Howard Hughes: The Untold Story By Peter Harry Brown

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I decided to give this a listen after a second viewing of The Aviator (followed by some cursory Wikipediaing) made me realize that I and most people have little to no idea of what Howard Hughes' life was really like. Of course I don't get that sense now but I know a lot more than I did before. On the one hand, he is an American hero, in that America worships industry and money. On the other hand, he was a pretty foul human being on a lot of levels (see the way he collected women and then basically imprisoned them.) Mixed into all this was some mental illness (which was misunderstood by a lot of people) and a seriously disturbed childhood. It adds to the evidence that the most brilliant people are the most tortured, and certainly dispels the myth that Hughes had a life that any rational person would envy (especially at the end.) Howard Hughes: The Untold Story Another tits-and-ass effort by two entertainment writers. In terms of sheer volume of women discussed, this is the top book by far. The authors had access to Hughes's security chief (actually, more like Director of Surveilling Women) Jeff Chouinard (who, mysteriously, is not mentioned in any other book as far as I can recall,) and he provided piles of details on the chick scene from the late 1940s onward. The authors are fairly critical of Bill Gay and the Mormon Mafia. This book attributes Hughes's erratic late-life behavior to undiagnosed neurosyphilis.

Best/unique things about this book: Most detail on Hughes's marriage to Ella Rice in the 1920s; best coverage of how Hughes worked on the mothers of the young women he was pursuing.

See all my Howard Hughes book reviews. Howard Hughes: The Untold Story In a word--fascinating.

Other reviewers have noted the amount of time spent in this biography cataloging Hughes's many affairs. While I understand their frustration, I think his behavior where women are concerned is one of the best demonstrations of his OCD at work. Howard Hughes collected things, and in some cases he collected people too.

Extremely well researched and very interesting, though I keep at four stars due to the structure of the book as a whole. The reader is left trying to decipher the timelines that keep getting twisted as the author focuses more on the throughlines and less on the chronology of Hughes's life. I recommend keeping the Wikipedia page handy as one way of keeping an eye on the overall timeline. Howard Hughes: The Untold Story I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t know much about Howard Hughes when I opened this biography. Most of it happened before I was born and I was too young to understand what happened later in his life. But I knew his name and I had a vague knowledge of his involvement in aircraft and the movies. That was it.

Hughes had a lot going on in his life. He was a dashing billionaire inventor and pilot, ran two giant corporations, built a major airline, was a filmmaker and used his money to get and control whatever he wanted, including a shockingly long list of glamourous women.

Born in Texas in 1905, Hughes grew up an only child, smothered by his mother’s obsessive attention and fear of germs. Already different and uncomfortable around other children, he preferred to play alone in the workshop his father built for him, where he tinkered with many inventions. He became a millionaire at nineteen, when his father died and left behind a successful oil drill bit business (Hughes Tool Company). The timing of his life, his engineering genius and business instinct resulted in decades of profits in the tool, aircraft and government contract businesses. With all this going on, he plunged into movie-making and made many successful films.

But there were many things askew in Howard Hughes. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, a condition that was less understood at the time and often untreated or self-treated, affected all aspects of his life. More than a dozen head injuries, a syphilis infection and an alarming drug habit no doubt contributed to an increasingly bizarre and reclusive life.

He surrounded himself with staff and security who would do anything he asked, including hunting down beautiful stars and starlets, some of them in their teens, setting them up in bugged apartments, with detectives reporting on their every move. He seduced hundreds of famous women, including Jean Harlow, Kathryn Hepburn, Ava Gardner and Lana Turner, married twice, and was engaged to multiple young women and girls at the same time. He declared his love to all of them and some of them bought it. Hughes’s behavior with women was glamorized at the time, but from a modern reader’s perspective, it is disturbingly predatory.

Despite these conditions, he continued to negotiate huge deals for Hughes Tool Company, Hughes Aircraft, RKO Pictures and Trans World Airlines. He was also a political contributor, sometimes to both parties and had ties to President Richard Nixon’s adversary, Democratic National Committee Chairman Larry O’Brien. It’s believed that Nixon’s interest in knowing more about O’Brien’s relationship with Hughes was one of the reasons for the Watergate break-in.

