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Howard Robard Hughes

Howard Robard Hughes

Howard Robard Hughes (1905-1976) was a flamboyant entreprenuer who used an inherited fortune to achieve a national reputation in the motion picture and aviation industries, remaining in the news in later years because of his paranoid concern for privacy.

Howard Robard Hughes was born in Houston, Texas, on December 24, 1905, the only child of Howard Robard Hughes and Alene Gano Hughes. He attended private schools in California and Massachusetts, Rice Institute in Houston, and the California Institute of Technology. His mother died when Hughes was 16 and his father when he was 18, leaving him an orphan but with an estate worth $871,000 and a patent for a drill bit used in most oil and gas drilling that brought large revenues to the family's Hughes Tool Company that manufactured the bit. Hughes left school to take control of the company, using its profits to finance a variety of projects which he hoped would make him a legend in his own time. In 1925, when he was 20, Hughes married Ella Rice and moved to Los Angeles (they separated in 1928). In 1927 Hughes entered the motion picture business and produced such films as "Hell's Angels" (1930), "Scarface" (1932), and "The Outlaw" (1941). He discovered actors Jean Harlow and Paul Muni and made Jane Russell a well-known star.

In 1928 Hughes obtained a pilot's license. His interest in aviation led him to found the Hughes Aircraft Company in Glendale in 1932 and to design, build, and fly record-breaking airplanes. He set a world speed record in 1935, transcontinental speed records in 1936 and 1937, and a world flight record in 1938. Hughes was honored with the Harmon Trophy and a New York City ticker-tape parade after his world flight. He was awarded the Collier Trophy in 1939, the Octave Chanute Award in 1940, and a Congressional Medal in 1941.

In 1939 he began work on an experimental military aircraft, and in 1942 he received a contract to design and build the world's largest plane, a wooden seaplane, later nicknamed the "Spruce Goose," which was supposed to serve as a troop carrier in World War II. Hughes suffered a nervous breakdown in 1944 and was critically injured in the crash of his experimental military plane in 1946, but he recovered and flew the huge seaplane the next year, blunting the congressional investigation of his war contracts. As a result of these aviation activities, Hughes became a popular public figure because he seemed to embody the traditional American qualities of individuality, daring, and ingenuity. He was named to the Aviation Hall of Fame in 1973.

The Hughes Aircraft Company became a major defense contractor after World War II. As the profits of the company increased, Hughes became obsessed with avoiding taxes and in 1953 created the Howard Hughes Medical Institute as a sophisticated tax shelter to which he transferred the assets of the aircraft company. In 1956 Hughes loaned $205,000 to Richard Nixon's brother Donald in a successful effort to influence an Internal Revenue Service ruling on the medical institute. Hughes made secret contributions of $100,000 to the Nixon campaign in 1970 and was able to prevent enforcement of the Tax Reform Act against the medical institute. Hughes continued to use profits from the tool company for other ventures, including the creation of Trans World Airlines (TWA), in which he had begun investing in 1939.

In 1950 he went into seclusion, beginning a lifestyle which would ultimately turn him into a recluse, although he did marry actress Jean Peters in 1957, divorcing her in 1971. Hughes refused to appear in court or even give a deposition, and in a 1963 antitrust case over his ownership of 78 percent of TWA, his failure to appear resulted in a default ruling that led him to sell his holdings in 1966. The $566 million received from this sale was invested by Hughes in Las Vegas hotels, gambling casinos, golf courses, a television station, an airport, and land. In 1972 the Hughes Tool Division, the basis of the Hughes fortune, was sold. The holding company was renamed Summa Corporation and its headquarters relocated to Las Vegas, where Hughes had moved his residence.

From this point in his career, Hughes' accomplishments were minimal. His obsession to control every aspect of his environment turned him into a recluse seen by a few associates and isolated from the operations of his company. In 1970 he left the United States, abruptly moving from place to place—the Bahamas, Nicaragua, Canada, England, and Mexico. He always arrived unannounced in luxury hotels and took extreme precautions to ensure privacy. Hughes saw only a few male aides, worked for days without sleep in a black-curtained room, and became emaciated from the effects of a meager diet and the excessive use of drugs. His concern for privacy ultimately caused controversy, resulting in a scandal over his supposed memoirs by author Clifford Irving that sold for $1 million before being proven fraudulent. The Hughes conglomerate became involved with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and in 1975 it built an undersea exploratory drilling ship which was actually for use by the CIA to attempt to recover a sunken Soviet submarine. The company retained a Washington, D.C., public relations firm that was also involved with the CIA, which led the Hughes corporation to become involved in the Watergate affair.

