“You want to hear about the rat pack, dahhling?” asks Errol Flynn’s widow. “I’ll tell you about the Rat Pack.” It’s my second night, and I’m sitting next to Patrice Wymore Flynn at a dinner party thrown by Baker and his business partner, fellow music-industry vet Steve Beaver. Although Flynn’s promise to spill the beans on Frank and Sammy evaporates as quickly as the smoke from her skinny cigarettes, she is eager to boast about the 49,000 coconut trees she used to farm—she was once voted Champion Woman Farmer of Jamaica—along with the 500 head of Red Poll cattle she oversees today.
Flynn is living history, half of the most famous couple from the area’s second wave of celebrity tourism. (The first, dating from the late 19th century, included J.P. Morgan, William Randolph Hearst, Rudyard Kipling, and jewelry heiress Annie Olivia Tiffany Mitchell.) In 1946, Errol Flynn was sailing his schooner, Zaca, around the Caribbean when a violent storm hit; the southern shore of Jamaica was the first land he spotted. (Or so said Flynn, who never let the truth get in the way of a good self-aggrandizing story.) Upon reaching the island’s shores and hiring a car, the actor almost immediately purchased vast tracts of ranch- and farmland, along with nearby Navy Island, which he fashioned into a 64-acre private playground. (In an odd twist, Joe and Blanche Blackwell and their young son Chris—who would go on to found Island Records and launch the career of Bob Marley, among many other artists—took Flynn under their wing and played tour guide.)
With Flynn having established a beachhead, the likes of Noël Coward, Ian Fleming, Princess Margaret, and others soon followed. Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza purchased a neighboring island for his mistress and soon to be wife, model of the moment Nina Dyer, where she kept the panther given to her by another boyfriend, Prince Rainier III of Monaco. (The baron’s daughter, Francesca von Habsburg-Lothringen, still maintains the family estate on Alligator Head.)
As one might expect of a legendary Hollywood swashbuckler, Flynn threw parties that were legendary. Port Antonio native Albert Minott, 75, grew up performing at them. Minott told me about eating fire and dancing on hot coals from the age of 10. When Minott could no longer stand the heat (so to speak), he joined a group of musicians who functioned as Flynn’s house band, playing mento, a Jamaican folk music similar to calypso. “We used to swim out to Navy Island to play,” Minott says. “And Mr. Flynn would throw coins in the water for us to dive after.”
“They were called the Navy Island Swamp Boys, and they’d come to the island every night to play parties,” Patrice Wymore Flynn tells me with noticeably less relish. “Eventually they started staying there, and I’d say, ‘Errol, can’t you pay them to go away?’ ” (Far from it: The band, long since renamed the Jolly Boys, is still recording and performing. See Backstory, here.)