Howard Robard Hughes Jr. (December 24, 1905 – April 5, 1976) was an American business tycoon, film producer, aviator and philanthropist, known during his lifetime as one of the most important and financially successful people in the world. He became known first as a film producer and then as a major figure in the aviation industry. Later, Hughes, became known for his eccentric behavior and bizarre lifestyle caused in part by worsening obsessive-compulsive disorder, chronic pain from a near-fatal plane crash, and increasing deafness.
As a film mogul, Hughes gained fame in Hollywood in the late 1920s, when he produced big-budget and often controversial films such as The Racket (1928) and Scarface (1932). He later took over the film studio RKO Pictures in 1948, recognized as one of the five major studios of Hollywood”s Golden Age, although the production company struggled under his control and eventually ceased operations in 1957.
Through his interest in air and aerospace travel, Hughes created the Hughes Aircraft Company in 1932, employing numerous engineers, designers and contractors. (p163, 259) He spent the remainder of the 1930s and much of the 1940s setting multiple world airspeed records and building the Hughes H-1 Racer (1935) and Hughes H-4 Hercules, the latter being the largest seaplane in history and having the largest wingspan of any aircraft from the time of its construction until 2019. He acquired and expanded Trans World Airlines and later acquired Air West, renaming it Hughes Airwest. Hughes won the Harmon Award on two occasions (1936 and 1938), the Collier Award (1938) and the Congressional Gold Medal (1939) all for his achievements in aviation during the 1930s. He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1973 and was included in Flying magazine”s 2013 list of 51 aviation heroes, ranked 25th.
During the 1960s and early 1970s, Hughes expanded his financial empire to include several major Las Vegas businesses, including real estate, hotels, casinos and media. Known at the time as one of the most powerful men in the state of Nevada, he is largely credited with transforming Vegas into a more sophisticated cosmopolitan city.
After years of mental and physical decline, Hughes died of kidney failure in 1976, at the age of 70. Today, his legacy is preserved through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Howard Hughes Corporation.
Records trace Howard Hughes” hometown to either Hubble or Houston, Texas. The date remains uncertain due to conflicting dates from various sources. He repeatedly claimed Christmas Eve as his birthday. An affidavit on Hughes” 1941 birth certificate, signed by his aunt Annette Gano Loomis and Estelle Buitton Sharp, states that he was born on December 24, 1905, in Harris County, Texas. However, his baptismal certificate, recorded October 7, 1906, in the parish register of St. John”s Episcopal Church in Keokukuk, Iowa, listed his birth date as September 24, 1905, with no mention of the place of birth.
Howard Robard Hughes, Jr. was the son of Alain Stone Gano (1883-1922) and Howard Robard Hughes, Sr. (1869-1924), a successful Missouri inventor and businessman. He was of English, Welsh, and some French ancestry, and was a descendant of minister John Gano (1727-1804), who was reportedly baptized by George Washington. His father patented (1909) a new type of drill, which enabled rotary drilling to extract oil in previously inaccessible places. Hughes made the shrewd and lucrative decision to commercialize the invention by leasing the drills rather than selling them, and acquired several early patents and founded the Hughes Tool Company in 1909. Hughes” uncle was the famous novelist, screenwriter and film director Rupert Hughes.
At a young age, Hughes became interested in science and technology. In particular, he had great engineering ability and built Houston”s first “wireless” radio transmitter at the age of 11. He was one of the first licensed radio operators in Houston, having the assigned call sign W5CY (originally 5CY) At 12, Hughes was photographed in the local newspaper, identified as the first boy in Houston to have a “motorized” bicycle, which he had built from parts from his father”s steam locomotive. He was an indifferent student, with callings in math, aviation and engineering. He took his first lesson in aviation at 14 and attended the Fescenden School in Massachusetts in 1921.
After a brief stint at the Thatcher School, Hughes took courses in mathematics and aeronautical engineering at the California Institute of Technology. The red brick house where Hughes lived as a teenager still stands fresh to this day as the Hughes House on the grounds of St. Thomas University.
Hughes” mother died in March 1922 after complications from a premature pregnancy, and his father died of a heart attack in 1924. Their deaths apparently inspired Hughes to include the establishment of a medical research center in the will he drafted in 1925 at the age of 19. His father”s will had not been updated after his mother”s death and Hughes inherited 75% of the family estate. On his 19th birthday, Hughes was declared an emancipated minor, allowing him to take full control of his estate.
