Wasn't Howard Hughes "just a tool and die maker" once - tool and die
makers have the hands, of artists, often doing the finest work known to
they should be included in the "arts and sciences" - others take their
craftsmanship and make a lot of money - and this man dares insist a
"tool and die maker" unworth to be a "sexed up spy" for the CIA or
Mossad or KGB or whatever.
This Vreeland looks like a patriot who saw stuff and did not like what
Just a Tool and Die Maker? Like this William F. Buckley and "valet"
aboard the SS United States back that day in 1958 (August 8) when they
set sail with the USS BIG MISSILE ABOARD with my Thor Chief
Brother-in-Law - who was a rambling wreck of an engineer......William F.
Buckley and "valet"........like toad eater to the King or Queen? One
thing Buckley does well, toad eater to the "kings" and in particular,
Spruce Goose - hey THE EVERGREEN again......this is what saved Gordon
Novel from extinction and off endangered species list?
Howard Robard Hughes, Jr., was born on December 24, 1905, to Allene and
Howard Sr, at 1402 Crawford Street, Houston, Texas. Howard Sr.,
graduated from Harvard with a business degree and graduated from Iowa
State with a law degree. Howard Jr. (or Sonny as he was called), was a
quiet, lonely child who was
interested in machinery of all sorts.
In 1908, Howard Sr., and Walter B. Sharp started the Sharp-Hughes Tool
Company after inventing an improved drill bit for oil drilling. In 1917,
Howard Sr., bought out Sharp's interests in the company for $325,000
naming it the Hughes Tool Company.
"We don't have a monopoly. People who want to drill for oil and not use
the Hughes bit can always use a pick and shovel." - Howard Hughes, Sr.
Between the ages of 11 and 13, Sonny built and operated a ham radio set,
spending hours on end in solitude talking with wireless operators aboard
inbound Gulf freighters.
At age 13 Sonny asked Dad for a motorcycle. When Dad said no, Sonny
built a motorcycle using a storage battery and a self-starter motor
taken from one of his Dad's cars. Sonny went to kindergarten in Christ
Church Episcopal Cathedral, elementary school at Professor Prosso's
Academy, then South End Junior High School but he displayed quite early
that he just wasn't interested in school.
In 1920, Sonny took flying lessons from a barnstorming pilot which
started his love and passion for flying. He paid for the lessons out of
his allowance and kept the lessons a secret from his parents.
Allene died in 1922 and Howard Sr., died of a heart attack in 1924.
Howard being only 19 years old at the time convinced his relatives to
sell the Hughes Tool Company to him for $325,000.
Howard went to Europe with Mrs. Walter Sharp, widow of his father's
former partner and mother of Howard's only friend. Howard's only
attention focused on the casinos in Brussels. He spent hours watching
the roulette table with a mathematician's eye. On his final night in
Brussels, Howard placed a $5 chip on red to win. Red won; he let the $10
ride and won again. He began to switch between red and black,
consistently winning. As the pile of chips before him mounted, a crowd
began to gather. There was $1,000 worth of chips, then $2,000, then
$4,000. At $8,000 he reduced his bet and slowly built it up again until
his winning totalled $10,000. At this point, he picked up just one chip,
worth $10, and placed it on red. The wheel spun, the ball came to rest
on black. Howard scooped up the remaining $9,990 and left.
During this year he also married Ella Rice of the family who owned the
Rice Institute. Shortly afterwards Hughes and Ella moved to Hollywood,
At 6'2 and 150 pounds. Hughes was a thin man but was said to be very
good looking. He also was a good golf player, having a two handicap at
the Wilshire Country Club.
By 1925, Hughes created Caddo Rock Drill Bit Company, bought 51% of the
stock of Multi-Color, Inc., attempting to develop high-quality color
film for his movies (being financed by Hughes Tool which made Hughes
Tools a creditor), a two story house on Muifield Road in Los Angeles,
and 125 movie theatres so he could show movies that he would create. His
first movie Swell Hogan, which he spent over $80,000 to make was a flop.
Where most would quit, Hughes learned from it and then proceeded on,
mostly because of the rebellion he felt when his relatives said he would
never make it in Hollywood.
Hughes then invested $150,000 in the making of the movie Everybody's
Acting. It was a big hit with Hughes making up everything he spent
making the movie, plus $100,000. He then created Caddo Corporation, a
He then took part and financed the movie Two Arabian Knights which had a
100% return and won the 1927 Academy Award for comedy. Then on to
another hit The Racket.
Hughes' flying got the best of him and in 1928, at the age of 22, he
would finance, produce, sometimes act in as a pilot, and direct Hell's
Angels - a story of two pilots competing for a society girl. Shooting
took forever with Hughes being picky about everything. Not everything
was serious though as in between filming, Hughes would ride around the
airfields on a motorcycle with pilots throwing cow chips at him for fun.
This film also saw the first of Hughes' airplane crashes when he was out
flying with the other actors and he crashed while landing. He emerged
from the wreck relatively unhurt.
Hollywood got to know this movie well, even before it was done filming.
A pilot-actor parachuted over Hollywood when his engine failed. The
plane came down to dig itself into film magnate Joe Schenk's lawn, the
propeller sailing off into adjacent Hollywood Boulevard while the pilot
landed beside the pool.
This film also saw death. One of the pilots struck a high tension wire
and burned to death. Another pilot ran into a storm during filming and
died, and a young mechanic who either would not or could not get to his
parachute when the plane was deliberately being crashed during a scene
died. In addition there were six mid-air collisions, all of which were
Unfortunately, by the time the $2 million movie was completed, silent
films were out and talkies were in. Hughes then invested another $2
million to remake the movie to fit the talkie era with a new actress -
Jean Harlow. During the second filming Hughes' wife left him. His life
involved his work and left little time for a wife and friends. His wife
received a $1,250,000 settlement package.
