NEW ORLEANS — DID Robin Hood really exist? It is doubtful if the Kevin Costner version of the legend will throw any fresh light on the historical reality of the famous bandit. There are hints spread over 800 years - an Exchequer's guide to Yorkshire County in 1230, listing one "Robertus Hood, Fugitivus" (Robin Hood, Fugitive); a reference in "Piers Plowman" in 1377; the tales spread in 1341 by John Fordun, the Canon Aberdeen, Scotland; and illustrated stories by Howard Pyle in 1883. The time frame of these adventures varied from the reigns of Richard I (1189-1199) to Edward II (1307-1327). Robin himself had many names, like Robyn Hode, Robert Fitzooth, and (in Sir Walter Scott's "Ivanhoe") Robin of Locksley. Today, authority Jim Lees, former president of the Robin Hood Society of Nottingham, concludes after 30 years of research that Robin was a 13th-century knight named Robert de Kyme, who lived between 1210 and 1278.
Moviemakers and audiences have never doubted Robin's existence. Every decade has had its own definitive version of the greenclad rogue.
In 1922, the immortal Douglas Fairbanks Sr., leaped and danced through Sherwood Forest in a portrayal that purists still claim is the highest flying Robin Hood of all. Errol Flynn inherited the mantle in the 1938 Warner Brothers technicolor extravaganza. (Even if Basil Rathbone's swordplay was demonstrably superior to Errol's - and was satirically reprised in Danny Kaye's "The Court Jester there is no doubting that Flynn remains the screen's handsomest brigand.)
Cornel Wilde, perhaps fearing comparison with Flynn, assayed the role of Robin's son, in "Bandit of Sherwood Forest" (1946). And in the 1950s, English actors Richard Greene and Richard Todd appeared in, respectively, a television series and a Walt Disney feature. Inevitably, the decade of the '70s demanded - and got - a somewhat revisionist Richard Lester version, "Robin and Marian" (with Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn). To this writer's knowledge, it is the only version, so far, in which Robin died - o
r did he? (See the movie's final scene and make up your own mind!)
For the record, there have been all kinds of exotic variations on the character. Warner Baxter made a western version in the B movie, "Robin Hood of El Dorado" (1938). Frank Sinatra's "Robin and the Seven Hoods" (1964) set the story against the backdrop of gangland Chicago. George Segal clowned his way through a TV film, "The Zany Adventures of Robin Hood" (1984). And even Chuck Jones cast Daffy Duck - fresh from his triumph in the swashbuckling "The Scarlet Pumpernickle in "Robin Hood Daffy."