For years, a cloud of mystery has danced around Howard Hughes. Known as an aviation pioneer, Hollywood mogul and a certified genius, Hughes was also a recluse who lived with severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. His everyday activities lacked continuity and his unorthodox methods affected not only his close associates, but the many people who would cross paths with him over the years. Authors Peter Harry Brown and Pat H. Broekse delve deep into the Hughes enigma and offer an extremely insightful portrait of a man from Texas who never fully recovered from his trauma-ridden childhood.
Howard Robard Hughes, Jr. was born on December 24, 1905 to Howard Robard Hughes, Sr. and Allene Gano Hughes. The elder Hughes had spent years migrating from one odd job to the next, until the birth of his son inspired him to make his mark on the world. Oil prospecting was a booming enterprise, but the machinery of the day could not drill beyond a certain point in the earth. Howard Hughes, Sr. designed and patented a multi-layered drill bit that could tear through rock like wet newspaper. This invention made him a fortune, due to his shrewd practice of renting the bit to the drilling companies instead of selling it outright. His father’s ingenuity would rub off on Howard, Jr., but so would the manic practices of his mother. Allene Hughes was often the sole guardian of her only son while Howard. Sr. was traveling with his invention and womanizing around the country. Paranoid and habitually overprotective, Allene was convinced that young Howard would get sick and die from some unforeseen illness. This caused her to bathe him with a lye-based soap many times throughout the day and inspect every inch of his body like a detective looking for symptoms. Her behavior taught Howard that the world is a dirty place, crawling with impurities. As Howard grew older, his mother reluctantly sent him to camp but quickly took him back out for fear that the other children would spread disease. The camp counselors noticed Allene’s obsessiveness and warned her that she was preventing Howard from living a normal life. She never took the advice to heart and continued to treat him like a fragile vase in a world of swinging hammers.
Young Howard showed early signs of brilliance. At the age of 14, he spotted a luxury car in the showroom and walked around it repeatedly before asking the salesman if he could have it sent to his house. Realizing that the car was expensive, the salesman called Howard, Sr. for approval. After the salesman told Senior about Junior’s request, Howard Sr. asked “Did he say what he wanted with it?”. The salesman replied: “Yes sir, he said he wanted to take it apart and put it back together”. The elder Hughes approved the sale. Howard took the car apart and put it back together in a month’s time. A few years later, Howard’s father collapsed and died of a heart attack and Allene passed away shortly thereafter. As the heir to the majority of the Hughes fortune, Howard stood to inherit an empire. Allene’s siblings attempted to secure the inheritance for themselves, claiming that Howard was not only a minor, but had not lived a normal enough life to run the business successfully. Howard lashed out angrily in a rush of individualism and fought to have himself declared an adult at age 17. Howard’s relatives were aware of his budding interest in both Hollywood and aviation, and believed he would liquidate the family fortune on his own indulgences. Though they may have been correct, Howard won in court and took over the business.
Howard began to spend money recklessly from the beginning. His war epic “Hell’s Angels” was not his first film, but certainly the most expensive. He was already showing signs of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which almost certainly stemmed from his mother’s ritualistic approach to life. The filming and editing of “Hell’s Angels” went on for so long, that Hollywood columnists took bets with each other as to whether or not the film would ever be released. It was eventually released, but Hughes quickly had the entire film dubbed with sound once he learned that talkies were growing in popularity. Howard became a ladies man, luring Hollywood’s new starlets into his bed by charming them with his good looks and wit. He carried on affairs with multiple women and showered each of them with diamonds and flowers. This pattern went on for decades, even through launching his own airline and designing planes with specifications that had never been seen before. His stubbornness and desire for perfection was seldom compromised. Hughes had proposed to scores of Tinseltown’s most notable actresses, all of them believing he was sincere, when in fact, he was looking for one-night stands to carry on for as long as he saw fit. The constant juggling of women, work and the complex web of his deepest thoughts led to numerous emotional breakdowns. Hughes would disappear for weeks and months at a time, sometimes in the midst of a film production or an aviation contract that required his presence. He would return to his worried counterparts as if nothing had happened. This was the quintessential Howard Hughes, capable of improving and innovating anything in the world except his damaged and confused soul.
Brown and Broekse take us through the lost days and secretive nights of one of the most ingenious men to ever live. His close brushes with death (due to crashing in flight more than once), his indiscretions and his ongoing quests for adventure are all documented in this 482-page biography. The man who would become the subject of Martin Scorcese’s “The Aviator” was far more than a womanizing eccentric, he was a personality that has long been misunderstood. Howard Hughes: The Untold Story is the perfect window into the life of Hughes.
You can order Howard Hughes: The Untold Story by Peter Harry Brown and Pat H. Broekse by clicking below. This is a highly recommended read for those curious about Hughes, the early days of Hollywood, or both.