Charles Higham, celebrity biographer, dies

Wrote controversial tomes about Errol Flynn, Orson Welles

Celebrity biographer Charles Higham, who wrote, often controversially, about the lives of Lucille Ball, Errol Flynn, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Howard Hughes and others, died in Los Angeles on April 21 of an apparent heart attack. He was 81.

Higham penned dozens of biographies, many of them sensational tomes asserting that his subjects led lives filled with political and sexual intrigue.

In 1980’s “Errol Flynn: The Untold Story,” Higham wrote that the matinee idol was a Nazi spy.

Later biographers asserted that Higham’s revelations were fabricated; Higham defended the book, but he told the New York Times that he had no documents saying Flynn was a Nazi agent.

The author penned the first authorized biography of Hepburn, which became his first bestseller. His book on Hughes, in which he asserted that the eccentric mogul had an affair with Cary Grant, was the basis for Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator.” He also wrote controversial books on Orson Welles and discovered the lost footage of Welles’ “It’s All True.”

Other books included 1984’s “Sisters: The Story of Olivia De Havilland and Joan Fontaine,” “The Art of the American Film,” a biography of Florenz Ziegfeld and “Murder in Hollywood: Solving a Silent Screen Mystery,” on the death of silent-film director William Desmond Taylor.

Higham also co-wrote biographies of celebrities including Grant and Merle Oberon.

He was born in London and in 1954 moved to Australia, where he was a book and movie critic, saw some poetry published and was editor of the Bulletin, the country’s top weekly magazine.

His autobiography “In and Out of Hollywood: A Biographer’s Memoir” was published in 2009.

(Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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