The Man Behind The Legend: Howard Hughes

By Paul Vennegoor

Few more affluent people have been born into this world than American entrepreneur Howard Hughes. Born to a Texan oil prospector and prominent Dallas socialite on December 24th 1905, Howard Hughes rapidly grew to become one of America’s most influential industrial tycoons. Heir to a massive fortune, Hollywood film maker, test pilot, shrewd businessman, engineer and a reclusive eccentric, Hughes was in the public’s eye from the get-go.

But it is the more negative aspects of the man’s life that have circulated around the press and minds of his critics, especially around the time of his arrival to the Vegas Strip in 1966. By then Hughes was well known for his mounting reclusive behavior and obsessive compulsive outbursts – Hughes was consuming 150 mg of Valium and colossal quantities of Codeine and Empirin, all owing to a near-fatal airplane incident some 20 years earlier in 1946.

Around the time of the crash, Hughes had become affiliated with the US Air Force and was commissioned to develop two ambitious aircraft projects: the Spruce Goose also known as the H-4 Hercules, a goliath waste of an eight-motored flying boat only seen flying once for less than a minute during its grand unveiling and the Hughes XF-11 reconnaissance aircraft. While testing the latter, an engine failure caused Hughes’ plane to plummet and coincidentally crash into Nuremberg Trial’s chief interpreter Lt. Colonel Charles A. Myers’ Beverly Hills manor. Hughes attempted to land the plane at a nearby golf course, but fell short of the mark, destroying Myers’ mansion and leaving what could only be described as kindling and embers amidst an erect brick chimney; and agonizingly painful injuries that would haunt him for the remainder of his life.

Apart from his aeronautical endeavors, Howard Hughes was intensely involved in Hollywood’s golden age of cinema, being solely responsible for the creation and release of the blockbuster film Hell’s Angels, starring Jean Harlow. Hughes’ first of many airplane incidents occurred during the filming of the epic when he himself attempted to top off an impossible stunt which resulted in the aviator’s concussion. Having attained damage to his orbital frontal cortex, the incident may have been the catalyst for a series of compulsive habits to follow after the incident Hughes became a morbidly pedantic character who would argue his points ad nauseam until his company simply gave up.


But Hughes was not to bear the entire brunt of the film’s production three other pilots lost their lives whilst attempting the tormenting aerial combat scenes, many of which were directed by Hughes himself.

The film was nevertheless released to a welcoming throng of 500,000 film enthusiasts outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood and was hailed as the most prolific picture ever to be released at the time, costing over 3 million in 1930’s dollars.

Whilst in Hollywood and during his marriage to Ella Botts Rice, his first wife, Hughes developed an ornate sexual prowess over many of Hollywood’s starlets. Hughes had simultaneous relations with actresses like Billie Dove, Katherine Hapburn, Ginger Rogers, Joan Fontain, Bessie Love and Bette Davis. His clout in the film industry promised the starlets success as he referred them to acting, dance and singing classes, all paid for by him; he also sent them cash cheques on a regular basis.

A known hypochondriac, Hughes had also instructed his personal physician to conduct thorough check-ups on the women he slept with syphilis was not an option, although there is evidence pointing to Hughes contracting the disease sometime during the 1930’s, which he beat, perhaps by the aid of the world’s first antibiotics or potent Magic Bullet Cocktails consisting of arsenic and mercury.

In 1957 Hughes married actress Jean Peters who he had met in the 1940’s. By that time Hughes was regarded as the most flourishing entrepreneur in the United States and was branded as a reckless spender. After selling his airline TWA for $546 million dollars, Hughes moved to Las Vegas a billionaire. He quickly acquired a number of hotels and casinos his first, the Desert Inn, owned by the notorious bootlegger and racketeer Moe Daliz, aka Mr. Vegas. Hughes was reportedly brought to the Desert Inn on a stretcher and taken straight up to the 9th floor penthouse on a service elevator. In a few weeks when Daliz asked Hughes to leave, Hughes simply bought the hotel at an overblown prize and began using it as his private solitary refuge.

Not four years later and Hughes now owned Vegas’ most prosperous casinos: The Sands Hotel, New Frontier and Stardust formed a part of Hughes’ Vegas empire, as he intended with the help of governor Paul Laxalt to rid the city of its associations with crime bosses and thugs, making him Nevada’s largest single proprietor at the time. He also bought local Vegas television channel KLAS channel 8; the mogul was apparently bewildered with the channel’s content, frequently calling the station late at night with instructions for the airing of his favorite films.

No one saw Hughes during his time in Vegas. A complete recluse, hardly even heard over the telephone, he conveyed his orders with the help of number of Mormon aides belonging to the Church of Latter Day Saints that he had employed to run his Vegas dealings. At the top of the ladder was Robert Mahue, a former high-ranking FBI official, who Hughes fired in 1970 after a dispute with the Mormons. There are a few conspiracy theories stating that the Mormons did everything in their power to keep Hughes in a reclusive state, supplying him painkillers and drugs in aid of his rising paranoiac state; like parasites they went straight for Hughes’ lifeblood, attempting to acquire the empire for themselves.

In the same year Hughes was again moved on a stretcher to the Caribbean and in 1973, after going clean and off his medication, he attempted to fly again in London. Hughes apparently took his clothes off and flew in the nude, completing a flight across the English channel into Belgium the act rekindled the eccentric’s love for flying once again, but not for long; after falling and breaking his hip in a London hotel, his doctors had him back on painkillers, resuming his substance addiction.

Howard Hughes was found unconscious in an Acapulco hotel room in 1976. He was immediately flown to a Houston hospital, but died of kidney failure before the plane landed. During a privately conducted autopsy, doctors could hardly recognize the man: weighing at only around 43 kilograms and with no less than 6 hypodermic needles entrenched in his forearms, doctors could only speculate as to what his final days must have been like. Arguably one of the greatest men in United States history, Howard Hughes’ peculiarity and originality only set a trend for others to come. A true visionary working across the entire spectrum of a personally fashioned entrepreneurial savvy, and whilst tormented by a dwindling ego and obsessive behavior, the story of Howard Hughes is one to be told throughout the ages.

About the Author: Paul Vennegoor is an avid student of all things to do with gambling and the entrepreneurs who are/were involved in the industry. Visit Maple Casino’s article hub for more great articles by Paul…


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