From a young age, Hughes became a skilled and enthusiastic golfer during his 20s, and for a time aimed for a professional golf career. He often played with top players, including Gene Sarazen. Hughes rarely played competitively and gradually abandoned his passion for the sport to pursue other interests. Hughes played golf every afternoon at Los Angeles courses such as Lakeside Golf Club, Wilshire Country Club or Bel-Air Country Club. His partners included George Von Elm or Ozzy Carlton. When Hughes was injured in the late 1920s after the crash of the F-11, he was unable to play any golf:56-57,73,196
Hughes left Rice University shortly after his father”s death. On June 1, 1925, he married Ella Botts Rice, daughter of David Rice and Martha Lawson Botts of Houston, and the niece of William Marsh Rice, for whom Rice University was named. They moved to Los Angeles, where he hoped to make a career as a filmmaker. They moved to the Ambassador Hotel and Hughes proceeded to take flying lessons with a Waco while he began producing his first film, Swell Hogan.
Hughes enjoyed a highly successful professional career beyond engineering, aviation and filmmaking. Many of his professional endeavors involved different business roles.
In 1926, Ralph Graves persuaded Hughes to finance a short film, Swell Hogan, in which Graves had written the screenplay and would star. Hughes himself produced it, however, the film was a disaster. After hiring an editor to try to save it, he eventually ordered it destroyed.
His first major film would be the 1927 comedy “Two Nights in Arabia”, which would also win the Academy Award for Best Director for Lewis Milstone. In 1929 he would begin production on “Hell”s Angels” with many problems and high production costs for its time.:52,126The film would eventually be completed with Hughes himself directing and would be a box office success. It would be followed by The First Page in 1931 and The Scarface in 1932, both about the life of Al Capone, which was delayed due to censors” concerns about the use of violence.:128 Another of his films, The Outlaw, premiered in 1943 but was not released nationally until 1946. The film featured Jane Russell, who received a great deal of attention from industry censors, this time because of her revealing dresses.:152-160
From the 1940s to the late 1950s, Hughes Tool Company entered the motion picture industry when it acquired partial ownership of the RKO companies, which included RKO Pictures, RKO Studios, a chain of movie theaters known as RKO Theaters, and a network of radio stations known as the RKO Radio Network.
In 1948, Hughes acquired control of RKO, a major Hollywood studio, acquiring the 929,000 shares owned by Floyd Odlum”s Atlas Corporation for $8,825,000. Within weeks of acquiring the studio, Hughes laid off 700 employees. Production was reduced to 9 films during Hughes” first year of control, as RKO had previously averaged 30 films a year.:234-237
Production was halted for six months, during which time Hughes ordered an investigation of every employee who remained at RKO regarding his political leanings. Only after ensuring that the stars who had signed contracts with RKO had no suspicious relationships would Hughes approve completed films. This was especially true for women who were under contract with RKO at the time. If Hughes felt that his stars did not properly represent the political views of his liking or if the anti-communist politics of a film were not clear enough, he would fire them. In 1952, a failed sale to a group of Chicago-based businessmen with mob connections and no industry experience further disrupted the RKO studio.
In 1953, Hughes became involved with a highly publicized lawsuit as part of the United States” settlement against Paramount Pictures, Inc. As a result of the hearings, RKO”s crumbling condition became increasingly apparent. A steady stream of lawsuits from RKO”s minority shareholders had become extremely embarrassing to Hughes. They accused him of financial misconduct and corporate mismanagement. Since Hughes wanted to concentrate primarily on his aircraft manufacturing and TWA”s holdings during the Korean War years from 1950 to 1953, he offered to buy out all other shareholders to get rid of their opposition.
By the end of 1954, Hughes had gained almost complete control of RKO at a cost of nearly $24 million, and became the first single owner of a major Hollywood studio since the silent film era. Six months later Hughes sold the studio to the General Tire and Rubber Company for $25 million, retaining the rights to the films he had personally created, including those made at RKO. He also retained Jane Russell”s contract. For Howard Hughes, this was the virtual end of his 25-year involvement in the motion picture industry. However, his reputation as a financial wizard remained intact. During this period, RKO became known as the mother of classic film noir, thanks in part to the limited budgets required to make such films during Hughes” tenure. Hughes reportedly left RKO having earned $6.5 million in personal profit. According to Noah Dietrich, Hughes earned $10,000,000 from the sale of the theaters and earned $1,000,000 from his 7-year ownership of RKO.:272-273
According to Noah Dietrich, “Earth became the main asset for the Hughes empire.” Hughes acquired 1,200 acres in Culver City for Hughes Aircraft, purchased 4,480 acres in Tucson for the Falcon missile plant, and bought 25,000 acres near Las Vegas.:103,254 In 1968, Hughes Tool Company purchased the North Las Vegas terminal.
