then reneged. Whether Peck's interpretation would have been better than Wyler's is another matter, and since we'll never know exactly what it was, there's little room even for conjecture.
How did you know I was a Greg Peck fan?
I read the thread about whether Peck should have played Bond and you described yourself as a major fan of his there.
Ah! Yes, people get all over these boards, I guess.
Nice talking with you, hope to catch up elsewhere.
Sounds like ''Cuban Rebel Girls'' was Flynn's ''Flesh Feast''. And, according to her biography, he tried to make a move on Veronica Lake.