Howard Hughes

Howard Hughes bigraphy, stories - aviator, engineer, industrialist, and film producer

Howard Hughes : biography

24 December 1905 – 5 April 1976

Howard Robard Hughes, Jr. (December 24, 1905Hack 2002, pp. 21–22. – April 5, 1976) was an American business magnate, investor, aviator, aerospace engineer, film maker and philanthropist. He was one of the wealthiest people in the world. As a maverick film producer, Hughes gained prominence in Hollywood from the late 1920s, making big-budget and often controversial films like The Racket (1928), Hell’s Angels (1930), Scarface (1932) and The Outlaw (1943). Hughes was one of the most influential aviators in history: he set multiple world air speed records, built the Hughes H-1 Racer and H-4 "Hercules" (better known to history as the "Spruce Goose" aircraft), and acquired and expanded Trans World Airlines, which later merged with American Airlines. Hughes is also remembered for his eccentric behavior and reclusive lifestyle in later life, caused in part by a worsening obsessive–compulsive disorder and chronic pain. His legacy is maintained through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Additional resources

  • Photograph collections related to Hughes: Houston Public Library; University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum; Charles Barton, Inc.

Anxiety Disorder and physical decline

As early as the 1930s, Hughes displayed signs of mental illness, primarily obsessive-compulsive disorder. Close friends reported that he was obsessed with the size of peas, one of his favorite foods, and used a special fork to sort them by size.

While directing The Outlaw, Hughes became fixated on a minor 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. He was reportedly so upset by the matter that he wrote a detailed memorandum to the crew on how to fix 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 obstinate. He also revealed that Hughes’s unpredictable mood swings made him wonder if the film would ever be completed.

In 1947, after his near-fatal aircraft crash in 1946, Hughes told his aides that he wanted to screen some movies at a film studio near his home. Hughes stayed in the studio’s darkened screening room for more than four months, never leaving. He subsisted exclusively on chocolate bars, chicken, and milk, and relieved himself in the empty bottles and containers. He was surrounded by dozens of Kleenex boxes, which he continuously stacked and re-arranged. He wrote detailed memos to his aides on yellow legal pads giving them explicit instructions not to look at him, to respond when spoken to, but otherwise not speak to him. Throughout this period, Hughes sat fixated in his chair, often naked, continuously watching movies. When he finally emerged in the spring of 1948, his hygiene was terrible, as he had not bathed or cut his hair and nails for weeks (although this may have been due to allodynia—pain upon being touched). The Screening Room was located at Sunset Boulevard and Doheny Drive in Los Angeles; it was owned by Martin Nosseck and was called the "Martin Nosseck Projection Theatre"—Martin Nosseck was the full-time projectionist for Hughes during that time.

After the screening room incident, Hughes moved into a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel. He also rented out several other rooms for his aides, his wife, and his numerous girlfriends. His erratic behavior continued, however, as he would sit naked in his bedroom with a pink hotel napkin placed over his genitals, watching movies. Like the tissue boxes instead of shoes, he likely sat around naked because the touch of clothing (and shoes) would trigger an extremely painful condition called allodynia. He likely watched movies constantly to distract him from his pain. To this day distraction, including watching TV and movies, is a common survival tactic among intractable pain patients, especially those who do not receive adequate treatment. In one year, he spent an estimated $11 million at the hotel.