Originally known as Summa Corporation, Howard Hughes Corporation was founded in 1972 when the Hughes Tool Company”s milling business, then owned by Hughes, was listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the name “Hughes Tool.” This forced Hughes” other businesses to adopt the new corporate name: “Summa”, which was adopted without Hughes” own approval, as he preferred to keep his name on the business and proposed “HRH Properties” (for resorts and hotels). In 1988 Summa announced plans to establish Summerlin, a community designed in the name of Howard Hughes” grandmother, Jean Amelia Summerlin.
Initially staying at the Desert Inn, Hughes refused to vacate his room and instead decided to buy the entire hotel. Hughes expanded his financial empire to include real estate, hotels and media in Las Vegas, spending some $300 million and using his considerable resources to take over many of the well-known hotels, especially those associated with organized crime. He quickly became one of the most powerful men in Las Vegas and was instrumental in changing the image of Las Vegas from its Wild West roots to a more sophisticated cosmopolitan city. In addition to the Desert Inn, Hughes would eventually become the owner of the Sands, Frontier, Silver Slipper, Castaways and Landmark and Harold”s Club in Reno, making him the largest employer in Nevada.
Aviation and aerospace
Another part of Hughes” commercial interests involved aviation, airlines and the aerospace and defence industries. He was a lifelong aircraft enthusiast and pilot and survived four aviation accidents: one while filming Hell”s Angels, one while setting a speed record in the Hughes Racer, one at Lake Mead in 1943, and his near-fatal crash in the Hughes XF-11 in 1946.
At Rogers Airport in Los Angeles, he learned to fly from pioneer aviators, including Moye Stevens and J.B. Alexander. He set many world records and was involved in building custom aircraft for himself at his privately owned airport located in Glendale, California.
Operating from there, Hughes built his most technologically significant aircraft, the Hughes H-1 Racer. On September 13, 1935, Hughes, flying the H-1, set a new airspeed record by achieving a speed of 562 kilometers per hour.
This was also the last time in history that a privately built aircraft set a world speed record. A year and a half later, on January 19, 1937, flying the same H-1 Racer with longer wings, Hughes set a new intercontinental speed record by flying non-stop from Los Angeles to Newark in seven hours, 28 minutes and 25 seconds (beating his previous record of nine hours, 27 minutes). His average speed during the flight was 518 km (518 mph).
The H-1 Racer featured a number of design innovations: it had retractable landing gear (as the Boeing Monomail had five years earlier) and all rivets and fasteners were mounted on the fuselage to reduce drag. The H-1 Racer may have influenced the design of many World War II fighters, such as the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, Focke-Wulf Fw 190 and F8F Bearcat , although this has never been confirmed. In 1975 the H-1 Racer was given to the Smithsonian Institution.
On July 14, 1938, Hughes set another new record by completing a round-the-world flight in just 91 hours (three days, 19 hours, 17 minutes), beating the previous record set in 1933 by Willie Post in a single-engine Lockheed Vega by nearly four days.
Hughes took off from New York and went on to Paris, Moscow, Omsk, Yakutsk, Fairbanks, Moscow, Omsk, Yakutsk, Fairbanks and Minneapolis, and then returned to New York. For this flight he flew a Lockheed 14 Super Electra (with a crew of four) equipped with the latest radio and navigation equipment. Harry Connor was the co-pilot, Thomas Thurlow the navigator, Richard Stoddard the engineer and Ed Lund the mechanic.
Hughes wanted this flight to be a triumph of American aviation technology, proving that safe long-distance air transport was possible. Albert Ludwig in Iowa provided organizational skills as a flight manager. While Hughes had previously been relatively unknown despite his wealth, being best known for his acquaintance with Catherine Hepburn, New York now gave him a parade in Heroes Canyon:136-139 Hughes and his crew were awarded the 1938 Collier Prize for their record-breaking flights around the world in record time. and in 1938 for their world tour in a new record time.
In 1938 the William P. Hobby Airport in Houston, Texas – then known as the Houston Municipal Airport – was renamed Hughes, but the name was changed, taking on the same name it had because of public outrage for being given to a living person. Hughes also had a role in the design and financing of both the Boeing 307 Stratoliner and the Lockheed L-049 Constellation.
