Under the terms of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, numerous files have been declassified and that tell of how and why the FBI, decades ago, secretly and carefully kept their eyes and ears on the rich and famous. One of those was the legendary Hollywood “swashbuckler” of the 1930s to the 1950s, Errol Flynn, who was suspected of being nothing less than a full-blown Nazi spy. Flynn biographer Charles Higham said: “I spoke to Colonel William E. Williamson, former director of demilitarization procedures in Japan under General [Douglas] MacArthur…Williamson had done his own research at the Pentagon and State Department and the CIA…and had learned that Errol was a spy for the Nazis on a major scale.” Also, nightclub owner, and friend of Flynn’s, Johnny Meyer told Higham: “I believe Errol was not merely in touch with the Nazis in San Francisco but was actively aiding and abetting them.” And the alleged links do not end there.
It’s a matter of official record that one of Flynn’s girlfriends was Gertrude Anderson, a Nazi sympathizer and Swedish singer, who was the subject of deep FBI surveillance. According to Charles Higham, Flynn’s friend Freddie McEvoy had been under investigation as a possible collaborator with the Nazis. Interestingly, the Government’s files on Flynn include transcripts of telephone conversations between Flynn and McEvoy that were monitored by the wartime Office of Censorship. Of particular note is a document that can be found within the Office of Censorship’s files on Flynn that is dated December 14, 1942, and titled American Film Actor Reported Associating With German Agent In Mexico. This document details the testimony of an unnamed informant who had provided the Office with some intriguing material: “Writer, after telling of three weeks spent in Acapulco…adds, Errol Flynn came up to the hotel for drinks a couple of evenings bringing his girl along – Hilda Kruger, leading German spy here, arranged the date for him. An associate of hers, another Nazi suspect, gave Errol Flynn and Frederik McEvoy as references while spending time in California.”
Most controversial of all, however, was Flynn’s friendship with a certain “Dr.” Hermann Frederick Erben. Born on November 15, 1897, in Vienna, Austria, Erben was described in Lionel Godfrey’s The Life and Crimes of Errol Flynn, as “a specialist in tropical diseases.” Indeed, he was. However, he was much more, according to Flynn authority Charles Higham, who described Erben as “one of the most important and ingenious Nazi agents.” Erben had graduated from the State High School, Vienna, in 1915, and between that year and 1918 had served with the Austrian Army, before being honorably discharged as a First Lieutenant. Eight years later, Erben received a fellowship to study in the United States, and while there was granted an Immigration Visa. In 1927 he was licensed to practice medicine and surgery in Louisiana, and the following year was he was also licensed for the state of Washington. But what of Erben’s friendship with Flynn? The files of the Intelligence Detachment Screening Center make for eye-opening reading:
“1932: [Erben] went via the Far East to New Guinea on another scientific expedition, which was financed by himself. On this trip he met the film star Errol Flynn and became a very close friend of same. 1937: [Erben] returned from South America and in the same year he and his friend Errol Flynn embarked in New York for London and went via Paris. Being in London [Erben] volunteered with a British ambulance unit, which was committed for the loyalists in Spain. Errol Flynn also went as a journalist and unofficial observer to Spain. After 20 days in Spain, subject went to Vienna and from there to Canton, China.”
Erben had a darker side, too. American authorities were able to confirm that he had worked as a Nazi agent during the Second World War. Details of this startling fact can be found within the files of the Intelligence Detachment Screening Center, and specifically in the pages of a document titled Subject Accepted The Job As German Intelligence Agent: “[Erben] claims that he accepted the proposition to become a German intelligence agent, fully conscious of the fact that at the present, he was still an American citizen, and thus subject to the penalty of high treason. [Erben] admits that he was not forced or coerced to accept the job.” Needless to say, because of his close friendship with Erben, Flynn was interviewed by FBI agents who subsequently prepared a two-page report, from which the following is extracted: “Mr. FLYNN at the outset of the interview, admitted being acquainted with Dr ERBEN and regarded him highly. They have been acquainted for about ten years and have traveled extensively together all over the world. Mr. FLYNN stated that heretofore ERBEN had been very much opposed to Nazism and communism and from what he, FLYNN, knows of his background, he does not believe ERBEN would now be a devout Nazi.”
The FBI and the IDSC were not the only ones watching the activities of Flynn and Erben. The wartime Office of Strategic Services, a precursor to the CIA, was doing likewise. The OSS stated starkly in its files on the men that “Erben tried to return to the United States as a repatriate. We believe that if he had been successful in so doing, he would have been acting in the United States as an agent of the German government. Erben’s only contact in the United States was Errol Flynn. We know of absolutely no other contact with Dr Erben there.”
The British Daily Telegraph newspaper uncovered highly disturbing data, too, concerning Flynn’s relationship with Erben. Declassified documents in the possession of the Central Intelligence Agency show that, in a letter of September 1933, Flynn wrote the following to Erben: “A slimy Jew is trying to cheat me…I do wish we could bring Hitler over here to teach these Isaacs a thing or two. The bastards have absolutely no business probity or honor whatsoever.” And as the Daily Telegraph added: “The letter, if genuine, certainly shows anti-Semitism, which was common at the time, but defenders say that Flynn, writing before he was famous and having lost money on a business deal, was not expressing a deep commitment to Nazism. Hitler had only just come to power and the true horror of his policies had yet to be revealed.” Clearly, Flynn was a racist, as well as a potential spy for the Nazis.
In December 2000, the Daily Telegraph revealed that it had learned that the British Government’s Home Office department possessed still-classified documents “dispelling claims” that Flynn was a “Nazi sympathizer” and that, in reality, confirmed he had offered his services during the Second World War to British Intelligence. Harry Cohen, the Labor Member of the British Parliament, petitioned Jack Straw, then Home Secretary of the British Government, to declassify the files. Cohen told the Telegraph: “I think there now has to be a great deal of doubt about suggestions that Flynn was a Nazi spy. On the contrary, I think he was probably used by the security services in this country. More likely he was taken up by the British security services towards the end of the war. I know the Home Office has documents on him, which should be released to the public.”
Charles Higham said: “In early 1980, I was interviewed about Flynn for an American radio program. One of the callers who took part was a woman called Anne Lane…she said that she had worked from 1946 to 1951 for the MI5 chief Sir Percy Sillitoe…Lane had been in charge of the Flynn dossier, which she described clearly as a beige, red-ribboned [sic] concertina file stamped MOST SECRET. “The file,” added Higham, “revealed that Flynn had been under surveillance by both MI5 and MI6 since 1934, when he made pro-Nazi remarks at a party in Mayfair. Flynn had also been monitored by British intelligence at a Paris meeting in 1937 with high-ranking German officials.”
A very controversial and wholly unsavory saga, to say the very least – a saga that will probably never be fully resolved.