Hughes died, a hopeless psychotic, on April 5, 1976, on an airplane that was taking him from Acapulco, Mexico, to a hospital in Houston for medical attention. Hughes was controversial even after his death. Several wills appeared, one of which was found in the Mormon church in Salt Lake City, Utah, but all were declared to be forgeries after protracted litigation.

Further Reading

There are numerous books devoted to the controversial Hughes. The best biography is Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, Empire: The Life, Legend, and Madness of Howard Hughes (1979). John Keats, Howard Hughes (1972) is excellent on the qualities which made Hughes popular with Americans in the 1930s and 1940s. Noah Dietrich and Bob Thomas, Howard: The Amazing Mr. Hughes (1972) provide an insider's view of Hughes' business affairs. James Phelan, Howard Hughes: The Hidden Years (1976) is the best book on Hughes' final years as a recluse. Michael Drosnin, Citizen Hughes: In His Own Words—How Howard Hughes Tried To Buy America (1985) is an example of studies which are extremely critical of Hughes' methods. □

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Hughes, Howard Robard

HUGHES, HOWARD ROBARD


Howard Robard Hughes (19051976) was born into great family wealth, and despite his flamboyant lifestyle as a playboy, tycoon, and eccentric, he nevertheless enjoyed a remarkable business career that made him a billionaire. He was successful in many endeavors. He was a test pilot, the majority owner for years of TWA airlines, a movie producer, and a real estate developer. Oddly, Hughes is perhaps best remembered not for his successful business enterprises but for his bizarre and reclusive behavior. In his later years, his paranoid concern for privacy became legendary.

Howard Hughes, Jr. was born in Houston, Texas, the only child of Howard and Alene Hughes. His parents had grown wealthy because of his father's invention of a drill bit used in most gas and oil drilling. This invention brought vast revenues to the family's Hughes Tool Company, which manufactured the drilling bit. Howard attended private schools in California and Massachusetts, and later, Rice Institute in Houston, and the California Institute of Technology.

His mother died when Hughes was sixteen. Two years later, his father also died. At age eighteen Hughes inherited an estate of $871,000 and a patent for the revolutionary drill bit, which continued to bring large revenues to the Hughes Tool Company. Hughes left school to take control of the company after his father's death, using its profits to finance a variety of projects.

At the age of twenty, in 1925, he married and moved to Los Angeles. Two years later, Hughes put up the money for the first of several films he produced, a movie called "Hell's Angels," about World War I (19141918) fighter pilots. It was the most expensive movie ever made at that time, and it did very well at the box office. He went on to produce other films, some of which are considered classics, including "Scarface" and "The Outlaw." He discovered the actors Jean Harlow and Paul Muni, and made Jane Russell a Hollywood star. Hughes became romantically linked with a number of Hollywood stars.

Hughes continued to produce movies while he pursued an interest in aviation. He seemed to be driven to prove his excellence in whatever field he entered. Becoming a pilot in 1928, Hughes went on in 1932 to found the Hughes Aircraft Company, and to design, build, and fly record-breaking planes. He set the world speed record in 1935, transcontinental speed records in 1936 and 1937, and a world flight record in 1938. He was named to the Aviation Hall of Fame in 1973. Hughes built the largest aircraft ever, made out of wood. It flew one time, piloted by Hughes, and was known as "The Spruce Goose."

Hughes became a well known public figure, popular for his aviation and movie heroics. He seemed to embody the traditional American qualities of individuality, daring, and ingenuity.