When Hell's Angels opened, it set box office records in every theater
and it was the first picture to open simultaneously at two New York
theatres. It then was shipped to England where it became a hit. Hughes
himself went to Europe for six weeks and when he returned, he created
three failures - Cock of the Air, Sky Devils, and Age for Love. At that
time Multi-Color, Inc., failed and was liquidated to pay off its
creditors. (Since Hughes Tools was a creditor, Hughes was actually
paying himself back).
Hughes next movie, Scarface, was a hit, even after Hughes had to fight
the State Board of Censors, file lawsuits, and re-edit the movie. In
1932, came the success of Front Page making Pat O'Brien a star.
In Hollywood he was seen with some of the most beautiful women in the
world including Lana Turner, Ginger Rogers, Ava Gardner, Ida Lupino,
Olivia de Havillan, and Katharine Hepburn.
During this time, there was a young man, Charles Howard, who worked for
American Airways carrying passengers' baggage and making people feel
comfortable on their flights. This man was interested in everything
including hearing stories about how pilots got out of various
difficulties, weights, costs, fuel loads, routes, schedules, assembling
weather information, and ranges of visibility of beacons. Two months
later, just as the other pilots were sure this man would win his pilot's
wings, he walked off the job. Some say that this man was Howard Hughes,
doing his thing, learning. During this time, Hughes disappeared from
Hollywood and shortly after Charles Howard walked off the job, Hughes
reappeared. He then bought himself an amphibian airplane. He also bought
the 320 foot yacht Southern Cross. While in Miami he bought a Boeing
P-12 single engine pursuit plane.
In 1934, Hughes entered his Boeing in the All-American Air Meet and flew
away with the Sportsman's Cup. He then decided that since he didn't like
the way planes were designed he would build one himself. With the help
of pilot Glen Odekirk, aeronautical engineer Dick Palmer and 16 other
men, Hughes rented a hangar in Glendale, California. During this
building they decided to call this group The Hughes Aircraft Company (30
years later, this company would be worth $500 million, one of the
largest defense contractors in the United States Government and the
developer of the Early Bird Communications Satellite. It is also rumored
that not a single plane was ever made under the Aircraft Company name.
All planes were listed under Hughes Tool Company). This plane was
affectionately called H-1 (Hughes One). During this time Hughes would
disappear for a few days and go to the National Advisory Committee for
Aeronautics in Virginia, where he could be found drinking coffee and
talking with the government's top engineers and flight designers,
essentially picking their brains.
One problem Hughes had during these days was that he didn't have a car.
Every time he bought a car he would lose it, not having a clue where he
parked it. He would use the company's low-priced cars to get around.
Hughes also loved animals. One night he was a passenger in a car driven
by Palmer when they hit a stray dog. Hughes ran out, picked up the
bloodied animal, and brought it to a veterinarian. He then attended a
dinner party with a bloodied dinner jacket. The dog made a full recovery
and was given to Palmer.
In August of 1935, Hughes' specially designed plane was ready and he
decided that he would be the test pilot. Many nerves were frayed
watching the millionaire test flying this plane but Hughes made a
successful landing and was greeted with a round of applause.
In 1935, Hughes was in his car in Los Angeles when he killed a
pedestrian. The man apparently was standing in the middle of the road
off of Third Street. Hughes started to slow down when the man waved him
on to pass him. Hughes sped up and without any reason, the man stepped
in front of Hughes' car. The car hit the man who flew into the air and
landed near the curb. Hughes was arrested but was released later when it
was determined that there was nothing Hughes could've done to avoid the
accident. This said to weigh heavily on Hughes as he blamed himself for
not being able to stop in time.
On September 12, 1935, Hughes brought the H-1 to the Martin Field At
Santa Ana, California to take off to break the world's speed record of
land planes which was 314.32mph. He was greeted by Amelia Earhart
Putnam, stunt flyer Paul Mantz, and National Aeronautic Association
representative Lawrence Therkelson. Hughes took off and flew by cameras
three times, at 346mph, 352mph, and 339mph. Hughes only made two
acceptable passes and all decided to try again the next day. The next
day he was clocked at 352.39 mph, but the engine died while he was
trying another pass. He crashed the plane but when everyone ran over to
him he was sitting on the cowling, writing in a notebook. Hughes was
fine and the plane only suffered a bent propeller and dents in the
cowling and in the skin. Cause of the engine dying - a small wad of
steel wool in the main fuel line.
Hughes then bought a Northrop Gamma mail plane and gutted it to design
another plane. On January 13, 1936, at the age of 30, Hughes brought the
newly designed Northrop to the Burbank Airport and nine hours,
twenty-seven minutes and ten seconds later he landed at Newark, New
Jersey, breaking the transcontinental speed record. What people didn't
know was that the plane's radio antenna broke away on takeoff and Hughes
couldn't find out the weather conditions. Near Wichita, Kansas he hit
turbulence so severe his compass dial jumped off its bearing point. He
broke this record by comparing the towns and cities that appeared on his
Hughes celebrated by going on vacation in Miami but he couldn't resist
the temptation. On his way back to New York he broke the speed record
between these two cities by more than 1/2 hour.
About this time is when Hughes was getting annoyed with the press
hounding him. Whenever they interviewed him they would ask him basic
gossip questions and he wanted to talk planes. Hence arrived the Mexican
gentleman, Gomez, who wore rumpled suits and tennis shoes into
Manhattan's classy night clubs. The only problem was Gomez was over 6
feet tall and had a Texas accent.
