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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

WAS HOWARD HUGHES NUTS?

I just saw a new film, Rules Don't Apply, that did not make the top ten box office list this past weekend, got poor Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 57% and 42%, but inspired me to look into the life of Howard Hughes.  This was mostly Hollywood in the year 1958, which intrigued me, because that was the year I first left Hawaii, spending the summer in Southern California.
  
Warren Beatty was director and played Howard Hughes.  He is the younger brother of Shirley Mclaine, was a star high school football player and went to Northwestern, but dropped out after his freshman year.  

His wife Annette Bening, had a small part in the film.  The rest of the cast includedMatthew Broderick, Alec Baldwin, Candice Bergen, Dabney Coleman, Steve Coogan, Ed Harris, Oliver Platt, Paul Sorvino, Martin Sheen and and more.   Lily Collins (left) played the starlet  (Marla Mabrye) who supposedly fathered a Hughes child.  He supposedly had nine children, only one confirmed, and not this one.  Lily's real father is singer Phil Collins.

Not sure why the script was written with this Hughes-Marla Mabrey link  being the primary focus, for this was one of his most insignificant liaisons.  You can make a dozen films just of Hughes' affairs.  Here, a partial list of women in his life:
  • Jane Russell 
  • Cyd Charisse
  • Joan Crawford
  • Linda Darnell
  • Bette Davis
  • Yvonne de Carlo
  • Olivia de Havilland
  • Billy Dove (right)
  • Joan Fontaine
  • Kathryn Grayson (he proposed to her three times)
  • Jane Greer
  • Jean Harlow (who acted in his most famous film, Hell's Angels)
  • Susan Hayward
  • Rita Hayworth
  • Barbara Hutton (Woolworth heiress)
  • Janet Leigh
  • Gina Lollobrigida
  • Katharine Hepburn (right, one of his great loves)
  • Ida Lupino
  • Virginia Mayo
  • Jean Tierney
  • Lana Turner
  • Marilyn Monroe (not much of a relationship)
  • Terry Moore (claimed to have married him twice)
  • Jean Peters (last wife)
  • Ava Gardner (right)
  • Ginger Rogers
  • Jean Simmons
  • Elizabeth Taylor (refused an offer of a million dollars to marry him)
  • Gloria Vanderbilt
  • Amelia Earhart
And that was a partial list.

Hughes' father dropped out of Harvard to start a successful tool company.  Howard built Houston's first wireless radio transmitter at the age of 11, a motorized bike at 12 to ease his newspaper delivery service, had flying lessons at 14, was a near scratch golfer, took math and aeronautical engineering courses at Caltech, and dropped out of Rice.  His parents died when he was around 18, inspiring him to create a medical research laboratory, which ultimately became the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, in 2007 becoming the largest devoted to biological and medical research with an endowment of $16 billion.

He personally set world speed flying lessons, and nearly got killed in four serious plane crashes, which made him super sensitive to the touch (so he spent much of his adult life naked) and addicted to codeine.  He built the Spruce (made of birch) Goose, a wooden (had to be made of non-strategic materials) plane which was the largest of its time then and flew just once for a mile.  It was an attraction in Long Beach Harbor until moved to the Evergreen Aviation Museum in Oregon.

In 1928, at the age of 23, he produced Two Arabian Knights, which won the first Academy Award for Best Director (Lewis Milestone--Hughes was producer).  The stars were William Boyd (who went on to become Hopalong Cassidy) and Mary Astor.  He directed and produced Hell's Angels (RT:  76/60) in 1930, winning an Oscar for Best Cinematography.  The film killed several aviators and went way over budget, but doubled expenses at the box office.  His most controversial film was The Outlaw (RT:  89/33) with Jane Russell (left), for which he was the director.  His Hughes Tool Company bought RKO Pictures, a lot of real estate around Hollywood, Summa Corporation and TWA.   He became a billionaire.

My one link with Hughes was his Glomar Explorer, when he secretly worked with the CIA to attempt to recover a Soviet submarine which sank close to Hawaii.  No, never met him, but his Glomar Explorer was announced to search for manganese nodules not a submarine.  I shepherded the Hard Minerals Act for Senator Spark Matsunaga though the U.S. Congress, got involved with various Law of the Sea Treaty gatherings (the U.S. Senate still has not yet signed the treaty) and could not quite share the truth of the reality till today.  This floating platform was eventually acquired by Transocean, that company involved with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

The movie took us to the time of the 1972 hoax perpetrated by Clifford Irving, who professed in his book on Hughes' life that it was co-authored by him.  In a teleconference Hughes showed clarity, exposing Irving, who spent 17 months in jail for fraud.  Irving eventually wrote The Hoax (RT: 85/58) in 1977, which became a 2006 film starring Richard Gere.

I recall a quarter century ago watching Melvin and Howard, a Jonathan Demme film,  Melvin and Howard, with Jason Robards as Hughes and Paul Le Mat as Melvin Dummar, who helped  a wandering and lost Hughes get back to the Sands Hotel.   Rotten Tomatoes reviewers gave the film a 94% rating.  Reportedly, Dummar nearly a decade after the incident got an envelope addressed to the President of the LDS Church, where both he and the Mormon Church were each bequeathed a one sixteenth share ($156 million) of the Hughes' estate.  The document was ultimately judged to be a forgery, and Dummar got nothing.  He later re-sued, but again was denied.  Much of the fortune did go to the Hughes Medical Institute, but a thousand people also benefited.  However, it took until 2010, 34 years after his death, to settle the estate.

Which comes to why movie producers name their film.  RULES DON'T APPLY?  A much better one for this flick would have been:  SO WAS HOWARD HUGHES NUTS?  Was he?

He died in 1976 at the age of 70 with an obsession for germs as a recluse.  At the end he weighed just 92 pounds, unkempt with long fingernails and hair, five hypodermic needles in his arms.  He was 6'4" tall.  As screwed up as he was, all indicators suggested he had not totally lost his mind.  He remained essentially coherent.  Sue he was nuts.  But not crazy.  What a life!

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