The Eccentric Mogul: 8 Facts About the Strange Life of Howard Hughes
The Eccentric Mogul: 8 Facts About the Strange Life of Howard Hughes

The Eccentric Mogul: 8 Facts About the Strange Life of Howard Hughes

Larry Holzwarth - October 15, 2017

The Eccentric Mogul: 8 Facts About the Strange Life of Howard Hughes
Hughes critical injuries from the XF-11 crash led to innovations in hospital beds. Getty Images

His discomfort led to the modern hospital bed

Under an Army Air Forces contract, Hughes Aircraft developed a high speed, high altitude, reconnaissance airplane designated as the XF-11. The aircraft was required to obtain detailed observations of enemy territory and defenses, in particular, the home islands of Japan. This entailed an additional requirement of long-range capability. Hughes was personally involved in the design and development of the prototypes which were plagued with excessive costs, delays due to untested and unproven innovations, and managerial problems.

The original order of 100 aircraft was canceled in the spring of 1945, as it became apparent that Naval aircraft carriers could approach Japan with near impunity. Hughes was permitted to complete two of the prototypes for research and testing purposes.

In early July 1946, Hughes flew the XF-11 prototype for the first time. Ignoring the agreed-upon flight testing program, which was to end the flight once the recording cameras reached the end of their film rolls, Hughes remained airborne. When a serious problem developed in the airplane and Hughes was unable to return to the field, he attempted to land on the nearby Los Angeles Country Club Golf Course.

He came up short, crashing into three nearby houses, suffering numerous broken bones and severe burns, as well as causing his heart to move to the right side of his chest. When he awoke in the hospital he found that his physical pain was substantial, and the bed in which he lay was in no small manner adding to his discomfort.

Disregarding the effects of his pain and medications, Hughes summoned engineers and technicians to his bedside. He dictated plans for a mechanism of cables and pulleys connected to electric motors which would allow him to adjust the angle at which he lay by pushing buttons. He had the bed sectioned into six zones, each operated independently. He also requested that the bed be provided with running water, hot and cold, available at all times to the occupant.

By the time the engineers were able to comply with his requests, he had recovered to the point that he was no longer bedridden, and thus was unable to personally attest to their effectiveness. His engineers continued in the development of what became the basis for the modern hospital bed. Hughes, by the way, attributed his recovery to neither his bed nor his doctors, but rather to the health benefits of regular consumption of freshly squeezed orange juice.

The Eccentric Mogul: 8 Facts About the Strange Life of Howard Hughes
The FBI monitored Howard Hughes from his motion picture days through the rest of his life. Online Nevada

His FBI File was over 2,200 pages long

During the tenure of J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI prepared extensive dossiers on nearly all Americans of note, and many of these files are windows into their private lives. Howard Hughes was no exception. Although he was a lifelong patriot, participating in defense and research activities at the behest of the US government, Hughes also associated with individuals deemed by some to be America’s enemies.

As a movie producer and director Hughes supported anti-communist activities and the blacklist, as an industrialist he allowed his businesses to participate in CIA activities, and he was deeply but secretively involved in the Watergate Scandal of the 1970s.

The FBI files have led researchers to surmise that the famous “18-minute gap” of erased material on the Watergate tapes removed from the record references to Howard Hughes. Hughes’s relationship to the Nixon organization dated back to the 1960 presidential campaign, when Richard Nixon’s brother Donald was revealed to have obtained a questionable loan of over $200,000 from Hughes. When Watergate was unraveling as a scandal it was revealed that Hughes had worked secretly with the Democratic National Committee through its Chairman Larry O’Brien.

Their goal was to direct information regarding Nixon’s financial interests with Hughes to the campaign of Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey. According to Terry Lenzner, who served as the Senate Watergate Committee’s Chief Investigator, it was Nixon’s desire to know what information the Democrats had on his relationship with Howard Hughes which prompted the break-in at the Watergate Hotel.

Howard Hughes’s will and the numerous frauds and hoaxes which surrounded the final distribution of his estate were worthy of FBI notice as well. One of the most famous is the so-called Mormon Will, which left most of his estate to Hughes Medical Institute and the rest largely to his staff and senior executives. Handwritten, it was supposedly found in a desk at the Church of the Latter-Day Saints in Salt Lake City.

The will was left with the Church by a gas station attendant named Melvin Dummar who claimed to have rescued Hughes from being stranded – unkempt and seedy in appearance – along the side of a road in 1967. Several days later a man appeared at Dummar’s gas station and presented him with the will. The will left Dummar $156 million. Found to be fraudulent in 1978, Hughes was declared instead to have died intestate. The FBI file contains evidence later uncovered which indicates that Dummar, however improbable, may well have been telling the truth.

The Eccentric Mogul: 8 Facts About the Strange Life of Howard Hughes

He was a close friend of Cary Grant

Howard Hughes and Cary Grant were longtime friends, with Hughes serving as best man at Grant’s wedding to actress Betsy Drake. Grant often told the questionable story of the two of them flying one night over Warner Brothers studio building in Hollywood, dropping bags of flour onto the roof and laughing riotously at the patterns the exploding bags left behind. Grant would often say that the two remained friends because neither wanted anything from the other.

Grant also described Howard’s wardrobe as sparse. “He owned only two suits. He never owned a tuxedo. If he needed one, he’d borrow one of mine.” Like Hughes, Grant remained an outsider for most of his career, eschewing the glitz of Hollywood for a more private existence.

Their friendship was close enough that when Hughes was released from the hospital following his horrific crash in 1946, it was to Grant’s home that he went to continue his recuperation.

Their friendship remained unexposed to the public eye for most of their lives, with Hughes never, and Grant seldom, expounding upon it to the press.