On May 14, 1936, Hughes flew from New York to Chicago, and during lunch
with a friend a $50 bet was made that he couldn't make it to Los Angeles
by dinner. Hughes took off, wherein he ran into turbulence east of
Kansas City and climbed to 20,000 feet compelling him to use oxygen.
Then the oxygen equipment failed. He stayed at 20,000 feet, fighting
dizziness and cold, with ice forming on the wings, and then the
mechanism activating the oil pump failed. He proceed to land at 7:15pm,
in Los Angeles Grand Central Air Terminal, eight hours and ten minutes
out of Chicago setting a speed record for an east-to-west passage
between the cities. When he landed he was asked his thoughts. He stated
that this was by far the most stupid thing he had ever done.
The H-1 was repaired and further modifications were made. On January 19,
1937, Hughes took off and arrived at the Newark New Jersey Airport at
1:03pm, seven hours, twenty eight minutes and 25 seconds, breaking his
In 1937, Hughes received a call from Jack Frye, president of
Transcontinental & West Airline (later called Trans World Airlines
(TWA)). Frye needed money to buy new equipment and the stockholders
couldn't provide the money. The amount is not definite but Hughes ended
up spending either $1 million or $7 million to obtain the majority
In 1938, Hughes bought a new Lockheed, stripped it to its shell and
started redesigning and rebuilding the plane. On July 10, 1938, at
7:19pm and 13 seconds, the New York World's Fair, 1939, took off from
New York with Hughes and Army Air Corps Lieutenant Thomas Thurlow, NBC
radio engineer Richard Stoddart, navigator/co-pilot Harry P. McLean
Connor, and friend/air crew mechanic Ed Lund. In just sixteen hours and
thirty-five minutes, they touched down in Paris setting a new record for
the New York-Paris flight; two hours better than the most recent record
and roughly half Lindbergh's original time.
During inspection, they found that the left wheel was damaged on take
off. After a make-shift repair job, the World's Fair took off. With
stops in Moscow, Omsk, Yakutsk, Alaska, Minneapolis and then New York,
Hughes broke the record at 91 hours. There was an old fashioned
ticker-tape parade in New York in Hughes' honor. Hughes would not attend
the parade unless his whole crew and employees were included. His crew,
meteorologists, mechanics and office help all took part in the parade.
Hughes then flew to Houston and made a speech to a group of people
including 3,000 of his employees. For a man who didn't like crowds, was
a loner, and very private, he assured the crowd that he wrote the speech
himself and then a plane landing overhead caused so much noise he had to
stop. When the plane landed:
"I think it is very fitting that this plane came in now for it serves to
carry out something I wanted to say. The men in the cockpits of the
airliners, the airplane servicemen, the radio operators, the weathermen
- they are the men who are entitled to any credit you want to pay to any
phase of flying. It's the everyday service that is more important than
any spectacular flying. I'll wager that during the long winter months
the men in the airliners combat weather far worse than I've probably
ever seen in my life. They do it, not because they probably make a
little more money than in other business, but because they love the
industry and want to see it get ahead. When you use your vacuum cleaner
in the home, you don't talk about how smart you are - you talk about how
smart the man was who invented it. By that same token, it is you men and
women who have enabled me to have a ship like that, one that could fly
around the world. I didn't do anything except fly according to
instructions." - Howard Hughes, 1938
By this time he had won the Congressional medal, the Harmon Trophy, and
Collier Trophy for his achievements.
Hughes' attention was turned to the airline that he had acquired. He
wanted this airline to carry people in comfort and make flying a common
way to travel. Since regulations prohibited the owner of an airline from
building equipment to be bought by the airline, Hughes, brought his
plans to Lockheed. Lockheed trying to please Hughes, made frequent
changes in plans, tentatively scheduled the new plane to be built by
1942. At the same time he was working on his new D-2 bomber. Odekirk
pointed out that the Burbank plant was too small to handle everything so
Hughes bought land in Culver City to build a new plant.
In 1939, the woman he made a star, Jean Harlow was dead. Hughes decided
it was time for another movie and another unknown to be famous. His
plans for Billy the Kid came into being and finding a photograph in a
batch of many hopefuls discarded by a Hughes' aide, he chose Jane
Russell paying her $75 a week. Hughes hired Russell Birdwell to direct
the movie but when Birdwell bowed out half-way through to work on
Sergeant York, Hughes himself took over production. Hughes then found
out MGM was releasing a movie called Billy the Kid so Hughes changed the
name to his movie to The Outlaw.
In 1941 Hughes opened a plant in Los Angeles. It is estimated that
during World War II this plant produced 14,766 landing gear struts,
5,576 aircraft wings, 6,370 fuselages and 18,733 aircraft seats under
subcontracts. Hughes had also built a munitions plant that ultimately
produced 939,320 artillery shells, and 16,958 cannon barrels.
In September of 1942, Hughes received a letter from the defense Plant
Corporation authorizing construction of flying boats for testing
purposes, no one would make a profit, spending shouldn't go over $18
million of the government's money, and the planes would be delivered by
1944. An 800 foot long hangar was built for $175 million.
Hughes had finished his development with water takeoffs and landings and
the plane was complete. Hughes got into the plane to take it to Nevada
for final testing. Hughes and two Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA)
pilots, a mechanic and a flight engineer were abroad when Hughes was
coming in for the last landing and Hughes lost control. The plane's wing
went into the waters of Lake Mead, tore away and ripped a hole in the
passenger compartment. The mechanic and one of the CAA pilots were
killed, and Hughes was unconscious with others pulling him out of the
water. The guilt was heavy on Hughes knowing that he was at the controls
of the plane that killed two men.