In his prime, Howard Hughes was deemed an American hero, but in his final years, he was barely lucid. And it turns out, his loyal staff had their sights on his riches and pumped him with shocking amounts of codeine and painkillers. He died at age seventy in 1976.

There is much more in this book, too much to mention and better to read first-hand. There is no question that Hughes’s unbelievable life story fits Mark Twain’s observation that “Truth is stranger than fiction.” Howard Hughes: The Untold Story I got interested in Hughes after reading a number of James Ellroy books (Hughes is an important figure in White Jazz, American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand, and Blood's A Rover), and thought it would be interesting to see how much reality there was to Ellroy's larger-than-life depiction. It turns out Ellroy did his homework quite well—no surprise there. This biography is an amusingly lurid account of Hughes' lurid life. From the airplane crashes, to the movie starlets, to his descent into the ravages of obsessive compulsive disorder mixed with neurosyphilis mixed with severe head trauma, the book does a pretty fair job to Hughes. He comes off as a horrible creature — one who essentially imprisons women (and quite a few underage girls) — and yet there is a lot of sympathy for him in other respects relating to his mental illness(es). He's a very peculiar 20th-century figure to say the least, practically Shakespearean: a man of tremendous wealth whose taste for women and adventure lead directly toward his final self-imprisonment. One feels that he certainly paid for the evils he accrued by the end of things. The book is a breezy beach read, but seems to have done a good job at compiling a wide variety of material to back up its more sordid sections. It's not an academic work, but really, how interesting — or accurate — would a biography of Hughes be that wasn't reliant on a few dubious and contradicting sources? Howard Hughes: The Untold Story


The writing isn’t great but Hughes story is as fascinating as it is perplexing. There were so many Hollywood women in Hughes’ life that their names became blurred and his relationship dramas monotonous. But there is no denying his eccentric brilliance. There are handsome men, brilliant men, and monied men; it’s not so rare to see two of these factors combined, but mix all three to the depth and breadth that Hughes had them, and his incredible life is a little more understandable. What’s not understandable is the manner of his demise, underlining the age-old depravity that the lure of money invokes in so many. It’s a heartbreaking end to a troubled and remarkable life, and adds weight to the adage that the one thing money can’t buy is happiness. Howard Hughes: The Untold Story Very detailed. Wish it dealt more with his accomplishments than his romances, but the book does make it clear it was hard for him to balance between the two. Loved that many of the locations he spent time in were in and around the San Fernando Valley. While reading the book I had a chance to visit the hanger where Howard built the Hercules (aka Spruce Goose), which was pretty awesome. My sister and I are planning on visiting Howard's old house on the 9th hole of the Wilshire Country Club as well. Overall, an interesting, thorough, and insightful read. Howard Hughes: The Untold Story Too many girls not enough airplanes Howard Hughes: The Untold Story Amazing ... what a character Howard Hughes was, rich little heir, aviator, film producer, entrepreneur, businessman, eccentric and womaniser extraordinaire! And this book spells it all out in 'The Untold Story'. This latter is perhaps just a trifle overstated as much of the Howard Hughes story has been told in many volumes written about the man previously but there are certainly some episodes within its covers that are new to the public. And anyway everything about the man is so fascinating that it is well worth reading.

Interestingly a Dr Jeffrey Schwartz, a scientist at the forefront of obsessive-compulsive disorder research was to remark, '[H]e's probably the most obsessive-compulsive in modern history.' Certainly in his later years he exhibited epic examples of OCD emotional ravages and this probably all began with the way his mother closeted and pampered him when he was young. If the OCD had been recognised in his early days, doctors all seem to think that he could have been treated so that his life, which was very bizarre at the end, could have been quite different.

