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To the Hollywood establishment, Hughes was an arrogant upstart, the “sucker with the money,” says Robert Dalrymple, director of the documentary “Howard Hughes: His Women and His Movies,” which aired on Turner Classic Movies as part of a three-night series on Hughes. “It was that period when he kind of enraged one-half of Hollywood and dated the other half. That’s what made him so interesting,” Dalrymple says. None-the-less, Howard's film career was to stretch over three decades and result in more than forty films to his credit.

In addition to his first arranged marriage to Houston socialite Ella Rice, Hughes married twice more, but to lesser-known actresses - Jean Peters and Terry Moore. In addition to OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), and severe paranoia, he suffered from Scopophobia, a fear of being looked at, all of which symptoms worsened the older he got, resulting in even more bizarre behaviour. Remarks DiCaprio, “It’s a part of his obsessive nature and his OCD that made him have such an amazing life. He wouldn’t have been obsessed about building the largest plane ever built. He wouldn’t have been obsessed about breaking every speed record. He wouldn’t have been obsessed about flying around the world faster than anyone else. He wouldn’t have been obsessed about reshooting “Hells Angels” for sound-having that movie go on for four years, (and cost $4 million). It was all OCD, which at the time was undiagnosed, so he just thought it was his own essence, his own being, not knowing that he had some kind of condition that absolutely propelled him.”

After a series of debilitating mental breakdowns, Hughes took up residence at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas where he made himself unwelcome to the hotel management by locking himself in on the 9th floor, and watching endless movies with the volume turned up so high the 8th floor had to be vacated. When they tried to evict him, Hughes just bought the hotel for $13.6 million, and continued to live there for another 5 years.

In 1960, aged 55, he suddenly fled his penthouse in Las Vegas and withdrew from all public life, allowing others to control his vast financial empire, which included the international airline TWA. After leaving Vegas, he lived naked in tiny, darkened rooms in various secret locations including Bermuda, Nicaragua, and Mexico and continued to resist bathing and then refused to have his hair washed or trimmed, so that it straggled all the way down his back. He also stopped having his fingernails and toenails cut, allowing them to grow to grotesque lengths. He reportedly walked around with shoe or tissue boxes on his feet.

Also, says DiCaprio, “There’s literally an entire report, documents the size of huge novels. Howard took all his technical brilliance that he would use for airplanes or engineering or whatever it would be and diverted all that energy into how his lunch was delivered and it’s truly some of the most frightening, astonishing stuff I’ve ever read. I mean, transcripts and memos that went on for hours and hours and hours about the angle of the lunch, the way the milk was to be delivered, the way the knock (on the door) was supposed to be; whether the man could smile, cough, breathe, how many times he could blink, the angles of the way the food would be delivered. His gloves. It was absolutely frightening, frightening stuff. We definitely got the essence of his madness and portrayed what we wanted to portray.”

Eventually, his physical condition also deteriorated and Hughes died on April 5, 1976, on board one of his private planes while being rushed to a hospital in Houston, Texas.

Says Director Scorcese, “ The Aviator” is meant to be an impression of Hughes and the spectacle of Hollywood. A man who wants to fly to the sun like Icarus but his wings really were made of wax.

Says Leonardo DiCaprio, “I certainly can’t imagine taking things to the level Hughes did in his life. It’s too exhausting. The man led 20 different lifetimes in one life.” / Issue 42 - September 5021
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