Hughes became obsessed with finding that underwater plane. He and
Odekirk spent hours flying over Lake Mead while Hughes tried to get his
bearings as to where the plane went under. When he found the general
location, he flew back to Los Angeles while Odekirk had the task of
getting the plane up. After Odekirk salvaged the plane, it was shipped
back to the Culver City plant and stored in a locked hangar. Rumor is
Hughes studied the plane to see what went wrong and then locked the
doors. There it remained and to this day, no one seems to know what
happened to the plane's remains.
In late 1942, the $2.5 million The Outlaw was ready to be released but
20th Century-Fox canceled their agreement. Hughes decided to release the
film himself. He had some trouble with the censors because of Russell's
ample breasts prominently displayed throughout the film and it entered
into lawsuits and hassles.
In 1943, The Outlaw was finally released and the critics stated that it
was the worst thing they have ever seen. Hughes realized something had
to be done so ex-director Birdwell and his staff drummed up publicity by
calling ministers, housewives, and women leagues stating that the film
shouldn't be released due to its sexuality. Hughes then put up
billboards stating "The Picture That Couldn't be Stopped" and asking
"How'd You Like to Tussle With Russell?" People complained and wanted
the movie banned - exactly what Hughes wanted. The public had to see
this movie. Publicity was at an all-time high including the arrest of a
theater manager charged with exhibiting a lewd film. Hughes promptly
hired an attorney to handle the manager's release. Even ex-director
Birdwell was arrested but again, Hughes' attorneys stepped in. The
Outlaw was a box office hit and took in an credible $5 million in
profits. The Outlaw earned more money in Atlanta than Gone with the
While the D-2 was being built, lightning struck the hangar and more than
$1 million dollars of research and development were destroyed. Hughes
rebuilt the hangar and had his men work on the DX-2.
In 1944, TWA christened its first Constellation airplane in Los Angeles.
Hughes and Jack Frye loaded the plane with Hollywood stars and few to
Washington state in a little over six hours.
In 1945, Hughes was in hot water. The flying boat was not done, and in
all $824,500,000 was spent on an aircraft that never saw action and more
than $6 million worth of other weapons had not been delivered by the
time the war ended. It seemed everything that went on during the '40s
thus far had its toll on Hughes. He disappeared for months where he went
to Acapulco suffering from what some said was nervous exhaustion.
Upon his return in 1946, Hughes' experimental plane XF-11 was ready for
testing. In July, Hughes left Culver City for the test flight. The plane
was going at 400mph when it started pitching violently. Hughes checked
everything and he couldn't find out what was wrong. By this time, the
plane was losing speed and falling. Instead of bailing out and let the
plane crash over a populated area, Hughes tried to land it at the Los
Angeles Country Club golf course. It was evident from people in their
Beverly Hills homes that Hughes wasn't going to make it. During the
attempted landing, the plane took off a roof of one house, sliced
through the upstairs bedroom of a second, rammed through a garage,
clipped trees and plowed into the brick home of an Army Colonel. One of
the engines tore away and dug itself into the lawn of a home 20 yards
away. Still conscious Hughes managed to get out of the plane and laid
next to it as it was burning.
Marine Sergeant William Durkin saw the crash and ran to Hughes' aid
fighting the flames. He pulled Hughes about 15 feet from the plane. A
Beverly Hills fireman came and they both carried Hughes away. Hughes
lifted his head, asked if anyone was hurt and then passed out. At the
Good Samaritan Hospital doctors said Hughes wouldn't live the night. His
chest was crushed, nine ribs were broken, his left lung collapsed, his
left shoulder and nose were broken, and his skull was fractured. In
addition, third degree burns covered most of his lower body, as well as
his left hand. Odekirk arrived at the hospital to be told Hughes was
given morphine and put in a private room to die. Odekirk snuck into
Hughes' room and cried. Frye was outside Hughes' door and Lana Turner
The following morning Hughes regained consciousness, wanted to sit up
and have a meeting with his business associates. By the afternoon he was
still demanding to sit up and wanted pen and papers. By the second day
Hughes gave a report as to what happened to Odekirk and told him to
investigate it. He then said his bed was causing him pain due to his
burns and to have Odekirk immediately build a better bed that could
change pressure instead of the patient moving causing less pain. Four
days later a new bed was designed and delivered to Hughes.
A week later Hughes had a relapse. The doctor had a press conference
stating that Hughes' condition was grave, he read a statement by Hughes
stating why the plane crashed. He had rallied long enough to inform
everyone what went wrong.
Nine months later Hughes left the hospital. This time with a moustache
to cover scars. He also stated that his left hand was burned so badly
and he would never be able to straighten two of his fingers.
In 1946, TWA suffered financial problems including a pilots' strike, and
the Constellations being grounded because of a crash in Ireland. Its
stock went from $71 a share to $2, a loss of $16 million and it owed $40
million to the Equitable Life Assurance Society. On top of that, Hughes
next movie Vendetta was a mess. It was being filmed while Hughes was in
the hospital and after $1 million, it still didn't show any hope. When
Hughes got out of the hospital he took over the reigns.
The following year Hughes was in further trouble when there was Senate
subcommittee investigating his wartime aviation contracts, mainly
because Senator Owen Brewster was angry because Hughes wouldn't agree to
a merger between Pan American and TWA. Hughes took the stand and proved
to be as good, if not better, than any attorney. He won the hearts of
the American people, Brewster lost renomination to the Republic party
elections, and people were forming Hughes for President clubs. One
challenge did come out of the hearings. Whether the Spruce Goose could
fly. Hughes promised that if the plane couldn't fly, he would leave the
United States forever.
