From the Museum Archives: Northwest Colorado’s most famous movie star
A star from the silent film era, an accomplished athlete and musician, a legendary ladies man and a local rancher, Lefty Flynn is one of the more fascinating characters in NW Colorado history.
Maurice “Lefty” Flynn was born in 1892 in Connecticut to a wealthy Irish family. Not much is known about Flynn’s early life, however by the time he graduated high school he had grown into a very handsome 6’2”, 200-pound man. He attended Yale University in 1910 and became their star fullback by 1912. It was here he became “Lefty” as he evidently kicked goals with his left foot. He set several track records while at Yale, was an accomplished singer on the glee club and also played baseball. However talented he may have been, it wasn’t enough to save him from being banned from Yale after marrying a chorus girl and escaping to Italy in 1913. This was the first of six marriages for Flynn.
Lefty and his father found their way into Northwest Colorado in 1915 when they purchased a 2,200-acre ranch just east of Craig near the intersection of Highway 40 and County Road 29 (Elkhead Reservoir turnoff). They began raising cattle, horses, hogs and potatoes. Showing himself to be a true renaissance man, Lefty immediately began wooing the local townsfolk with his singing and guitar playing and became a star pitcher on Hayden’s 1916 baseball team.
In 1917, during WWI, Lefty enlisted in the military and became an instructor at an aviation school in Florida. After the end of the war in late 1918, he met novelist/playwright Rex Beach while golfing in New York. Rex convinced Lefty to head to California and try his hand at acting. After a few roles as an extra, Lefty Flynn landed a role in Beach’s 1920 “Going Some” and a star was born.
Lefty’s fame grew quickly. He returned to Craig in 1923 as a full-on movie star and personally introduce his new movie “Smiles are Trumps” at the local theater. In 1925 he married his fourth wife, famous film star Viola Dana (who has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame) and by 1926 he had his own production company. In all, Flynn appeared in 40 feature films from 1919 to 1927.
In 1927, Lefty suddenly returned to his Elkhead ranch east of Craig (still owned by his father) to raise sheep. The Craig Courier quoted him as saying, “I’m here to stay,” and he told the Craig Empire, “Never in my life have I been as happy as I have here in Craig.”
However, “settled-down rancher” was one character Lefty couldn’t play well. He was living in New York the very next year… divorced and in Hawaii the next… and then London the year after that where he broke up the marriage of Lady Astor’s sister, Nora, and married her (they had run away together, with Nora married to the same man, 16 years prior as well).
Lefty never did return to live in Northwest Colorado, however he was invited to attend Craig’s Golden Jubilee in 1958. While he couldn’t attend, he wrote a letter stating, “How I wish I could be in Craig for the Golden Jubilee. Nothing would make me happier. I remember so many of my wild escapades. The years have mellowed me. In fact I am spending much of my time helping to rehabilitate alcoholics. I can remember many a wild ride into Craig to spend a couple hours at Mike Smith’s saloon. Slim Riley and one or two other cow hands generally went along from the Cary Ranch. Best wishes to my friends who are still about and remember me.” — Lefty
Lefty Flynn died just a few months later at his cottage in South Carolina at the age of 66.
Paul Knowles is assistant director of the Museum of Northwest Colorado. This article was originally published on the museum’s Facebook page. To learn more about the Victory Highway, or other Northwest Colorado history, visit the museum at 590 Yampa Ave., or follow the museum on Facebook at facebook.com/museumnorthwestcolorado.