.. played, and went on to appear on screens for over 20 years throughout the world. In the end, it brought in just over eight million dollars, roughly twice Hughess investment. Bored with the movies and having proven himself, it was time for Hughes to move on to something more exciting.
In the summer of 1932, Howard Hughes took a job with American Airlines under the name Charles Howard. His salary was $250 a week, an excellent wage during the great depression (unless youre already a millionaire.) Hughes masqueraded in this position for two months, carrying baggage, talking to passengers and working as a co-pilot for the commercial airline. In the late summer of 1932, Hughes left American Airlines and bought himself a seaplane. He hired Glen Odekirk to customize the plane to Hughes acute specifications.
One day the two argued for three hours about the proper placement of three screws in a strip of metal. Hughes wanted to fly cross-country in his seaplane, and eventually hired Odekirk as his co-pilot. For the next 18 months the two would fly around the country, stopping at Hughes whims and Howard would often disappear unannounced for days, weeks or months, only to return to Odekirk and his seaplane. On one such disappearance, Hughes ventured to Europe, returning with a 320 foot yacht and a Boeing P-12 Army Air Corps pursuit plane. Hughes decided to race his plane in Miami, and set Odekirk to work, tinkering with the plane in a vain attempt to make the plane faster. Hughes was so demanding that he would force Odekirk to make adjustments the mechanic knew would not work.
In exasperation, Odekirk suggested that Hughes build his own plane from scratch, and after Hughes won the race, the billionaire spent the next two years building a plane that could win any race. Hughes and Odekirk returned to Los Angeles, where Howard hired Dick Palmer, a young Cal. Tech. Engineer known for his radical ideas. They set up shop just outside L.
A. in a secret hangar where the three would work days and nights on end. The project was called H-1 (Hughes-1) and was the most progressive airplane in the world. The plane introduced the retractable landing gear, and pioneered other aeronautic advances such as countersunk screws and flat rivets to reduce wind resistance. The H-1 made its first appearance in September 1935 as Hughes announced that he would break the world record for airspeed in his new plane.
Hughes insisted that he be the first to fly the plane, no matter how dangerous, and that the first flight be the one for which the record would be tested, even though no one knew how the plane would perform or if it would fly at all. The record to be broken was 314.32 miles per hour, held by Raymond Delmotte of France. The test called for an average of successive trials, not less than four. After five passes, Hughes averaged a speed of 352.39 mile per hour, easily passing Delmottes record. The next morning Howard Hughes moved from the entertainment pages of the nations newspapers to the front pages. He had flown faster than any other man, in an airplane of his own design, and won the record for the United States.
America did not know what to do with Howard Hughes, the millionaire playboy who was known to aeronautical engineers as colleague, amongst pilots, a gritty legend and to Hollywood, a film genius. In addition to his many achievements, Hughes was known to his friends and his acquaintances as a person of bizarre habits and personal tics. There were numerous causes for Hughess increasingly strange behavior. From an early age he was quite deaf and could not hear conversations around him, yet he told few people of his disability. He conducted much of his business on the telephone because he could hear better using it. As a young man, Hughes evidently contracted syphilis, and in his later years he was plagued with neurosyphilis, which is marked by a degeneration of brain cells that can lead to paranoia and other symptoms.
He surrounded himself with aides that he trusted, a group of seven Mormons which never left Hughes side (Howard believed Mormons were more trustworthy) and insisted that nay item handed to Hughes be covered by a Kleenex. In addition, as a test pilot Hughes was involved in numerous plane crashes that some researchers presume resulted in brain injury. The most serious accident occurred in 1946 when an XF-11 reconnaissance plane he was testing for the Air Force crashed, leaving him with massive injuries that caused him pain for the rest of his life. Hughes, who eschewed alcohol and tobacco, was forced to take medications to alleviate his pain.
An addiction to codeine, a prescribed painkiller made from opium, began at this time and continued for the remainder of his life. Finally, but perhaps most important in understanding Hughess inability to live a normal life, he became increasingly trapped by what medical professionals today understand was obsessive-compulsive disorder. Many of Hughess biographers believe that his mother suffered from the same disease. This mental disorder can cause ritualistic behavior and unusual habits. For example, Hughes became obsessed with germs and cleanliness.
In fact, the press reported that Hughes was so fearful of germs that he walked around in Kleenex boxes instead of shoes and insisted that any item be handed to him covered by a Kleenex. The disease went undiagnosed in his lifetime. In the early 1960s Hughes hired an ex-FBI agent, Robert Maheu, as his right hand man. Hughes knew that Maheu had been involved in many cloak and dagger activities with the FBI and CIA, including an assassination attempt on Cubas Fidel Castro.