But it wasn't and so he carried on in his strange ways until it finally overtook him and he was on the verge of being classed as a madman. However, it all began rather sedately, if anything connected with Howard Hughes could be classed as sedate! When his father died, he had to buy out his relatives so that he could have sole control of the Hughes' business empire, which he proceeded to build up and add to in mammoth proportions.

He always maintained an interest in the movies, so he diversified into their production and in doing so he began to evidence his strange, compulsive behaviour. For example he spent $500,000 in purchasing more than 40 vintage fighter and scouting aircraft to use in his film 'Hell's Angels', the filming of which overran massively, especially when he realised that the talkies had arrived and he had to add dialogue! And his compulsion to own people as well as things showed itself in the number of starlets he took a fancy to and signed on for future films ... but he never, or if so very sparsely, used them.

It was while filming 'Hell's Angels' that he met Jean Harlow and had his affair with the original blond bombshell. But by that time his womanising had already reached massive proportions as he chased down potential stars for his productions or wooed existing stars regardless of their marital status. And he did marry Ella Rice, 'the most sought-after debutante in Houston', in 1925 and thus began a strange married relationship. Inevitably divorce followed a few years later and he was to subsequently officially propose to such as Ava Gardner, Kathryn Grayson, Katherine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, and Yvonne Schubert as well as more or less promising marriage to any number of starlets along the way so that he could get them into bed with him. He did later marry Jean Peters but, like all his other relationships that turned out to be something of a disaster as well.

He very nearly killed himself on two occasions when he was flying because, having set a new land speed record of 352.46mph at Santa Ana, California, in his 'Silver Bullet' aircraft, he thought he was invincible. He did go on to make the world's then greatest long-distance flight when he flew from Los Angeles to Newark, New Jersey, in seven hours 28 minutes and in 1937 he received the prestigious Harmon International Trophy as the world's outstanding aviator of 1936. And he established a new record by flying around the world in three days 19 hours 17 minutes in a Lockheed Model 14 twin-engine transport in July 1938. He returned home to a ticket-tape reception.

His aides began to control his business empire in later times and he got into all sorts of problems by which time he had become something of a recluse, moving around the world from one hide-out hotel to another. Because of this those who sought him had to arrange proof that he was indeed still alive and he made very occasional appearances to prove this was so. But they were only made after his aides had tidied him up to make him appear presentable because his personal habits had become quite bizarre.

And so the legend of Howard Hughes goes on and it is a fascinating one put over excellently by the authors in this very readable book. Howard Hughes: The Untold Story I felt that Howard Hughes: The Untold Story should have mostly been left untold. It is a lurid account of all the women Hughes slept with, the women who refused to sleep with him, and the starlets who worked for his movie company but slept with their chauffeurs instead of him. The repeated claims that Hughes had untreatable, antibiotic-resistance syphilis are not believable -- although Hughes apparently did contract syphilis in the 1940s (no surprise, given all the prostitutes he slept with), he was treated with penicillin. Hardly anyone had used penicillin at the time(Hughes' immense wealth enabled him to get access to the drug), so resistance to antibiotics should not have been a problem. Also, syphilis would not explain why Hughes sometimes had mental breakdowns and then (mostly) recovered.

If you are looking for unsubstantiated gossip about Hughes' self life, then this book is great. Otherwise, I'd read Howard Hughes: His Life and Madness instead. Howard Hughes: The Untold Story

Howard Hughes was one of the most amazing, intriguing, and controversial figures of the twentieth century. He was the billionaire head of a giant corporation, a genius inventor, an ace pilot, a matinee-idol-handsome playboy, a major movie maker who bedded a long list of Hollywood glamour queens, a sexual sultan with a harem of teenage consorts, a political insider with intimate ties to Watergate, a Las Vegas kingpin, and ultimately a bizarre recluse whose final years and shocking death were cloaked in macabre mystery. Now he is the subject of Martin Scorsese's biopic The Aviator. Few people have been able to penetrate the wall of secrecy that enshrouded this complex man. In this fascinating, revelation-packed biography, the full story of one of the most daring, enigmatic, and reclusive power brokers America has ever known is finally told. Howard Hughes: The Untold Story