Persons Of Interest

Biography Of The Month: Howard Hughes (1905 – 1976)

howard hughes

A multi-millionaire with a strange childhood, known for his famous lovers, his ambitions and his odd behaviour in later life, Howard Hughes was a man who inherited a lot of money, but who made major innovations to the aviation industry and also became a movie mogul. Challenging convention, pushing boundaries, and living an incredibly lonely life, this is a biography that’s stranger than fiction.

Childhood

Howard Hughes was an only child who suffered from some potentially serious illnesses in infancy. With his father being away on business a lot, and as he was also unfaithful, Hughes was the apple of his mother’s eye and was known to sleep in her bed til the age of 13. He was largely schooled at home, and had the smothering attention of his mother at all times, who pulled him out of school rather than be without him. Her obsessive nature and her intense relationship with him, as well as her sudden death while he was still quite young, left Hughes with three major issues: he developed OCD, he longed for a replacement for that close relationship and yet he also feared the closeness that had smothered his young life and ruined his ability to form bonds with people his own age.

howard hughes 2

Romance and Relationships

Part of the mystique of Hughes is his legendary love life. Unable to be faithful, he routinely proposed to women to get them into bed, and usually had many women in relationships with him at once, none of whom knew about each other. He loved to date famous women and starlets, and the list of these includes Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, Faith Domergue, Billie Dove, Olivia De Havilland, Ginger Rogers and many more. Some of these relationships were quite fiery, some of them were with girls still in their teens, and all of those who Hughes took an interest in were under surveillance by his private detectives. His obvious vulnerability, boyishness and willingness to please were very attractive to women, but his infidelity and controlling behavior cost him dearly in his relationships.

the outlaw

The Movies

Initially, Hollywood was not impressed by the ambitious but inexperienced Hughes and just wanted to take his money, and yet he managed to create some pioneering and interesting films as a producer and director, as well as discover and create stars. As a director, his inability to let go of details usually made him run into too many takes and run over budget, and yet his films were often big successes. In The Outlaw, he brought the world Jane Russell, and managed to anger the censors with a film that was pretty terrible but featured sexuality pretty openly. Famously, he designed a bra for Jane Russell to wear during the film, as he was obsessed with her perfect breasts and how they would be captured on film. He also launched the career of blonde bombshell Jean Harlow.

Essential Viewing:

  • The Outlaw (1943)
  • Scarface (1932)
  • Hell’s Angels (1930)

howard

The Obsession

Howard Hughes later years often overshadow the person he was in earlier life. While he always suffered from OCD, such illnesses were not diagnosed at that time. Through his life and his work in aviation, Hughes was in several flying accidents that resulted in head injuries which he largely refused full treatment for. He was also treated for Syphilis at one point in his youth, which led to his mental illness in late life, in which he refused all company, frequently was naked for days at a time and took little care of his personal hygiene, becomingly increasingly obsessed with germs. He also became increasingly paranoid, not least because his homes are cars were in fact bugged by the FBI, and fired people who he had trusted for years in favour of newer employees who took advantage of him. He became addicted to the pain medications for his injuries, and was kept sedated by his staff. At the time of his death, doctors have pointed out that he was in a coma for several days before his staff went for medical help, and that his emaciated body showed that he was severely malnourished. His life ended through neglect by the people who had him sign over millions to them in bonuses and gifts. A sad end to a strange life.

There is a lot about Hughes that just won’t fit into a blog post. If you’d like more about this mysterious figure, the biography Howard Hughes, The Untold Story by Peter Harry Brown and Pat H Broeske is very good. You might also like the film The Aviator (2004) directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Hughes.

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