Other aviation awards include: the Bidesco Cup of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale in 1938, the Octave Chanute Award in 1940 and a special Congressional Gold Medal in 1939 “in recognition of Howard Hughes” achievements in advancing the science of aviation and thus bringing great recognition to his country throughout the world”. President Harry Truman sent the Congressional Medal to Hughes after the F-11 crash. After flying around the world, Hughes refused to go to the White House to receive it.:196
The Hughes D-2 was designed in 1939 as a five-crew bomber, powered by 42-cylinder Wright R-2160 Tornado engines. In the final design phase, it appeared as a two-seat fighter-reconnaissance aircraft designated D-2A, powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-2800-49 engines. The aircraft was built using the Duramold process. The prototype was moved to Harper”s Dry Lake in California in great secrecy in 1943 and flew for the first time on June 20 of that year. On the recommendation of the president”s son, Colonel Elliott Roosevelt, who had become friends with Hughes, in September 1943 the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) ordered the development of 100 D-2 reconnaissance aircraft, known as the F-11. Hughes then tried to persuade the Army to pay for the development of the D-2. In November 1944, the hangar containing the D-2A was reportedly struck by lightning and the aircraft was destroyed. The D-2 design was abandoned but led to the design of the controversial Hughes XF-11. The XF-11 was a large, metal, two-seat reconnaissance aircraft powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-4360-31 engines, each with a series of counter-rotating propellers. Only two prototypes were completed, the second having only one propeller on each side.
In the spring of 1943 Hughes spent nearly a month in Las Vegas, testing the Sikorsky S-43 amphibious aircraft, practicing landing in Lake Mead, and preparing to fly the H-4 Hercules. The weather conditions at the lake on the day were ideal. On May 17, 1943, Hughes flew his Sikorsky aircraft from California, carrying two Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA) inspectors, two employees, and actress Ava Gardner. Hughes dropped Gardner off in Las Vegas and proceeded to Lake Mead to conduct suitability tests on the S-43. The test flight did not go well. The Sikorsky crashed in Lake Mead, killing a CAA inspector and a Hughes employee. Hughes suffered a severe blow to the top of his head when he hit the top of the control panel and had to be rescued by another member of the aircraft. He had to pay divers $100,000 to retrieve the aircraft and later spent more than $500,000 on his rehabilitation. He then sent the plane to Houston, where it remained for many years.
Hughes was involved in another near-fatal aircraft accident on July 7, 1946, while conducting the first flight of the U.S. military”s prototype reconnaissance aircraft, the XF-11, near Hughes Airfield in Culver City, California. An oil leak caused a problem with the contra-rotating propeller, causing the aircraft to quickly lose altitude. Hughes attempted to save the aircraft by landing it at the Los Angeles golf course, but seconds before reaching the course, the XF-11 began a dramatic descent and crashed in Beverly Hills.
When the XF-11 finally stopped after destroying three houses, the fuel tanks exploded, setting the aircraft and a nearby house on fire. Hughes managed to get out of the burning wreckage, but lay down next to the aircraft and was rescued by someone who happened to be in the area. He suffered significant fractures in the crash, including a crushing clavicle fracture, and multiple cracked ribs, as well as a punctured left lung, a displaced heart, and numerous third-degree burns. Despite his serious injuries, Hughes made a full recovery.
The War Production Board (not the military) originally contracted Henry Kaiser and Hughes to produce the giant HK-1 Hercules flying boat. The aircraft was to be used during World War II to transport troops and equipment across the Atlantic as an alternative to sea troop transport ships that were vulnerable to German submarines. The military services opposed the project, thinking it would drain resources from higher priority programs, but Hughes” powerful allies in Washington supported it. After disagreements, Kaiser withdrew from the project and Hughes chose to pursue it with the H-4 Hercules. The aircraft, however, was not completed until after the end of the war.
The H-4 Hercules was the largest flying aircraft in the world (surpassed by the Antonov An-225 since then), the largest aircraft made of wood, and had the largest wingspan of any aircraft. It flew only once for 1.6 kilometers (1.6 miles) and 21 meters (66 feet) over water, with Hughes at the controls, on November 2, 1947.
In 1932 Hughes founded the Hughes Aircraft Company in a rented corner of a Lockheed Corporation hangar in Burbank, California, to build the H-1 Racer.
During and after World War II, Hughes transformed his company into a major manufacturer of defense equipment. The Hughes Helicopters division began operations in 1947 when the Kellett Helicopter Manufacturing Company sold its last design to Hughes for production. Hughes Aircraft became a major manufacturer in the aerospace and defense sector, building numerous technology-related products including spacecraft, military aircraft, radar systems, electro-optical systems, the first operational laser, aircraft computer systems, missile systems, ion engines (for space travel), commercial satellites, and other electronic systems.
In 1985, the company was sold to General Motors. In 1997 General Motors sold Hughes Aircraft to Raytheon, which in turn sold it to Boeing in 2000. Hughes Research Laboratories, however, remained with General Motors and Boeing, which focused on advanced developments in microelectronics, information and systems science, materials, sensors and photonics. The laboratories” scope of work ranges from basic research to product delivery, and focuses mainly on high-performance integrated circuits, high-power lasers, antennas, networking and smart materials.
