Once upon a time Howard Hughes was the richest man in the world. In today’s society being the richest man requires some serious wealth and Howard Hughes ticked all the financial boxes you can think of. He inherited his father’s tool company when he was very young. Too young in fact to take control but he found a law that said if he could prove he was capable of running the company then he could take control. He proved he could and did just that, took control. His father had designed a tool bit that was essential to America’s oil industry but instead of selling the drill bit he patented it and then rented it out. Howard Hughes though had other ambitions that did not involve oil or drilling but the profits from the Hughes Tool Company were vital for his ambitions in aviation and the movies.
Hughes combined those two interests in making the WW1 movie ‘Hell’s Angels’ about fighter pilots and for the shoot he assembled the largest private air force in the world. Towards the end of the shooting, sound pictures made their appearance so what did Howard do? He re shot the entire film with sound equipment!
Another movie Hughes made that is famous, or perhaps infamous, was the 1943 Movie ‘Outlaw’ starring Jane Russell. Hughes appeared to be obsessed with Jane’s breasts, even to the extent of designing a new bra for her and re shooting a famous close up of her time after time. Hughes clearly had some psychological issues; he was a compulsive, obsessive man. He usually had the same meal when he went out with one of the many starlets he courted. Jane Greer recounted in a TV interview how Hughes would eat things in the same order, the peas first, then the potatoes and finally the meat. Once when they dined Hughes came back to the table and Jane noticed his shirt was wet. Hughes had spilt something onto his shirt so he washed the shirt in the men’s room, rinsed and squeezed it out, then put it back on.
As his mental health deteriorated, Hughes retreated into a world of blacked out penthouse suites and midnight telephone calls to his army of assistants, some of whom were private investigators keeping close tabs on anyone Hughes had an interest in, particularly starlets he had signed to personal contracts and his girlfriends like Katherine Hepburn or Jean Peters whom he later married.
The incredible thing is, despite his illness he and his company produced aircraft for the US government, including the now famous ‘Spruce Goose,’ many of which he test flew himself. However, in July, 1946, Hughes crashed while testing his XF11 reconnaissance plane. The aircraft crashed in Beverly Hills and Hughes was seriously injured. He survived but remained addicted to morphine for the rest of his life. His company also produced the Glomar Explorer, an undersea recovery craft for the CIA and it was part of a plan to raise a sunken Soviet nuclear sub in an effort to learn the USSR’s nuclear secrets
If you want to know more about Howard Hughes my favourite movie about him is not the Aviator, the Scorcese/ Di Caprio movie, good though it is, but an old TV mini-series based on a book by Noah Dietrich, ‘Howard, The Amazing Mr Hughes.’ Tommy Lee Jones gives a great performance as Hughes in the film.
Noah Dietrich was once Hughes’ chief executive and financial advisor. He resigned after becoming more and more unhappy with Hughes’ bizarre behaviour. In later years Bob Maheau, a former FBI man employed by Howard, experienced much the same thing; numerous obsessive memos, midnight phone calls and so on..
Hughes died in 1976, cocooned from the world by morphine and the close attention of his Mormon aides. Despite his wealth Hughes was emaciated and underfed, addicted to drugs which his aides rationed in order for them to manipulate him. Surely, final proof that money is not everything.
Still, better not forget this weekend’s lottery ticket, just in case!