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A Journey into the Life and Work of Howard Hughes

©2010 Essay 12 Seiten


This term paper deals with the American film producer and aviator Howard Hughes live about twelf pages.

In dieser zwölfseitigen Biografie wird das Leben des Filmproduzenten und Luftfahrtpioniers Howard Hughes abgehandelt.


Howard Hughes

Howard Hughes was born on the 24th of December 1905 in Houston as the son of Howard Hughes Senior and Allene Gano, a rich heiress. His father, who worked in the oil industry, had a patent on a special oil drilling bit he invented, which could drill through rock easily and later was used in most oil and gas drilling. Howard Hughes Senior also founded the "Sharp-Hughes Tool Company”, which manufactured his invention, in 1909 together with Walter Benona Sharp but renamed the Company in "Hughes Tool Company” when Sharp died in 1912. His mother died from complications of an ectopic pregnancy when Howard was 16. Two years later his father died of a heart attack and left Hughes with a fortune that would guarantee him a worry-free future. Howard Hughes attended many schools like the Thacher school in California and was "according to the principals’ son, Anson Thacher, "the brightest student in physics the school had in years” [1] but unfortunately Hughes wasn’t a good student and therefore never graduated from school. His father managed before his death to get his son into the Cal Tech and later Rice University by donating money to the institution [2]. After Hughes father died he left the Rice University and took over the "Hughes Tool Company”, which gave him the financial means he needed for starting his career as Film Producer, Aviator and Engineer.

Through his life Howard Hughes developed a fear of germs, which later became an obsessive compulsive disorder to protect himself from bacteria. It is questionable why Hughes developed this fear but it is suspected that it arose from his childhood. A major health threat during that time was polio, which is why his mother was always worried about her sons health. She used to check him for diseases daily and had an eye on his meals. Howard Hughes experienced a sheltered and lonely childhood with barely any friends and became a shy, young man who felt uncomfortable in large crowds [3]. Despite this Howard Hughes succeeded in becoming an amazing aviator, engineer, business man and of course the wealthiest man in America.

When Hughes was in California at the Thacher School, he spent some time with his uncle Rupert Hughes, who was a famous Hollywood novelist and screenwriter and made him interested in the movie business. At the age of 21 Howard Hughes finally made his dream come true and became a successful Hollywood producer.

One of his first movies and favourite work was “Hells Angels”, which cost him 4 Million Dollar and took 3 years to complete. Some of the team members working with him on the film described Hughes as obsessed with the movie because he added it nearly day and night. Considering that, it wasn’t very surprising that the billionaire insisted on doing most of the dangerous flight stunts himself, because he didn’t think the other stuntmen were qualified enough to do the scene the way he wanted it to be, that is to say, perfect. Throughout this movie Howard Hughes had a plane crash during one of his stunts and hit his head at a spot in the brain that handles error detection in humans. This part of the brain is responsible for our perception that something needs to be corrected. If this part is damaged, the error detection might be thrown off and a person needs to double check his actions constantly to make sure it is perfect. Psychologists assume that this is one of the secrets of Hughes’ developing eccentric behaviour. [4]

Howard Hughes also produced the movie “Scarface”, which has been remade in 1983 by Brian De Palma and became cult and many other movies like “The Frontpage” and “The Outlaw”. Although the movies were great hits, Hughes had often difficulties with the Hays Office, the censorship board that had to certify all movies, because of his productions. They have criticised the movie “Scarface” because, in their opinion, the film glorified the gangsters and was altogether too violent for the audience. Hughes had to change the name to “Scarface, Shame of a Nation” and adjusted some other scenes in the movie. When he finished the film “The Outlaw”, the Hays Board piped up again and criticised that the display of Jane Russels cleavage proved too much, which resulted in the banning of the movie. They demanded many changes in the film but Hughes was able to reduce them to 3 major cuts. The movie was a great success when it finally was shown in the theatres, but Hughes took it from release after only 6 weeks for no obvious reason and the movie wasn’t shown in theatres until three years later. [5]

Hughes wasn’t only known as the world’s greatest aviator and inventor but also as “The World’s Greatest Womanizer”. He was 20 when he first got married to Ella Ice and was 24 when they got divorced again. He dated many actresses like Bette Davis, Ava Gardner, Terry Moore and Jean Harlow, who had her breakthrough performance in his movie “Hells Angels”. Katherine Hepburn was also known to be with Hughes during the 1930’s.