In 1939, at the urging of Jack Frye, president of Transcontinental & Western Airlines, predecessor of Trans World Airlines (TWA), Hughes began quietly buying up most of TWA”s stock, eventually gaining control of the airline by 1944. Hughes is considered the driving force behind the Lockheed Constellation aircraft, which he and Frye ordered in 1939 to replace the Boeing 307 Stratoliners in the TWA fleet. Hughes personally financed the $18 million purchase of 40 Constellation series aircraft, the largest aircraft order in history up to that time. These aircraft were among the highest performing commercial aircraft in the late 1940s and 1950s and allowed TWA to pioneer non-stop intercontinental service. During World War II, TWA became the only U.S. carrier to serve domestic and transatlantic routes.
After the announcement of the Boeing 707, Hughes wanted to buy a more advanced aircraft for TWA and approached Convair in late 1954. Convair offered him two designs, but Hughes could not make up his mind and Convair abandoned the idea after the 707 and Douglas DC-8 mock-ups were revealed. Even when competitors such as United Airlines, American Airlines and Pan American World Airways had placed large orders for 707s, Hughes placed only eight orders. At the same time, he began a project to build his own “superior” jet aircraft for TWA. However, he abandoned this project around 1958, and in the meantime negotiated new contracts for the 707 and Convair 880 aircraft and engines totaling $400 million.
The financing of TWA”s aircraft orders prolonged the end of Hughes” relationship with CEO Noah Dietrich and eventually led to Hughes” removal from TWA”s management. Hughes did not have enough cash or future cash flow to pay for the orders and did not immediately seek bank financing. Hughes” refusal to listen to Dietrich”s financing advice led to a rift between the two by the end of 1956. As Hughes” mental state deteriorated, he ordered various tactics to delay payments to Boeing and Convair. His behavior led the banks to insist on his removal from TWA”s management as a condition for further financing.
Hughes was eventually forced to leave TWA”s management in 1960, although he continued to own 78% of the company. In 1961, TWA filed a lawsuit against Hughes Tool Company, alleging that the latter had violated the antitrust laws by tying TWA to aircraft trading. Hughes won the lawsuit, but in 1966 he was forced to sell his shares, which netted him $546,549,771.
At the same time, in 1962, Hughes gained control of Boston-based Northeast Airlines. However, the airline”s profitable flights between major Northeast cities and Miami were terminated by a decision of the Civil Aeronautics Board (the U.S. regulatory authority) around the time of the acquisition, and Hughes sold control of the airline in 1964.
Finally, in 1970, Hughes acquired San Francisco-based Air West, which he renamed Hughes Airwest. Air West was formed in 1968 by the merger of three companies operating in the western United States. In the late 1970s, Hughes Airwest operated a fleet of Boeing 727-200, Douglas DC-9-10 and McDonnell Douglas DC-9-30 aircraft on an extensive network of routes in the western United States with flights to Mexico and western Canada. By 1980, the airline”s route system extended as far east as Houston (Hobie Airport) and Milwaukee with a total of 42 destinations. In the late 1980s the airline was sold and eventually became part of Delta Air Lines in 2008.
In 1953, Hughes opened the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Miami, Florida (now located in Chevy Chase, Maryland) with the goal of basic biomedical research, including trying to understand, in Hughes”s words, “the genesis of life itself” because of his lifelong interest in science and technology. Hughes” first will, which he signed in 1925 at the age of 19, stipulated that a portion of his estate should be used to establish a medical institute in his name. When a major battle with the Internal Revenue Service (U.S. taxing authority) began, Hughes gave all of his stock in the Hughes Aircraft Company to the institute, thus turning the aerospace and defense company into a for-profit entity completely exempt from taxes due to charitable giving. Hughes” physician, Vernie Mason, who oversaw Hughes after the 1946 plane crash, was chairman of the Institute”s medical advisory board. The new board of directors of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute sold Hughes Aircraft in 1985 to General Motors for $5.2 billion, which allowed the Institute to grow dramatically.
After his death in 1976, many believed that the remainder of Hughes” estate would go to the Institute, although it was eventually divided among his cousins and other heirs due to lack of a will. In 2007, the Institute was the fourth largest private organization and one of the largest dedicated to biological and medical research. In 2020, the Institute”s assets were $21.2 billion.
In 1929, Hughes” first wife, Ella, returned to Houston and filed for divorce. Hughes dated many famous women, including Joan Crawford, Billie Dove, Betty Davis , Yvonne De Carlo, and Ava Gardner, Olivia de Havilland, Katherine Hepburn, Hedy Lamar, Ginger Rogers, Janet Lee, Pat Sheehan, and Jean Tierney. She also proposed to Joanne Fontaine several times, according to her autobiography No Bed of Roses. Jean Harlow accompanied Hughes to the premiere of Hell”s Angels, but Noah Dietrich wrote many years later that their relationship was strictly professional, as Hughes disliked Harlow personally.
