The Story Behind Howard Hughes

Howard Hughes

December 24th marks what would have been the 108th birthday of the famous aviator, filmmaker and inventor Howard Hughes. Hughes was an exceedingly wealthy man who made a name for himself through his films, extravagant spending, numerous high profile relationships, and, as he grew older, increasingly eccentric behavior. Today, he is remembered mostly as the subject of the Academy Award winning film The Aviator. Though the film was fantastic, it did leave out many interesting facts and rumors regarding the events of Hughes’ life. So, in honor of his birthday, below you will find a list of five details you never knew about Howard Hughes.


According to Hughes biographer Darwin Porter in his book Howard Hughes: Hell’s Angel, Hughes attempted to woo Elizabeth Taylor during the 40’s, and was so intent to have her that he offered her parents $1 million for their daughter’s hand in marriage. While Elizabeth agreed to go out on a few dates with him, she ultimately found him to be “an out-and-out bore” and claimed “I wouldn’t have married him for all his money.” She did, however, marry his longtime business and romantic rival Conrad Hilton. During the demise of that marriage in 1951, Howard again attempted to court Elizabeth. Once more he failed, and she was married to Michael Wilding the following year. Not being used to rejection, Howard still maintained a belief that she would come to him when the time was right. Following her divorce from Wilding in 1957 Hughes tried to get in contact with Elizabeth, but in typical Taylor fashion she was married to Mike Todd later that year. When Todd died in 1958, Hughes gave Taylor the use of one of his TWA jets to take her to and from the funeral in Chicago. Hughes firmly believed this was his chance to win her over, but his spies reported that not only had Eddie Fisher boarded the plane with Taylor, but also that the two were reportedly a couple. Hughes became so enraged that he finally, after years of effort, gave up his chase of her. Later, Hughes told Pat DeCicco, “Future historians of Howard Hughes will record that only two big stars in Hollywood turned me down – namely Joan Crawford and Elizabeth Taylor.”


The Jane Russell/Howard Hughes relationship was one that always courted controversy. Their first film together was The Outlaw, which featured Russell’s breasts so prominently that it incited protests from outraged citizens (who were actually tipped off to the “lewd” picture under orders of Hughes himself to stir up publicity). The film duo teamed up again for The French Line in 1954, during which Hughes took full advantage of the 3D filming and featured Russell’s breasts again, this time popping out of the screen at viewers. She also performed a song in a one-piece swimsuit with cutouts on the stomach, baring ample cleavage. That scene resulted in The Breen Office’s refusal to approve the film via its Production Code, and the Vatican’s threats to excommunicate those who saw it. Unsurprisingly, Hughes released the film without the Production Code or either offices’ approval.


Those who are familiar with Hughes are aware of his volatile relationship with screen siren Ava Gardner in the 1940’s.Though the couple didn’t last, the two remained close friends, which was what led Gardner to run to Hughes’ side after a particularly vicious fight she had with Sinatra. According to Hughes’ friend Johnny Meyer, Gardner had arrived a few days early to surprise Sinatra in Las Vegas, and caught him in bed with actress Barbara Payton. The two began to argue then physically fight, until Sinatra punched Gardner in the face and kicked her, leaving her with a black eye along with multiple bumps and bruises. After the fight, she fled to Hughes’ room at the Desert Inn and Hughes asked Meyer to put a hit out on Sinatra. Meyer decided Hughes was reacting out of anger and didn’t make the call. The next morning Gardner boarded a flight back to Los Angeles and the ordeal was never mentioned again.


Hughes’ womanizing ways are legendary, and he boasts a laundry list of girlfriends that includes Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Gene Tierney, Ginger Rogers, Olivia de Havilland, Joan Fontaine, Rita Hayworth, Barbara Hutton, Lana Turner, and Gloria Vanderbilt. However, in the 2005 biography of him by Darwin Porter, Howard Hughes: Hell’s Angel, evidence was brought forth that Hughes was bisexual and did, in fact, have a relationship with Cary Grant. During interviews with Hughes’ friends, director George Cukor and actor/interior designer Billy Haines, it was revealed that Hughes and Grant had a long term, on-again-off-again relationship. The two were also supposedly involved in a lengthy love triangle with Katharine Hepburn. In addition, the book also claimed that bugs placed in Hughes’ New York hotel room, under the orders of J. Edgar Hoover recorded the two men, ahem, together.


According to Terry Lenzner, the chief investigator for the Senate Watergate Committee, and Hughes’ business associate, Bob Maheu, Hughes was indirectly responsible for the biggest American political controversy of the 20th century. The story begins when Richard Nixon’s brother, Donald, accepted a $205,000 loan from Hughes back in 1958 while Richard was still Vice President. The loan was controversial when brought to light during the 1960 presidential election, since Hughes had previously been a defense contractor working with the government. Richard Nixon felt that the news of this unsavory loan cost him the 1960 election. Then, when Nixon was running for president in 1968, he again had Hughes’ full support, mainly because Hughes thought he could control the president through his donations. A “gift” of $100,000 in cash was made to Nixon’s friend Bebe Rebozo in order to give to the president. Shortly after the donation Larry O’Brien, who had formerly worked for Hughes, was hired by the Democratic National Committee. Nixon was immediately concerned that O’Brien knew about the $100,000 bribe he had taken, via Rebozo, and is rumored to have ordered his office searched to find out what he knew. The Watergate burglars were caught while rifling through the Democratic National Committee offices and one of the biggest American scandals of all time began.

About the Author: Spencer Blohm is a freelance entertainment, pop culture, and lifestyle blogger for In addition to an interest in current film, he’s always been an avid Old Hollywood fan and watches every movie and reads every biography he can find about the era. He lives and works in Chicago where he can be found slowly freezing to death during the winter.