The Spruce Goose which was originally called Hercules or KH-1, was a
sight to see. The flying boat had a wingspread of 340 feet, weighed
400,000 pounds, the hull was 220 feet long, and a tail 100 feet high,
nearly ten stories. Eight 3,000 horsepower engines would power it, and
it was designed to fly nonstop from Honolulu to Tokyo carrying two
battalions of armed soldiers. Its hull could carry a 60 ton tank. It
took millions of feet of lumber, and eight tons of nails to keep it
together until the glue dried and then removed. Moving the plane from
Culver City to Long Beach cost $55,000. Coincidently, one person who
help build the plane was Jan Berry's father (of Jan & Dean).
In November, 1947, Hughes took the Spruce Goose out for non-flight
testing. The first test pass the plane had reporters on them. The second
test pass with Hughes alone in the plane went smoothly. Before the third
pass could be completed a helicopter with a Look magazine reporter
showed up over the wing. Hughes announced that this was test and to
leave. The helicopter didn't. Hughes opened the throttle and when the
plane reached 90mph, Hughes took the plane up. The plane travelled in
the air about a mile at an altitude of 70 feet before gliding back onto
the water. After its test, it was put back into its hangar.
"It just felt so good, buoyant and good, I just pulled it up." - Howard
In 1948, TWA was saved when Hughes convinced the Civil Aeronautics Board
to increase TWA's foreign mail subsidy by 110%, and he managed to obtain
a $10 million loan from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation with
which to buy 12 new Constellations for TWA's use. Hughes also purchased
929,000 shares of a failing movie studio Radio-Keith Orpheum (RKO), for
$9 million. Even though Hughes owned RKO he used a room at Samuel
Goldwyn's Studio as a part-time office. Hughes also received two
research contracts for his Hughes Aircraft Company. One was to devise a
way a fighter pilot could fire at an enemy bomber without actually
seeing his target. The other was development of a ground to air
anti-aircraft missile. The Air Force then gave Hughes $8 million to
build 200 fire control units for its Lockheed F-94 fighters.
The developers and men at Hughes Aircraft were demanding more
facilities. Hughes built a $3.7 million laboratory for them in Culver
City. It was there the Falcon missile came into being. The air-to-air
missile chased the target by emitting radar impulses. Hughes Aircraft
was not only responsible for the making of missiles, it also made
communication satellites, secret electronic gear, Army helicopters, a
cannon firing 4,200 rounds a minute and the Surveyor moon vehicle. These
contracts kept 50,000 individuals gainfully employed.
During the 1940s, Hughes was a frequent visitor of Vegas, usually
staying at the Frontier as well as other residences that people guessed
he owned. He also struck up a friendship with Del E. Webb, where they
would golf late at night. Hughes would give Webb construction jobs which
purportedly earned Webb over $1 billion.
In 1949, Hughes used Las Vegas to shoot action sequences of a movie
called Jet Pilot. Unfortunately, the film was a disaster.
In 1951, Hughes Aircraft made $67 million and in 1952, $200 million.
This also appears to be around the time that Hughes became paranoid
about germs. Secretaries weren't allowed to wear perfume and had to wear
plastic gloves while typing. Hughes also became aware of espionage since
his company was accepting government contracts and took appropriate
precautions against wire taping which he experienced first-hand during
his Senate sub-committee hearings. His company was also making
wire-taping equipment so Hughes was well aware how easy it was to spy on
Since the time Hughes owned RKO, no successful films were made and the
studio was losing more and more money every year. In 1954, Hughes sold
RKO to Thomas Francis O'Neil, president of General Teleradio for $25
million. Hughes kept RKO Radio Pictures Corporation and merged it with
Atlas Corporation. A few months later he bought back from O'Neil the
films Jet Pilot, The Conqueror, and the original print of The Outlaw for
$12 million. Hughes then separated Hughes Aircraft Company from Hughes
Tool Company making it a corporation in its own right.
In 1955, Hughes established the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Miami
Florida. He then transferred ownership of Hughes Aircraft Company to the
medical institute avoiding payment of taxes because the medical
institute was a tax-free foundation. All profits from the aircraft
company would go to the institute of which none of it Hughes could
touch. The sale of RKO and the transfer of Hughes Aircraft meant that
Hughes was leaving the movie business as well as the electronic
He now turned his attention to TWA committing himself to buy 26 jets
worth $300 million with cash he didn't have.
In 1957, at the age of 52, Hughes married 30 year old actress Jean
Peters who he dated on and off for 10 years causing a stir when they
disappeared for a month. During that time Hughes also started to grow a
beard. It seems he was bothered by the scars on his face left by his
Hughes then bought 27,000 acres of cheaply bought desert on the
outskirts of Las Vegas making him the largest private landowner in Clark
On May 3, 1966, Hughes was given a check for $546,549,771.00 for the
sale of 78% of his TWA stock. This transaction made Hughes a billionaire
and the richest man in the world. (A quick calculation shows that the
interest just from this transaction alone amounted to $85,000 a day
using interest rates established in 1966). What to do with all this
money? The IRS was also asking Hughes this same question.
Since Hughes expressed his love for Vegas years before, especially the
Strip, and always planned to one day move there, it was only logical to
go back to the place he considered home. This fact in itself is amazing
considering Hughes rarely gambled, didn't drink, and didn't believe in
When Hughes came back to his "home", he not only saw financial
opportunities galore but also saw corruption from the mob. Something
needed to be done.
What made Vegas more attractive was that it had no personal or corporate
income tax, nor inheritance, franchise or warehouse taxes. The sales tax
was only three percent and real estate taxes were limited by the state
constitution. Gambling taxes paid 30% of the state's bills.
Hughes had purchased the home from Vera Krupp for $625,000 but preferred
to live at the ninth floor of the Desert Inn with his aides living on
the eighth. When threatened with eviction, he bought it. The start of
the spending spree and Hughes irritating the mob began.