Although Howard Hughes was regarded as charming and generous to women he never had a deep relationship with any of them. In addition, he had a great need of control not only concerning his activities in the movie business or aerospace industry but also when it came to women. He always promised to make them movie stars and even dictated them what to eat, wear and who to speak to. He even made it a habit to hire detectives, spying on them and making sure they weren’t talking to the press. [6] In the light of these considerations it is hardly surprising that Hughes was furious about an article the Confidential published in April 1953 with the headline "Howard Hughes - Public Wolf No. 1”. The article described Hughes personal life including his relationships with most of his women and made the billionaire that angry that he sent his men out with the instruction to buy all copies of the magazine in Los Angeles. Not only because he feared about his reputation but also because he had several girlfriends at that time and was afraid that they could find out about one another. [7]

When Howard Hughes produced his movie "Hells Angels” another interest of him also became noticeable: The Aviation. For the movie he used 34 real airplanes and, as mentioned before, did many of the dangerous stunts himself. Inspired by this Hughes finally founded the "Hughes Aircraft Company” in 1932, which was a division of "Hughes Tool Company” and also included "Hughes Aerospace Group” and "Hughes Space and Communications”. [8] Shortly after the company was founded, Hughes vanished for the first time. No one knew about his whereabouts for months. He used an alias and decided to fly to Texas in order to accept a job as baggage handler for American Airlines. Only weeks after he got the job, he was promoted to a co-pilot and continued working for American Airlines until his real identity was found out. There were many speculations on why Hughes had done this. [9] Maybe he wanted to understand how an Airline was working because he already knew he would need that knowledge in the future. But most people probably dismissed his acting as one of his many weird behavioral patterns. After the incident Hughes flew back to California and started his career as aviator and engineer.

The first plane the company produced was the H1- Racer, a very technologically advanced plane because of its retractable landing gear and individually machined flush rivets, which made the aluminum skin of the plane very smooth or even so that the plane could fly even faster. Other features of the plane were the two different sets of wings: Long wings for cross-country racing and short wings for setting speed records. Hughes also managed to reach 567 km/h with the H1-Racer and set a new world air speed record in September 1935 [10]. Unfortunately during this test flight Hughes was forced to crash-land in a field due to fuel shortage but without causing any harm. After this crash Hughes gave an interview on the reasons for the accident and, of course being a film producer, directed the whole interview himself with many cuts. During the interview Hughes showed first symptoms of his obsessive compulsive disorder in public by continuously plucking on his pants.

About one and a half years after the world air speed record of 1935 Hughes had another record in mind with the H1 Racer: a transcontinental speed record. He flew non-stop from Los Angeles to New York City in 7 hours, 28 minutes and 25 seconds, breaking his previous record of 9 hours and 27 minutes - nearly 2 hours faster. [11]

Another airplane he loved flying was the S-43 Sikorsky amphibian aircraft. He used to do test flights at the Lake Mead to practice touch and go landings for his later invention the "Spruce Goose”. On the 17th of May 1943 Hughes flew from California to Las Vegas together with two CAA aviation inspectors and Ava Gardener. After dropping Ava Gardener off in Las Vegas he continued his travel to Lake Mead in order to do some test flights. The outcome of this test flight was one killed inspector and Hughes’ suffering a head injury from hitting the upper control panel. [12]

During the 1940s friends and employees of Hughes started to worry about the billionaire. They continuously observed more symptoms of his developing obsessive compulsive disorder. Some just called him eccentric and didn’t realise that something was really wrong with him.

On the 7th of July in 1946 Hughes was about to face one of his biggest setbacks in his life affecting him physically and mentally. Hughes planned a test flight for the XF- 11 for that day and invited media and military to try to sell the plane to the government and public. The flight took one and a half hours and Hughes flew higher and further than planned. Impressed from the performance of the XF-11 at one moment, Hughes had to face complications in the next. A malfunction of the right propeller made it utterly impossible to keep the plane under control and finally ended with a crash in a house in Beverly Hills, which not many men would have survived. Hughes was pulled out of the burning wreck just in time by a Marine Sergeant and got away with serious injuries. He suffered from a broken leg, six cracked ribs, a dislodged heart and third degree burns, which covered 78% of his body. Hughes’ main interest while slowly recovering from this crash was to find out about what caused the failure of the right propeller.


[1]. 22.12.09

[2]. cf. 22.12.09

[3]. cf. Brown,P.H. and Broeske,P.H.: “Howard Hughes, The Untold Story”, USA, 2004 p. 12

[4]. cf. National Geographic Channel, “The Secret History: Howard Hughes, The Bizarre Billionaire” 24.12.09

[5]. cf. 23.12.09

[6]. cf. Brown,P.H. and Broeske,P.H.: “Howard Hughes, The Untold Story”, USA, 2004 p. 161

[7]. cf. National Geographic Channel, “The Secret History: Howard Hughes, The Bizarre Billionaire” 24.12.09

[8]. cf. 25.12.09

[9]. cf. National Geographic Channel, “The Secret History: Howard Hughes, The Bizarre Billionaire” 24.12.09

[10].cf. 24.12.09

[11].cf. 24.12.09

[12]. cf. Brown,P.H. and Broeske,P.H.: “Howard Hughes, The Untold Story”, USA, 2004 p. 171


ISBN (eBook)
405 KB
2010 (September)
Howard Hughes TWA Airline Hughes Tool Company Hells Angels Jean Harlow Katherine Hepburn Hughes Aircraft Company” H1- Racer Lockheed

Titel: A Journey into the  Life and Work of Howard Hughes