In his 1971 book, Howard: The Amazing Mr. Hughes, Noah Dietrich reported that Hughes genuinely liked and respected Jane Russell, but never sought romantic involvement with her. According to Russell”s autobiography, however, Hughes once tried to seduce her after a party. Russell (who was married at the time) refused him and Hughes promised it would never happen again. The two maintained a professional and private friendship for many years. Hughes remained good friends with Tierney, who, after his failed attempts to seduce her, stated that “I don”t think Howard could love anything that didn”t have an engine.” Later, when Tierney”s daughter Daria was born deaf and blind and with severe learning disabilities due to Tierney”s exposure to rubella during her pregnancy, Hughes took over the care of Daria and received the best medical care and paid all expenses.
In 1933, Hughes bought a luxury yacht named Rover, previously owned by Scottish shipping magnate Lord Inchcape. “I have never seen the Rover but I bought it in the plans, photographs and reports of Lloyd”s underwriters. My experience is that the English are the most honest people in the world.” Hughes renamed the yacht Southern Cross and later sold it to Swedish businessman Axel Wenner-Green.
Car accident of 1936
On July 11, 1936, Hughes struck and killed a pedestrian named Gabriel Meyer with his car at the corner of 3rd Street and Lorraine in Los Angeles. After the crash, Hughes was taken to the hospital and certified sober, but the attending physician noted that Hughes was intoxicated. A witness to the crash told police that Hughes was driving erratically and very fast and that Meyer was standing in his seatbelt at a streetcar stop. Hughes was suspected of involuntary manslaughter and was held overnight in jail until his attorney, Neal S. McCarthy , obtained a warrant for his release pending the coroner”s investigation. By the time of the coroner”s inquest, however, the witness had changed his story and claimed that Meyer had moved directly in front of Hughes” car. Nancy Bailey, who was in the car with Hughes at the time of the accident, confirmed this version of the story. On July 16, 1936, Hughes was found not guilty by a jury at the inquest into Meyer”s death. Hughes later told reporters “I was driving slowly and a man appeared out of the darkness ahead of me.”
Marriage to Jean Peters
On January 12, 1957, Hughes married actress Jean Peters in a small hotel in Tonopah, Nevada. The couple met in the 1940s, before Peters became a film actress. They had a very popular romance in 1947 and discussed marriage, but he said he couldn”t combine it with her career; some later claimed that Peters was “the only woman Hughes ever loved”, and reportedly had his security detail follow her everywhere, even when they weren”t involved. Such reports were confirmed by actor Max Sovalter, who became close friends with Peters while filming the movie Niagara (1953). Sovalter said in an interview that because he was meeting frequently with Peters, Hughes” men threatened him that they would ruin his career if he did not leave her alone.
Links to Richard Nixon and Watergate
Shortly before the 1960 presidential election , Richard Nixon became concerned when it was revealed that his brother, Donald , received a $205,000 loan from Hughes. It has long been speculated that Nixon”s desire to know what the Democrats were up to in 1972 was based in part on his belief that the Democrats knew about a subsequent bribe that his friend Bebe Rebozo had received from Hughes after he took office as President of the United States.
In late 1971, Donald Nixon was gathering information about his brother in preparation for the upcoming presidential election. One of his sources was John Mayer, a former business adviser to Hughes who had also worked with Democratic National Committee Chairman Larry O”Brien.
Meyer, in collaboration with former Vice President Hubert Humphrey and others, wanted to give the disinformation to the Nixon campaign. Mayer told the Donald that he was confident the Democrats would win the election because Larry O”Brien had a lot of information about Richard Nixon”s illicit affairs with Howard Hughes that had never been revealed. O”Brien didn”t actually have any such information, but Meyer wanted Nixon to believe he did. Donald told his brother that O”Brien was in possession of damaging information about Hughes that could destroy his campaign. Terry Lenzner, who was the lead investigator for the Senate Committee on the Watergate scandal, speculates that it was Nixon”s desire to know what O”Brien knew about Nixon”s dealings with Hughes may have motivated in part the Watergate break-in.