In 1967, Hughes was concerned over an item he read that the Atomic
Energy Commission (AEC) was going to set off an atomic device
underground on the Nevada test site, 70 to 100 from his beloved Vegas
and the Strip. Hughes told his aides that he wanted to be absolutely
certain the test would not a cause a disastrous earthquake. The AEC sent
several of its top scientists to brief Hughes' aides on what could be
expected and that he should not be alarmed.
By 1968, Hughes had purchased the entire North Las Vegas airport plus
1,300 adjoining acres of land, a CBS affiliated television station, KLAS
for $3.6 million, and a showplace ranch.
Hughes also purchased 48 acres of land negotiating a lease for a lot
more and committed $2 million to acquire Alamo Airways and a maintenance
company. Hughes had said during this time that surveys showed Las Vegas
had to choose between spending $25 million to enlarge McCarran Field
which he felt was being choked off by the expanding metropolis, or build
a new giant airport that would serve as a supersonic jet terminal for
all southern Nevada,California and Arizona. Hughes wanted to build such
Between 1966 and 1968, Hughes bought the Desert Inn, Sands, Castaways,
New Frontier, and Silver Slipper on the Strip. He then bought Harold's
Club in Reno for $10.5 million. He also bought 503 mining claims plus
options on at least 1,500 others. By mid-1970, it was estimated that
Hughes' casinos accounted for 17% of Nevada's gambling revenue.
The rules of his resorts changed the way the Strip was seen. At many Las
Vegas hotels, casino bosses maintained a preferred list of call girls,
who could be placed at the disposal of high rollers. Word was quietly
passed from management to pit bosses, bartenders, bellhops, and cocktail
waitresses that the girlie trade would no longer be allowed on any of
Cocktail waitresses who delivered free drinks to players at the gaming
tables were also sometimes expected to entertain big gamblers in more
private surroundings if they were asked to do so by pit bosses. Chorus
girls had also been required to sit around the lounges for an hour or
two after they had finished their work on stage. Hughes changed the
rules to state that ladies were expected to mix socially with casino
patrons, but they did not have to do anything beyond a few drinks and
pleasant conversation. Hughes demanded that the ladies serve guests in a
more sophisticated manner and not toss their torsos on stage or while
Hughes' other concern was for his employees at the casinos including
cocktails waitresses, card dealers, busboys, chambermaids, stagehands
and bartenders who were being paid through his Hughes Tool Co. He wanted
to make sure they were being well fed and that they had at least one
good meal while on shift. He told aides that employees should have their
choice of foods. If they wanted ice cream on top of their apple pie, and
that counted as two desserts, then let them have their two desserts. He
also provided free life and health insurance, and a pension plan to make
sure their morale was up at all times. He couldn't deal with cranky
employees and he knew happy employees made everyone happy.
Hughes also utilized computers before they were a way of life. All facts
on his casinos were fed into computers that would remind his people when
it was time to replenish liquor stocks, kept track of hotel
reservations, generally watched over the cash flow and looked out for
Hughes installed elaborate systems of surveillance equipment which
included an elaborate system of hidden cameras, flow charts, and daily
computer print-outs. The computers were able to instantly spot a table
where there appeared to be some irregularity in receipts. Dealers and
casino employees were under constant surveillance by concealed
Hughes also stressed out over the community as a whole. In 1968, he came
up with a plan to give $300,000 a year for 20 years so Nevada can have
and maintain a medical school.
In 1967 or 1968, Federal accusations of skimming resulted in Governor
Paul Laxalt's naming two of Hughes' aides to a committee to see what new
controls can be applied to gaming.
"We wouldn't have been able to afford such a systems study if Howard
Hughes weren't doing it for us." - Robert K. Mulligan, Gaming Control
"His coming here did things for our state image that a
multimillion-dollar public relations campaign couldn't have achieved. He
has given Nevada gaming instant respectability." - Governor Paul Laxalt
Hughes then decided to buy the Stardust for $30.5 million. He was denied
this purchase though due to laws on monopolizing. He then bought the
Landmark which he achieved mainly because he agreed to pay all debtors.
This meant many small business could avoid filing bankruptcy. The Gaming
Commission thought this to be a good idea and allowed Hughes to buy it.
Also in 1968 TWA filed a lawsuit against Hughes for hampering its
jet-acquisition program in the 1950s. His attorney advised him that TWA
was going to serve on him a court order for a personal deposition and to
make himself non-available at all costs.
Two of the classic jokes that comedians were telling during that time
was "Hughes just got his wife a set of clubs for Christmas. The Sands,
the Frontier, The Castaways ....". Another joke was "They're changing
the name of Las Vegas to Hugheston".
Hughes' attention turned to Air West which was suffering financial
problems. Hughes' original bid of $22 per share for the airline met with
opposition from its current management team. Hughes informed the team
that his bid would expire at midnight on December 31, 1968. The
Executive Board requested that Hughes make a second bid which he refused
to do. Hughes then waited. Sometime between 10pm and midnight, Air West
Chairman Nick Bez and Hughes' general counsel Chester Davis signed the
purchased contract in Seattle, transferring all assets of the airline to
Hughes Tool Company.
Bez was able to complete the transaction after receiving telegrams from
six of the dissenting directors who, suddenly and at the last minute,
had done an about-face. The vote favoring the sale was 17 to 7. Hughes
would go on to build Hughes Air West into a billion-dollar success.