His aircraft company became a major defense contractor after World War II (19391945), and as the profits of his company increased, Hughes became obsessed with ways to avoid paying taxes on his huge profits. In 1953 he created a medical institute designed to be a tax-shelter, to which he transferred the assets of his aircraft company. For a time in the 1950s, his fame increased, as he openly confronted the federal government. In 1956 he loaned future President Richard Nixon's brother, Donald, $205,000 in an apparently successful ploy to influence the Internal Revenue Service's rulings on the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. In the eyes of many, he was a lone hero fighting against the intrusion of federal bureaucracy and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). In the eyes of the government, he was a tax-cheat.

Hughes continued investing with his tool company profits. He created Trans-World Airlines (TWA), one of the most famous mid-century world airlines. Because he failed to appear in court in a matter related to possibly illegal TWA operations, Hughes was forced to sell his TWA holdings in 1966. He invested all of the $566 million from the sale of TWA into Las Vegas hotels, gambling casinos, golf courses, a television station, an airport, and land in Las Vegas. He again increased the size of his fortune.

In 1970 Hughes left the United States. He traveled secretly throughout the world, arriving unannounced in luxury hotels. To the paparazzi, he took on the aura of a romantic figure, but in reality he was a profoundly ill man. His last act of business, before going into total seclusion and paranoid decline, was to sell off his Hughes Tool Division, the basis of his great fortune, and put the money into a building company he named Summa Corporation, located in Las Vegas.

At that point, the Hughes fortune became muddled. His money and business interests seem to have often been used for secret activities; some allegedly involved in Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operations aimed against the former Soviet Union. One such operation involved the Hughes conglomerate designing and constructing a naval vessel to raise a sunken Soviet submarine. The Hughes organization was reportedly linked, along with the CIA, to the Watergate affair. Details of the end of the Hughes empire are shrouded in mystery and controversy. Howard Hughes' mental illness was progressive and characterized by his obsessive concern to control every aspect of his environment. He died April 5, 1976, on an airline flight to a hospital in Houston, Texas. Hughes left no direct heir or will to his great fortune. The U.S. government was the big winner in the contest for the Hughes estate. Sixty percent of his fortune was taken as estate tax by the IRS.


FURTHER READING

Bartlett, Donald L., and James B. Steele. Empire: The Life, Legend, and Madness of Howard Hughes. New York: Norton, 1979.

Drosnin, Michael. Citizen Hughes. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1985.

Higham, Charles. Howard Hughes: The Secret Life. New York: Putnam, 1993.

Maheu, Robert. Next to Hughes: Behind the Power and Tragic Downfall of Howard Hughes by his Closest Advisor. New York: Harper Collins, 1992.

Rummel, Robert W. Howard Hughes and TWA. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991.

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Hughes, Howard Robard

Howard Robard Hughes, 1905–76, U.S. business executive, b. Houston. As a young man he inherited (1925) the patent rights to an oil tool drill, which, manufactured by the Hughes Tool Company, formed the basis of his financial empire. His interest in aviation led to the formation of the Hughes Aircraft Corp. in the 1930s, which later became a major U.S. defense contractor. A pilot himself, he set a number of airplane records, including a world record (1935) of 352 mi (566 km) per hr in a plane of his own design. Hughes's interests in the 1920s and 30s also extended to the motion picture industry, and among the films that he produced were such classics as Hell's Angels and The Front Page. Through his parent concern, the Hughes Tool Company, he gained a controlling interest in Trans World Airways (TWA); when he divested himself of his TWA stock in 1966, he received $546.5 million. In the 1960s he purchased a number of gambling casinos in Las Vegas. A billionaire, he became a recluse in later years. His vast business interests involved him in extensive litigation.

See studies by J. Davenport and T. Lawson (1975), D. L. Barlett and J. P. Steele (1981), J. R. Phelan (1989), and P. H. Brown (1996).

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Hughes, Howard Robard

Hughes, Howard Robard (1905–76) US industrialist, aviator and film producer. He inherited an industrial corporation (1923) and became a billionaire as head of the Hughes Aircraft Company. In 1935, he set the world speed record of 567km/h (352mph) in an aircraft of his own design. Hughes occasionally produced films, including Hell's Angels (1930), starring Jean Harlow, and The Outlaw (1941), starring Jane Russell. He was famed for his reclusive lifestyle.

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