Physical and mental decline
Hughes was widely considered eccentric and suffered from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. Noah Dietrich wrote that Hughes always ate the same thing for dinner, a New York steak cooked medium rare, salad and peas, but only the smaller ones, leaving the larger ones aside. For breakfast, Hughes liked his eggs cooked the way his family made them. Hughes had a “phobia of germs” and “his passion for secrecy became a mania.”:58-62,182-183
While directing The Outlaw, Hughes focused on a small flaw in one of Jane Russell”s blouses, claiming that the fabric bunched up along a seam and gave the appearance of two nipples on each breast. She wrote a detailed memo to the crew on how to resolve the problem. Richard Fleischer, who directed His Kind of Woman with Hughes as executive producer, wrote at length in his autobiography about the difficulty of dealing with the tycoon. In his book, Just Tell Me When to Cry, Fleischer explained that Hughes was fixated on trivial details and was alternately indecisive and stubborn. He also revealed that Hughes” unpredictable mood swings made him wonder if the film would ever be completed.
In 1958, Hughes told his assistants that he wanted to show some films in a film studio near his home. He stayed in the studio”s darkened projection room for more than four months, never leaving. He ate only chocolates and chicken and drank only milk and was surrounded by dozens of bottles of Kleenex that he was constantly stacking and arranging. He wrote detailed memos to his assistants giving them explicit instructions to neither look at him nor speak to him unless he spoke to them. Throughout this period, Hughes sat glued to his chair, often naked, constantly watching movies. When he finally emerged in the summer of 1958, his hygiene was abysmal. He had not bathed or trimmed his hair and nails for weeks. Experts suggest that this may be due to allodynia, which results in intense pain to stimuli that would normally cause nothing.
After the screening room incident, Hughes moved into a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel where he also rented rooms for his assistants and his wife. He sat naked in his bedroom with a pink hotel towel placed over his genitals, watching movies. This may have been because Hughes found touching the clothes painful due to alienation. He may have watched movies to distract himself from his pain – a common practice among patients with intractable pain, especially those not receiving adequate treatment. In one year, Hughes spent about $11 million at the hotel.
Hughes began buying up restaurant chains and four-star hotels that had been established in the state of Texas. This included, albeit for a short time, many unknown chains that are now defunct. He placed ownership of the restaurants with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and all the licenses were resold shortly thereafter.
Another time, he was obsessed with the 1968 film Ice Station Zebra and put it on constant surveillance in his home. According to his assistants, he watched it at least 150 times. Feeling guilty about the commercial, critical and rumored toxicity of his film The Conqueror, he bought every copy of the film for $12 million, watching the film on repeat. Paramount Pictures acquired the rights to the film in 1979, three years after his death.
Hughes insisted on using tissues to pick up items to isolate himself from the germs. He also noticed dust, stains or other imperfections in people”s clothes and demanded that they be taken care of. He was once one of the most prominent men in America, but he eventually disappeared from public view, although tabloids continued to report rumors about his behavior and where he lived. It was reported that he was completely ill, mentally unstable or even dead.
Injuries from numerous plane crashes caused Hughes to spend much of his later life in severe pain and he eventually became addicted to codeine, which he took intramuscularly. Hughes cut his hair and nails only once a year, probably because of the pain caused by RSD
Later years in Las Vegas
The wealthy and aging Hughes, accompanied by his entourage of personal assistants, began to move from one hotel to another, always making their residence the penthouse of the top floor. In the last ten years of his life, 1966 to 1976, Hughes lived in hotels in many cities – including Beverly Hills, Boston, Las Vegas, Nassau, Freeport
On November 24, 1966 (Thanksgiving), Hughes arrived in Las Vegas by train and moved into the Desert Inn. Because he refused to leave the hotel and to avoid further conflict with the owners, Hughes bought the Desert Inn in early 1967. The eighth floor of the hotel became the nerve center of Hughes” empire, and the ninth floor penthouse became his personal residence. Between 1966 and 1968, he purchased several other hotel casinos, including Castaways, New Frontier, the Landmark Hotel and Casino, and the Sands. When Hughes left the Desert Inn, hotel employees discovered that his curtains had not been opened while he was staying there and were rotting.
As the owner of several large Las Vegas businesses, Hughes wielded great political and economic influence in Nevada. During the 1960s and early 1970s, he disapproved of underground nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site. Hughes was concerned about the danger from residual nuclear radiation and tried to stop the tests. When the tests were conducted despite Hughes” efforts, the explosions were powerful enough that the entire hotel he lived in shook from the tremors. In two separate, last-ditch efforts, Hughes instructed his representatives to offer millions of dollars in bribes to both Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.
In 1970, Jean Peters filed for divorce. The two had not lived together for many years. Peters sought a lifetime alimony of $70,000 per year, adjusted for inflation, and waived all claims to Hughes” property. Hughes offered her a settlement of over $1 million, but she refused. Hughes did not insist on a confidentiality agreement from Peters as a condition of the divorce. Deputies said Hughes never spoke ill of her. On the other hand, Peters refused to discuss her life with Hughes and turned down several lucrative offers from publishers and biographers. Peters only mentioned that she had not seen Hughes for several years before their divorce and that she had only communicated with him by phone.