In 1969, rumors were flying that Hughes was dead. Vegas' responses were
"He's got a gambling license don't he? Well, he wouldn't get it without
my approval. . . . I wouldn't grant a license to anybody in a deepfreeze
- draw your own conclusion. We checked his signature in the F.B.I.
files. Yes, yes, I have [talked to Hughes] but I'm not bragging about
it; just routine business, period." - George Franklin, District Attorney
of Clark County
"He works almost entirely by telephone, always has, and there are
reasons for that, one being his hearing problem. On the phone he can use
an amplifier. In person he has to strain, for he has a certain amount of
vanity and refuses to wearing a hearing aid . . . Hughes is a man who
never leaves anything to chance if he can possibly help it. He tries to
provide for every possible contingency. Extremely meticulous on details.
They tried to sell him a newspaper once, and we were all hoping and
praying he wouldn't buy it because the first edition would never get to
press - he would have to check every little story to make sure it was up
to his high standards. And that's the way he works. Nobody who works for
him does anything really important unless he knows about it. He's a
vastly complicated person with a great many interests, which accounts
for the fact that he works night and day, whenever he's up, working for
18 and 24 hours at a stretch, then when he's sleepy he goes to sleep,
and when he wakes up he goes back to work. So whenever he's working, he
feels free to pick up the phone and call anybody at any hour, and this
is one reason the press calls him eccentric.
You have to consider the purchase of the hotels and casinos as an
interim step to something else, but what that is, he hasn't yet said.
And that's what they all want him to explain: What are you going to
build here? What are you going to bring here? Why are you here? And he
really doesn't feel obliged to tell us what he has in mind until he's
ready to do so. Nor does he feel obliged to come and take a bow on the
balcony to prove he's alive. People are always asking if he's alive.
Even the lawyers said this in the TWA case. This is what led to the
phone conversation with Governor Laxalt. Every now and then he
recognizes the importance of reestablishing that he is indeed alive.
They said he gave up TWA because he wouldn't make a court appearance,
but the fact remains that it was a propitious time to sell. He got $86 a
share and it's now at $40.
Hughes gives employment to 50,000 people, but there is nobody in it who
knows everything he does - he never feeds every bit of information nto
any single person. Nobody knows the whole picture. Mrs. Hughes also
stays out of the limelight. He doesn't need the publicity and neither
does she, so why do it? Everybody in the world is interested in Howard
Hughes, and if he ever decides to make a public appearance, I can assure
you it will be a mammoth press conference indeed." - Dick Hannah, public
relations for Howard Hughes
All rumors were discounted when Esquire magazine had pictures of Hughes
on its cover stating "Howard Hughes We see you!
In 1970, Jean Peters filed for divorce. She asked for just $70,000 a
year from the billionaire.
On February 2, 1971, the show Sixty Minutes aired a documentary entitled
Las Vegas represents the worst in America. Morley Safer thanks Vegas for
it cooperation and hospitality. Tropicana public relations man Bill Bray
wrote to CBS Producer Sam Zelman asking for an explanation and received
"Please accept my apology for any embarrassment the Sixty Minutes report
on Howard Hughes may have caused you . . . I did not write the piece and
I did not agree with some of the statements in it. At the time we filmed
the piece I expected to write it, so I felt confident in promising you
the report was not intended to reflect unfavorably on Las Vegas.
Becauase of these reasons I asked that my name not be used on the air.
(You may have noticed I was credited with the Agnew story but not the
Hughes story). . . . In the many, many years I have covered stories in
Las Vegas I feel I have been fair always. This one just got out of my
hands once it got to New York . . . Of course you would be the best
judge, but looking back on it now I can't beleive anyone would be
discouraged from going to Lsa Vegas as a direct result of our story.
Again, My apology . . . Sincerely, Sam Zelman"
By 1971, it is estimated that Hughes spent approximately $300,000,000 in
Vegas and over 15% of Nevada's gambling revenue was passing through the
hands of this man who didn't smoke, drink or gamble. It was also
estimated that Hughes employed over 8,000 people, with a $50,000,000 a
year payroll and a gross handle of $500,0000,000.
As was stated in the Landmark page, it appears that something happened
to Hughes when he realized that his ultimate dream was failing. He left
in the early in 1970 to live in the Bahamas. Hughes was definitely
seeing the worst.
Other than residuals he was suffering from his 1946 accident, and very
hard of hearing, Hughes suffered from chronic hemolytic anemia which
includes a retention of excessive amounts of iron needing periodic blood
transfusions, an inability to assimilate red-blood by-products, and skin
discoloration. Because of this, Hughes acquired a sensitivity to
sunlight. In October of 1970, Hughes was also fighting viral pneumonia.
Hughes bought Los Angeles Airways in mid-1970, and by 1971, it had a
negative net worth of $3.6 million. The Landmark lost $5.944 million in
just one year.
When Hughes left Vegas, Governor Laxalt feared that he was dead. On
December 7, 1970, Hughes personally phoned Laxalt to tell him he was
indeed alive and well in the Bahamas.
In 1972, the Nevada State Gaming Commission was frustrated in the
attempts to get Hughes to meet with members regarding an application to
reorganize the gaming properties of the Castaways, Desert Inn, Frontier,
Landmark, Sands, Silver Slipper, and Harold's in Reno.
Before any changes in the seven resorts could be granted, the commission
wanted to meet Hughes face-to-face. With 8,000 employees and his gaming
establishments contributing 17% of the total state revenue from gambling
taxes, Hughes had no intentions of showing his face.
Gaming chairman Jack Diehl wanted to go on record that Hughes' recent
meeting in Nicaragua with President Anastasio and U.S. Ambassador Turner
B. Sheldon indicated the 24 hour privacy was changing. In effect, if the
sole stockholder could meet with outsiders in a country that he has no
holdings, he could meet with Nevada officials.
