Errol Flynn and W.C. Fields action upon John Barrymore's death story is said to be true in the film. Experts say it is not. Here is the story from Errol Flynn biographer Louis Kraft:
"Sorry, but it is yet another telling of a legend based upon fiction, Russ Williams, and one that I have not heard before. Someone got inventive with what supposedly happened. Flynn was close to Barrymore, and I believe looked up to him (certainly Barrymore's 'Don Juan' played a part in Flynn wanting to play the great lover and swordsman on film). ... Flynn, Barrymore, Fields, the artist John Decker, and Sadakichi Hartmann often met to drink, tell tales, and discuss any and everything, along with playing jokes; Flynn was closest to Decker and Barrymore.
When Barrymore died in 1942, Flynn and director Raoul Walsh were at Flynn's 'Mulholland Farm,' his great house overlooking the San Fernando Valley, drinking. John Decker, who was supposedly with Barrymore in the hospital, arrived and told them the news. Decker, who had supposedly been up for almost 24 hours, left to go to bed, Flynn supposedly received a phone call from his lawyer and left to sign paperwork. Before leaving he asked Walsh (who was close to him) to stay, and that he wouldn't be gone long.
After Flynn left, Walsh decided to go to the mortuary, He knew one of the owners, as he was a former actor, and asked if he could borrow Barrymore's body for a crippled friend to see him one last time. The owner (Dick Malloy?) agreed, dressed the corpse, and helped Walsh get Barrymore into his car. After arriving at Flynn's house, Walsh got Flynn's man, Alex, who had gone a bender the day before (his day off) and hadn't sobered up yet, to help him get Barrymore into the house and propped up where he liked to sit on the couch in the living room. As hungover as he was, Alex commented that Barrymore looked dead; Walsh supposedly said that he was just dead drunk. After a while Flynn returned home, entered the house and saw Walsh sitting across from Barrymore. He did an about face and screamed as he raced out of the house and hid behind a bush. When Walsh stepped outside Flynn accused him of doing what he had done.
Still, Flynn stayed behind the bush until Alex helped Walsh get Barrymore back into his car drove away to the mortuary.
The above story is Walsh's retelling of the 'Barrymore episode' (from his autobiography 'Each Man in His Time,' 1974). Flynn told the story first in his autobiography, 'My Wicked, Wicked Ways' (1959). In Flynn's retelling Barrymore is in chair in Flynn's den holding a drink. This time he is alone, but Flynn again flees from his house. Walsh and his cohorts, who had hidden, had to race after him. Buster Wiles, a stunt man and great pal of Flynn, told another version of Barrymore's death. That night he, Walsh and Flynn ate dinner at Gracie Allen and George Burns' house. Jack Benny and wife, among others were also present. A phone call announced the death. Later, they sat outside drinking to 'Jack' Barrymore and discussed bribing the mortuary to have the body released to them while they got drunk. Wiles claims that he pointed out that if they did and it became public news knowledge, there would be a possibility that their films might be banned by churches and other do-gooders. Nothing happened. Flynn's best biographer to date, Thomas McNulty ('Errol Flynn: The Life and Career,' 2004) shares the various stories while not going into detail until he describes a 1977 interview with Wiles (above). He is certain that the Flynn/Barrymore/Walsh [and W.C. Fields] event is a Hollywood legend and just fiction. And I know that various retelling [versions] of the story have been printed in magazines numerous times over the years, as I have several of them. ... I agree with Tom McNulty, who is a good friend of mine." See more