By Elizabeth Bowley.
To celebrate Howard Hughes’ birthday on Christmas Eve we thought we’d provide you with some interesting facts about the fascinating life of the aviator, director and recluse that was Howard Hughes.
Hughes set many world records as an aviator, including a new record for flying from New York to Los Angeles in 1937. One of his most famous projects was the “Spruce Goose”, a huge flying boat completed after the Second World War, which only managed to fly just the once. The hangar that housed the “Spruce Goose” is now used as a film studio.
As a producer, his films The Racket and The Front Page were nominated for Academy Awards. Hughes also dated many high-profile Hollywood stars in his day. From Ava Gardner (below) to Katharine Hepburn, he got around a fair a bit. He reportedly asked Joan Fontaine to marry him numerous times. And while in the film business, he used to go out of his way to discover attractive young starlets. However, he was able to maintain professional relationships with some of his leading ladies such as Jean Harlow and Jane Russell. Though, having said this, he famously invented a prototype push-up bra for Russell in order for her to be as busty as possible in The Outlaw.
Hughes is also known for his reclusive and obsessive nature, especially in his later years. In one of Hughes’ most reclusive episodes, he spent 5 months in a Hollywood screening room. While he was in there, the only things he ate and drank were Hershey bars, milk and pecans. Among Hughes’ many obsessions was his relationship with peas. He would arrange them on his plate according to their size and he even had a special fork he took out with him in order to carry out this pea-organising process! Another fixation of his was the Communist threat of the 1950s. Hughes wrote many articles on the subject and even re-made his film The Whip Hand to make Communists the villains. Hughes was also fearful that when he was speaking in public he was being lip-read, so he often spoke with his hand covering his mouth.
Hughes was in a plane crash in 1946, smashing into several Beverley Hills homes and severely injuring himself. He was given a 50-50 chance of survival, with injuries including a fractured skull and a dislodged heart. Hughes paid for the damage caused to all the houses and gave the man who saved him from the cockpit (Marine Sergeant Durkin) a weekly paycheck until the day he died. It has been hypothesised that the series of accidents Hughes was in led to brain damage (he suffered a total of 14 serious head injuries) which in turn contributed to his increasingly-crazed behaviour in later life.
On a happier note, did you know that Howard Hughes was the inspiration for Stan Lee’s Iron Man, aka Tony Stark, with his lavish young lifestyle? Furthermore, Stark had inherited a business from his father like Hughes had. In fact, Lee named Stark’s father in the franchise Howard Stark.
Hughes was also a big Bond fan! Indeed, the producer of the James Bond franchise, Albert R. Broccoli, gave Hughes 16mm prints of the earlier Bond films. He is also said to have based the villain Willard Whyte in Diamonds Are Forever on Hughes’ reclusive character.
Take a look at our collection of Howard Hughes films here.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Hughes and a very Merry Christmas to all readers!