Re-reading in my memory book my last meeting with the charming and great actor, Errol Flynn, I was reminded of my parrot Hilo.
I first met Errol at his beautiful Hollywood estate he simply called Mulholland Farm. He built his home on eleven and a half acres of undeveloped land, transforming it into an enchanting retreat with spectacular views. By movie star standards, the house would be considered modest, but far from it. It was unimposing, simple, and elegant, befitting the man who built it. A two-story colonial ranch-style house complete with swimming pool, tennis courts, and a barn, not to mention his own casino, but of course this was Errol Flynn.
I had mentioned him in an article I had written for my column in the Los Angeles Herald-Express for Mr. Hearst. He replied with a personal note and invited me up the hill to Mulholland Farm to personally thank me for being so kind to him in my column. Our afternoon was brief and he was indeed as handsome and charming in person as he was on screen. I mentioned I had recently acquired a parrot with the high hopes it would eventually talk, however the bird remained sullen and silent; efforts to teach him to speak always ended in my utter frustration. He said he knew a lot about parrots and he would be happy to stop by and meet my fine feathered friend and offer up some bird chatter pointers. We said good-bye and he again thanked me for mentioning him in my column.
Time passed and I assumed he was just being nice and that was that. Then one day my phone rang and the voice on the other end asked for Patricia Barham. “I promised you a parrot lesson, is now a good time, this is Errol.” Of course I said yes!
I was at the ready to coax a great scoop out of him, but much to my chagrin he arrived with a waitress he knew from a nearby restaurant. Tactlessly I asked where’s Nora (Eddington); his wife at the time and he announced they were divorcing. “She’s somewhere in the east, but I manage to keep busy don’t I,” as he gently squeezed his companion’s hand. “Now where’s that uncooperative parrot of yours?”
We went into my open air sitting room and he spotted my taciturn feathered friend in the big beautiful birdcage, practically an aviary, and immediately said, “Patricia, that bird will never talk! He’s a squawker, not a talker and you should immediately take him back and get yourself one that will at least whistle. You need yourself a parrot with a red head, the green ones with a yellow head just squawk and squawk! Red headed parrots whistle up a storm and can even talk.” Then he spotted the bar and began mixing martinis at a ratio of five to one, and sank cozily into a chair and began telling me of his secret life ambitions and future plans.
“Know what I’d really like to do? I’d love to play the classics – Dostoevsky – Tolstoy – Maupassant. Forget all this swashbuckling stuff, and just stick to real art – serious acting – even Shakespeare. Hell, I’m Warner Brothers top box office star and I’m not even acknowledged for my work.” And the truth is that by the end of his life and career, Errol Flynn was not once recognized by his peers at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and he never attended a single ceremony held in his honor nor was nominated once for an Academy Award, yet he is one of the most well known and great actors of his time.
That was a day I felt happiness and sadness for a man I shall always call my friend. And I did take his advice and my parrot went to a new home and a red head moved in and whistled up a storm and even said, “Hi-Low,” to greet me. So I named him Hilo and his little buttery yellow eyes would narrow as he whistled an Errol Flynn wolf call.