In 1973, Hughes filed a $6 million damage suit in the Los Angeles
Superior Court again former entertainment director Frank Sennes charging
kickbacks and secret profits. I can't seem to find out what happened to
In talking with people who were around during the "Hughes years" and had
worked at the Desert Inn during this time nicknamed Hughes "The Man" and
"Captain America". They consider him somewhat of a hero in chasing the
mob out from the Strip and treating his employees so well. They all
dismissed the rumor that he was crazy. They said that he did some really
strange things at times but when asked his reasons, they always made
sense in looking at the big picture. He just never took the conventional
solution to problems. Since he was also partially deaf, when people
thought he was ignoring them, or taking what they said out of context,
they didn't understand that he probably didn't hear what they said.
According to Hughes spokesman Richard Hanna, the multi-millionaire had
no intention of closing any of the Nevada properties despite the
commission's refusal to approve of new corporate officers. No
implication or threat of closing has been made because of the commission
They also all said he was a recluse by circumstances of which he did
cause. He upset the mob which isn't always the healthiest thing to do,
he was being watched by certain government agencies, and various
newspapers, magazines and tabloids were offering up to $5,000 to anyone
who can get a picture of him. He also was exposed to the constant threat
of kidnapping knowing his people would pay anything for his return. His
phones were also tapped during his Senate Committee hearings and he knew
all about wiring taping. He was very strange when it came to telephones
and the like, but again, it was for good reason. He also was being
chased by TWA, and his medical conditions made him sensitive to
sunlight. When looking at the big picture, it does seem logical why
Hughes was a recluse of his own making. He did all he could do and that
was become a recluse.
There are also rumors of his drug abuse due to the injuries he suffered
in the 1946 accident. Another rumor states that after Hughes left Las
Vegas, the people who surrounded him were slowly killing him with drugs,
and he had lost the world he knew and loved.
It seems after he left Vegas, nothing and everything appears to be true.
Hughes died on April 5, 1976 and was Buried at Glenwood Cemetery,
Hughes' knew the potential Las Vegas and the Strip had, and tried to
make it a reality. He predicted that Nevada would see over a million
residents before the end of the century and he planned to be a part of
the biggest boom of the latter 1900's. Four of his resorts formed a ring
around one of the three most valuable intersections in Southern Nevada -
Sands, Desert Inn, Frontier and Castaways. Hughes knew resorts of
tremendous stature would soon fill the Strip but his departure from Las
Vegas and his death left the dream for others to accomplish.
The Desert Inn and Sands were sold to visionary Kirk Kerkorian who went
on to build his dreams, the old and new MGM Grands. Visionary Steve Wynn
bought the Castaways and built the Mirage, and visionary Phil Ruffin
purchased the Frontier. Ruffin wanted to imploded the Frontier but
legalities has kept him from creating the City by the Bay. Wynn has
purchased the Desert Inn and he closed it in 2000, to create a new
megaresort. Any dreams Hughes had for the Landmark and Silver Slipper
were replaced with parking lots. To date, the only Hughes resort still
in existence is the Frontier.
This undated picture shows some of Hughes' stable. Shown are orchestra
leader Don Vincent, Steve Savodelli, Danny Thomas, Jan Murray, Paul Anka
and Jay Stream (Wayne Newton's manager). In front are Jerry Vale, Summa
entertainment director Walter Kane, and Wayne Newton.
Three stories of Hughes I have heard and read that seems to explain the
man that was such a mystery.
One story involves the making of Two Arabian Knights. After completing
the film, Milestone received a call stating the Hughes was recutting the
film. Milestone showed up at the studio to see Hughes on the floor with
the film all over the floor as well as on him. Milestone had said that
he was so mad that if there was something he could find, he would've hit
Hughes with it. He was screaming at Hughes when Hughes said they were
going to take a ride. They got in Hughes' car who proceeded to drive
over 100mph scaring the heck out of Milestone. When Milestone's anger
turned to fear, Hughes stopped the car and said "Milly, fortunately or
unfortunately, I happen to be a very rich man. Because of the wealth I
control, I permit myself the luxury of doing things that may look stupid
to others but they make good sense to me. Take what we were just talking
about. You thought I was recutting your film. I wasn't recutting your
film. That's your job, and you did it well. Your film, as you cut it, is
already on its way to New York for distribution. I wanted to learn about
film cutting, so I had another print made from the original. I have to
teach myself these things." Even in his 20s, Hughes did strange things
but when asked, he would always explain and it would always make sense.
The second story is when he lost $160,000. He then spent the next eight
hours, gambling non-stop until he won it back. When he got up to leave,
he was asked why he was leaving when his luck had turned good. Hughes
looked at the man and stated "I just wanted to prove that I could win it
back. I won it back and now I'm leaving."
The third has to do with what happened at the Sands. Apparently he was
at the Sands shortly after he bought it when he was approached by
members of a mob. He was told they didn't like him buying the Desert Inn
and Sands and it maybe in his best interest to find another area other
than the Strip to buy. Hughes responded "You ruined downtown and you can
have it. You will not do it to the Strip and I am just the one to make
sure of it. Make me leave." He quietly walked out and then proceeded
with his buying spree.
Hughes saw dreams and loved the challenge of bringing them to fruition.
His efforts have not been fully recognized by the powers that be,
however, his charitable contributions and dedication to his employees,
education, air space, movies, and medicine, have been noted and
appreciated through the memories of all involved. His naysayers thought
him foolish but in the end, he was right and history will remind
everyone as well as the people who loved and respected him as to what he
achieved in his life. Yes, he had the money, but there are a lot of idle
rich. He took his wealth, and together with his courage and
determination, made changes. The world was fortunate to have this
self-proclaimed eccentric prove dreams can come true.