Father, Daughter and Shades of Errol Flynn

Rick Nelson loved living in Errol Flynn’s home.  The swashbuckling superstar had some high times in the Hollywood Hills -- lots of wine, women and song.  Nelson was no slouch in that department either.  The teen idol turned pop legend felt a strong kinship with the spirit of Flynn and perhaps Flynn felt it too.  His spirit -- or someone’s -- may have tried to warn Rick of his tragic fate. 

“...all the heroes in one magnificent, sexy, animal package,” that’s what Jack Warner called him.  A scoundrel with an irresistible twinkle in his eye, Errol Flynn was what every woman wanted and what every man wanted to be.  To celebrate his good fortune in filmland, Flynn designed his dream house -- “a playhouse” -- he called it.  He bought eleven and a half acres in the Hollywood Hills off Mulholland Drive and, in 1941, built a sprawling farmhouse. An unbroken line of windows provided a  panoramic view of the city below.  Flynn also included an elaborate bar, several secret passageways and more than a few peepholes.  Outside, he built a black-bottomed pool and circular stables copied from the Lippizaner stables in Vienna.    

Flynn lived the good life for many years at the Mullholland home.  In 1957, not yet divorced from third wife Patrice Wymore, the 48-year-old Flynn took up with fifteen-year-old Beverly Aadland.  Beverly’s mother, Florence went along for the ride as often as possible and the two women spent many nights in the home.  But by then, Errol’s “wicked, wicked ways” had taken an enormous toll.  Bloated, in ill health, he lost his beloved home in 1959 to his first wife, Lili Damita whose alimony was long overdue.  He died later that same year.     

In 1959, 19-year-old Ricky Nelson was driving teenage girls crazy on both the big and small screen.  He’d joined his parents and brother David on radio’s The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet at age four.  The show moved to television in 1952 and ran fourteen years.  During that time, the world watched Ricky transform from irksome teen to rock music idol.  Eventually he married and had his own family.  In 1977, he found the perfect home for them.  He bought the Flynn estate from country & western artist Stuart Hamblin, the only other owner.  Rick and his wife, actress Chris Nelson moved into the Mulholland home with their four children just eighteen years after Flynn’s demise.

“The house was a two-story ranch house.  It wasn’t over-sized or grandiose in any way, but it was sprawling,” daughter Tracy said.  “The front door was in a place where it shouldn’t have been so we never used it and because of that I never really felt that the house had a heart, had a center.  I would usually just come in and go straight up to my room.

“My bedroom used to be Beverly Aadland’s and we used to always smell this funky perfume, a really cheap perfume.  All sorts of weird things went on: my shower door would open and close in the middle of the night; the toilet would flush; my shades would roll up for no reason.”  The ghost in her room felt distinctly feminine.  Ms. Aadland is still living.  Could it have been her mother?   Instinctively, Tracy felt it was an older presence.  “This is going to sound so crazy, but it didn’t feel like a young, naive girl.  It felt like a cynical presence.”  A cynical woman in Flynn’s house?  That could have been any number of women Flynn had loved and “forfeited.”  Whoever or whatever was there, her friends felt it too.  “When I was going to school, girls would have slumber parties, but nobody would stay at my house.  To me it was like having a pet, like, ‘Oh well, it’ just that weird energy in the house.’”

Rick and Chris Nelson’s home life was nothing like the happy family we saw on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.  The couple was plagued by problems -- with their marriage, with their careers and with drugs.  In the early ‘80s, Chris moved out with the twin boys.  The youngest son went to live with Chris’ mother.  Tracy remained with her dad.

“I was doing Square Pegs at the time.  One night, I arrived home from work.  It was dark.  I looked up at the dining room and the light was on and there was a man standing in the dining room.  I thought, ‘Oh, Pop’s home.’  I went upstairs and called him -- no answer.  His car’s not there and there’s nobody’s there.  Then the phone rang and it’s Pop calling from the road to say he’d be home tomorrow.” 

Tracy told him what she’d just seen and Rick replied, “Oh that’s just Errol.” 

The following day, Tracy came home from work while it was still light out.  She went straight to her room to read.  After a few minutes, there was a noise from downstairs.  It sounded like someone had broken in. 

“My father had a room below mine full of his gold records and awards, all hanging on the walls.  It sounded like whoever was down there was smashing all the gold records and all Dad’s stuff and I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, take anything, but don’t take those.’ 

“I hid myself in the closet and I waited for the noise to stop.  It was really loud, the house was shaking.  It sounded like people were throwing things against the walls, breaking chairs and breaking glass.  The sun finally went down.  It had been quiet for awhile and I thought it was finally safe to go downstairs.”

Tracy expected to find the place in shambles, but there was no broken glass, no smashed furniture.  Instead, all the lights had been turned on.  Two pet cats were in Rick’s bedroom and the door had been locked from the inside.  Nothing else in the house had been touched.  Tracy decided then and there to move out.

A short time later, after she’d moved into her own apartment, Rick and his girlfriend called her one night.  “The weirdest thing happened,” they told her.  “We were downstairs and we heard all this noise coming from your room.  We thought we were being robbed.  Things were crashing and breaking.  We called the police, ran outside down the driveway and waited for them to come.  When they got here,” the couple continued, “they went upstairs to investigate.  Your door was locked from the inside.”  When they opened it, they discovered that all the lights in the room had been turned on, but not a thing had been touched.

Rick Nelson lived in the Mulholland house for two more years, until his death in a plane crash in 1985.  Tracy recalls that the spirit in the house changed dramatically after that.  “It had been playful before, but after my father died, it turned malevolent.  My brothers and I could literally feel when my father’s presence was gone and when he left, it just turned ugly and scary in the house.  My (now) ex-husband always had a hard time believing any of this ghost stuff.  After Dad died, we were removing some furniture and he went outside and refused to go back in.  He told me, ‘Something’s in that house and I don’t even want to be anywhere near it.’”

Richard Dreyfuss, Tracy’s co-star in Down and Out in Beverly Hills, talked to her about buying the house, but Tracy warned him away.  “It’s a bad house and it’s got something bad in it.”

The Mulholland house stood vacant after Rick Nelson’s death.  During that time,  darkness seemed to completely envelop the place.  A gang  broke in and murdered a girl in the living room.  Then a mysterious fire burned half the house. 

“I’ve tried to figure it out.  There was a lot of really wacky stuff going on in terms of drug usage in the house when I was growing up.  I believe all that stuff creates energetic chaos -- I don’t know what else to call it.  So it was a wacky place to live anyway. Then compound that with the history of the place.

“All the women on my mother’s side are very psychic: my grandmother, my mom, myself.  Since I was a kid, I’ve always been very open to the possibility of ghosts because I always kind of felt them.  I never saw anything, but I felt them.  All I can tell you is that it was definitely haunted.”

Tracy has a theory about the two explosive, smashing episodes.  Perhaps Flynn or the cynical woman were trying to warn Rick of impending tragedy.  When the warnings failed and Rick was killed at age 45 -- before his time, like Errol -- the spirit turned black.  “My father’s dying was such a cataclysmic thing for the family...maybe it (the smashing) was a warning...maybe it was...who knows?”

The house was torn down years ago and the acreage divided up into separate lots, but Tracy still has nightmares about it all the time.  “It’s all so real in the dreams...but my brother gave me some great advice.  He told me, ‘Tracy, the only place that house exists now is in our minds.’”