At the time there were several dozen subpoenas for Hughes, including Federal, state and local tax evasion charges. In fact, later Hughes boasted that he never paid a dollar of income tax in his lifetime. Hughes brought Maheu on board to hide him from the public eye and to protect against those who wished to bring Hughes into court. In 1966, Maheu moved Hughes to the Desert Inn, located in Las Vegas, by train in the first hours of the morning.
No one was allowed in the hotel lobby upon Hughes arrival. He moved into the penthouse on the fifteenth floor. Six months had passed and hotel management wanted Hughes out. He was occupying the floor of the hotel that had the most luxurious suites, and casino profits dont come form room rent, but from high rollers and high rollers demand the best accommodations. Hughes instructed Maheu to inquire about the price of the hotel, and ownership humorously suggested $14 million, almost twice what the casino was worth. Hughes paid the next day and went into the gambling business.
Howard later acquired the Sands, the Frontier, the Castaway, and the tiny Silver Slipper. Hughes told Maheu to buy the silver Slipper because its well-lit rotating marquee was an annoyance to Hughes when it shined through his window. After spending several years in Las Vegas, the pressure form legal actions became too great. Hughes re-located to the Bahamas on Maheus suggestion.
Eighteen months later, the press reported that Hughes had died on an airplane en-route to Texas from heart failure. Hughes had not been publicly seen or photographed for twenty years. In the last part of Hughess life the media went crazy over his whereabouts and wellbeing. Rumors were circulating that in seclusion, Hughes had wasted away to 90 pounds and he had grown eight-inch fingernails and toenails. When a California court levied a judgement of $137 million for his refusal to appear to defend against a stockholders lawsuit, Hughes abandoned his industrial empire, fled from the USA, and went into hiding on Paradise Island in the Bahamas.
At this time, the McGraw-Hill Book Co. claimed Hughes had struck a deal with writer Clifford Irving, an expatriate novelist living on the Mediterranean Island of Ibiza. The hitherto reclusive billionaire had met clandestinely with Irving in Mexico and the Bahamas, in order to tell the 40-year-old author the true story of his life. It was a no-hold-barred autobiography, “warts and all,” from a living legend who was dying and wanted to set the record straight. First reports hinted that it told of Hughes manipulation of the stock market, his bribery of American presidents, his secret wartime combat mission under the aegis of President Roosevelt, his friendships with Cary Grant and Ernest Hemingway, his behind-locked-doors life in Las Vegas- and it revealed details of affairs with movie stars from Katharine Hepburn to Ava Gardner.
McGraw-Hills announcement of the impending publication ignited a firestorm of controversy. Executives of Hughes corporations insisted the book was unauthorized. Finally on national radio hookup, an invisible Howard Hughes spoke from his darkened hotel suite on Paradise Island. “This must go down in history,” he said. “I only wish I were still in the movie business, because I dont remember any script as wild or as stretching the imagination as this yarn has turned out to be.
I dont know whats in the autobiography. I dont know Clifford Irving.” McGraw-Hill, Irving, and Life, which had bought serialization rights, were not fazed by the denials. For months the debate was front-page news, often eclipsing the Vietnam War. The manuscript was read by many reporters that had covered Hughes and came to the conclusion that there was “no doubt in [their] mind [s]” that it could only have come from Hughes himself. As a final test to determine authenticity, leading handwriting experts in the United States scrutinized the documentation and matched it against samples provided by Hughes lawyers. Their conclusion: the signatures were those of Howard Hughes and “the chances are one in ten million that this many handwritten pages from Hughes to Irving and McGraw-Hill are not genuine.
It would be beyond human capability to forge this mass of material.” By the end of January 1972, Clifford Irving did an about-face, stunning his army of supporters with a confession that the autobiography was a hoax. “I never met Howard Hughes,” Irving now said. “It was a cheap caper, nothing more.” The book had resulted from a combination of careful research and daring imagination. Amid massive worldwide publicity, Irving was sentenced to 2 years in federal prison only two months after he appeared on the cover of Time. It was money that etched Howard Hughes into the public mind. The sound of his name was associated with untold wealth, wealth supposedly accumulated through his gift for turning all he touched to gold.
left the world with a spectacular legacy that will be remembered for years to come. His contributions to the film business, such as attention to detail and high budget spending, are still being used to this day. Howards cutting edge technology used to build his many planes has let to development of many aircrafts presently in use. In truth, we are left with two Howard Hugheses- the public and the private: the rational disguise and the world of shadows, of instinct to preserve and protect at any cost the image he had created. That it has taken so many years for the veil to part is tribute both to his genius and to his tragedy.
Bibliography Bartlett, Donald L. and Steele, James B. EMPIRE. New York, W. W.
Norton & Company. 1979. Drosnin, Michael. Citizen Hughes: In His Own Words. New York, Holt, Tinch and Winston.