Hughes was living at the Intercontinental Hotel near Lake Managua in Nicaragua, seeking privacy and security, when a 6.5 magnitude earthquake struck Managua in December 1972. As a precaution, Hughes moved first to a large tent facing the hotel and then. after a few days there to the Nicaraguan National Palace and stayed there as a guest of Anastasio Somoza before leaving for Florida on a private jet the next day. He then moved to Retire to the Xanadu Princess Resort on the island of Grand Bahama, which he had recently purchased. He lived almost exclusively in the penthouse at Xanadu Beach Resort & Marina for the last four years of his life. Hughes spent a total of $300 million on his many Las Vegas properties.
In 1972, author Clifford Irving caused a media sensation when he claimed to have co-written an authorized autobiography of Hughes. Hughes was so isolated that he did not immediately publicly deny Irving”s claim, leading many to believe that Irving”s book was genuine. However, before the book was published, Hughes finally denounced Irving in a conference call and the entire work was eventually revealed as a fake. Irving was later convicted of fraud and spent 17 months in prison. In 1974, Orson Welles” film F for Fake included a part about the hoax in Hughes” autobiography, leaving open the question of whether it was actually Hughes who participated in the conference call (since so few people had heard or seen him in recent years). In 1977, Clifford Irving”s book The Hoax was published in the UK, telling his story of these events. The 2006 film The Hoax, starring Richard Gere, is also based on these events.
Hughes is reported to have died on April 5, 1976, at 1:27 p.m. in the Learjet 24B N855W, owned by Robert Graf and piloted by Jeff Abrams. He was headed from his penthouse at the Acapulco Princess Hotel (now the Fairmont Acapulco Princess) in Mexico City to the Methodist Hospital in Houston.
His isolation and possibly drug use made him practically unrecognisable. His hair, beard and fingernails were long – he weighed only 41 pounds and the FBI had to use fingerprints to definitively determine that he was Hughes” body. Hughes used the alias John Conover when his body arrived at the Houston morgue on the day of his death.
The autopsy recorded renal failure as the cause of death. An eighteen-month investigation into Hughes” drug use found that “someone administered a painkiller injection to him… apparently unnecessarily and certainly fatally.” He suffered from malnutrition and was covered in sores . While his kidneys were damaged, his other internal organs, including his brain, which had no visible damage or disease, were considered perfectly healthy. X-rays revealed five broken hypodermic needles in his skin. To inject codeine into his muscles, Hughes had used glass syringes with metal needles that broke easily. Hughes was buried next to his parents at Glenwood Cemetery in Houston.
After his death, Hughes circulated several conspiracy theories that had widely denied that he had faked his death. One notable claim came from retired Major Mark Musick, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, who claimed that Hughes continued to live under a false identity, dying on November 15, 2001 in Troy, Alabama.
About three weeks after Hughes” death, a handwritten will was found on the desk of an official of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah. The so-called “Mormon Will” gave $1.56 billion to various charities (including $625 million to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute), nearly $470 million to the senior management of Hughes” companies and his assistants, $156 million to first cousin William Loomis, and $156 million was divided equally between her two former husbands Ella Rice and Jean Peters.
An additional $156 million was given to a gas station owner, Melvin Dumar, who told reporters that in 1967, he found a scruffy and dirty man lying on U.S. Route 95, just 240 kilometers north of Las Vegas. The man asked for a ride to Las Vegas. Taking him to the Sands Hotel, that man told him it was Hughes. Dumar later claimed that a few days after Hughes” death, a “mystery man” showed up at his gas station, leaving an envelope containing the will on his desk. Unsure if the will was genuine, Dumar left the will at the LDS Church office. In 1978, a Nevada court ruled that Mormon Will was a forgery and officially declared that Hughes died without a valid will. Dumar”s story was later adapted into Jonathan Demi”s 1980 film Melvin and Howard.
Hughes” $2.5 billion estate was eventually divided in 1983 among 22 cousins, including William Loomis, who serves as a trustee of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The United States Supreme Court ruled that Hughes Aircraft belonged to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which sold it to General Motors in 1985 for $5.2 billion. The court dismissed the actions brought by the States of California and Texas claiming that they were owed inheritance taxes.
In 1984, Hughes” heirs paid an undisclosed sum to Terri Moore, who claimed that she and Hughes were secretly married on a yacht in international waters off Mexico in 1949 and never divorced. Moore never provided proof of marriage, but her book, The Beauty and the Billionaire, became a bestseller.
The Howard Hughes Film Collection is housed in the Academy”s Film Library and consists of more than 200 items, including feature films, documentaries and 35mm and 16mm television programs made or assembled by Hughes.
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