REPARTEE FOR TWO Barbara M. Neill
Rules of Engagement: Ligonier’s Norm Flam There was nothing commonplace about Errol Leslie Thomson Flynn. He was a man of commanding physical presence, uncommon masculine pulchritude, commendable athletic prowess and, sadly, a confounding inability to resist temptation. As a result, a number of things came very naturally to Flynn: fame and infamy, fortune and financial failure, females and felony charges and…fencing. During his reign in the late 1930s and 1940s as Hollywood’s premier action hero, he was the living, breathing embodiment of the term “swashbuckler” in such period classics as Captain Blood, The Charge of the Light Brigade, The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Sea Hawk. Greer Garson really got it right when she claimed he was “poetry-in-action.” While most men tend to appear distinguished in a uniform, Flynn positively “glittered when he walked” onto a Warner Brothers sound stage or rode into battle on location. An Australian of Irish and English descent, the Tasmanian Devil looked magnificent in whatever the costumers put on his 6’2" frame, be it Technicolortoned tunic and tights or the garb of a British Calvary officer. Basil Rathbone, his recurring screen nemesis, was said to be more skilled with a sword, but there was never any doubt about who the viewers were rooting for in a Flynn flick duel-to-the-death. (It must be noted that the self-deprecating actor never believed his own myth.*) Flynn was a sea-loving man who was most at home with his boats and his mates when not making movies or salacious headlines. And although he was one of Tinseltown’s most respected tennis players, boxed on and off the screen, rode and swam, he is best remembered as a swordsman by his fans. (Nobody brandished quite like Errol.) So, when asked if I was interested in interviewing a Ligonier resident who had been trained by a fencing master of Errol Flynn, who was I to resist temptation? As you might expect, I was “in like Flynn.” Norm Flam and his family moved from Swissvale, PA to North Hollywood, CA in the mid-1960s. At this time Norm evidenced an interest in
16 -July/August 2009
the sport of fencing. Ralph Faulkner, his first fencing master, was an expert swordsman who captured the 1928 World Amateur Sabre Championship and was a member of the 1928 and 1932 US Olympic teams. When he appeared in The Three Musketeers in 1935, his “dual” loves of fencing and film were united. He went on to act in more than 300 movies and staged countless scenes for the cinema capers of others, including those of the fatally fascinating Mr. Flynn. “Many people underrated Errol,” Faulkner once observed, “but he never failed to amaze me.” (BTW: After viewing a documentary film of Faulkner’s life and a number of vintage photos, I’d say Ralph wasn’t lacking in the looks department himself.) After his training with Faulkner, Norm went on to acquire an impressive resume replete with outstanding teachers and commendations aplenty. He participated in championship seasons with LA Valley College, UCLA and Cal State Northridge in the 1970s and holds the titles of Moniteur de Escrime, Academie d’Armes Internationale, Paris, France and Moniteur: Foil-Epee-Sabre, United States Fencing Coaches Association. Norm’s enthusiasm for his sport has never waned, and he could well have coined the adage: Be all you can be. Fence. As the Fencing Instructor at the Ligonier Valley YMCA and the Maestro of the Ligonier Fencing Club, he has guided his fencers to a number of notable victories including a stunning upset of the Los Angeles International Fencing Club in 2007. Norm welcomes all comers as long as they have the desire to take their instruction seriously and the pride he takes in the successes of his students is quite evident. Norm, together with his wife Robbie, also owns and operates Toy Soldier Gallery at 235 West Main Street. Robbie describes herself as a Navy brat from Brooklyn. (Army meets Navy yet again.) Dealing in miniatures and the books, games and dioramas that compliment them, the couple carries a wide variety of choices in price
ranges for collectors with wallets of all sizes. The custom-painted figures, most done by the couple, are astonishing in their detail. If you visit Toy Soldier, make sure you take in the breath-taking Asian miniatures. Even though his tenure in movieland is long over, Norm presently stars in a local cloak and dagger drama of his own. By day, he dons his trademark red suspenders and commands Toy Soldier Gallery; by night he becomes the Masked Master of the Flying Pigs!
service seated in the first row). I beat him 5-4. I went back to “The Boss” and said, “What do you think?” He said, “He scored 4 on you.” More determined now, I went on to fence _____ (pointing to a gentleman
***** BMN: Was it chance or choice that led you to the inimitable Ralph Faulkner? NF: We had just moved to California and with all the enthusiasm of an 11-yearold I told my Dad that I’d like to take fencing lessons. He said if I found a place that offered them, he would take me. I looked in the yellow pages and sure enough there it was – Falcon Studios (the establishment of Faulkner). Dad took me figuring this would last for a couple of lessons and that would be the end of it. Obviously, not.
IN MINIATURE The Marine Corps Marching Band (above) Templar Crusaders (below)
BMN: Having heard that you are quite the storyteller, is there any tale that you might like to tell about your first fencing master? NF: Mr. Faulkner, or as his students knew him “The Boss,” passed on in 1987 at the age of 95. He gave lessons every day including the morning of the day he died. The memorial service was a testament to his life with over 200 of his students there to pay respects. Some were actors like Bo Derek, but all studied under “The Boss.” A dear friend, Carlos Fuertes, was one of many who spoke that day, but his anecdote will always stick with me. Carlos was one of the greats of fencing in the 60s, 70s and 80s. He was the Cuban National Champion in Sabre and after coming to the USA won many National championships in a career spanning over 40 years. He was also the Chief Referee at the 1984 Olympics. Carlos has since passed on and I am sure that he would not want this story lost. Several years before Carlos had won the National Championship. In those days the competition was a series of 5 touch bouts in a pool of 6 men. The top 3 went on to the next round. His narrative begins in the final round and I will quote him from memory: So there I was in the first bout, fencing _____ (Carlos pointed to a gentleman attending the memorial
in the third row). I beat him 5-0. I went back to “The Boss” and said, “Now, what do you think?” He replied, “It took you 3 minutes.” Now I am crazed. For my next bout I fenced _____ (pointing to another champion fencer). We fenced and I beat him 5-0 in under a minute. I go back to where “The Boss” is sitting. I look straight at him and said, “Well?” He looked me square in the eye and said, “You’re sweating.” If one tale could tell what it was like to be a student of “The Boss,” this was it.
LAUREL MOUNTAIN POST
A Magazine from the Heart of Western Pennsylvania