The Archer, the Thief and UA’s 1938 Rose Bowl Team

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This very cool picture from our collections features The University of Alabama’s football team in 1938 — after their defeat in the Rose Bowl. In the photograph are two men who stand out a little bit — with elaborate costumes. Who are they? Well, they are Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone, stars of the 1938 film, The Adventures of Robin Hood.

The University of Alabama football team were no slouches — but it was never clear (to me, anyway) exactly why they ended up on this particular movie set, with these particular actors — until just this week when the connection came in the form of a television show on sharp shooters on the History Channel. The probable connection? Howard Hill!

Who? While he may not be a household name in every household, Howard Hill certainly was a man who had his share of the limelight. Hill, known by many as the “World’s Greatest Archer” (and “Ol’ One Shot”) was born November 13, 1899 in Wilsonville, Alabama. He won 196 consecutive field archery tournaments between 1926 and 1942, and also won the International field meet in 1942.

Hill was a Hollywood stuntman and consultant, working with actors and on movie sets from the late 1930s through the 1950s. Among his many credits include that of archery instructor and stuntman for The Adventures of Robin Hood!

In fact, Hill and Robin Hood title character star Errol Flynn were longtime friends — here they are fishing together aboard Flynn’s yacht.

According to the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, (he was inducted in 1971) Howard Hill “took more than 2,000 game animals and 1,000 reptiles and fish in 12 countries…. and was the first man to kill a bull elephant with a bow and arrow.” Cover details featured here are from books from the Hoole Alabama Collection, Hunting the Hard Way, and Wild Adventure. Both recount Hill’s encounters with wild animals around the world as well as a broad range of advise and information for the budding archer or archery enthusiast– he not only was an archery superstar, but also designed and made all of his own equipment.

Hill’s legacy lives on in fiction through DC Comics’ Green Arrow series. In the comic, Oliver Queen (aka “The Emerald Archer”) refers to Howard Hill as his childhood hero, and it eventually ends up that Hill bestows upon Queen the legendary bow that he used on the set of The Adventures of Robin Hood. When Queen dies, his son Conner Hawke takes over the family business — fighting crime with Hill’s legendary Robin Hood bow — it’s fiction meets fact meets fiction!

So it seems — the Archer (Hill) and the Thief (Robin Hood/Errol Flynn) and the 1938 Rose Bowl team come together here – connected through Hill and with all probability someone knowing someone from back home in Alabama — but not from school. Howard Hill not only was a heck of an archer, but he also played baseball for that other big school on the other side of the state — Auburn University.

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