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Born in 1905, at the start of the 20th Century, in Houston, Texas, Howard Hughes was the only child of Howard Robard Hughes, an oil wildcatter who made a considerable fortune patenting a revolutionary, rock-penetrating oil drill bit, and Dallas heiress Allene Gano Hughes, who taught Howard not to socialize with anyone who might be carrying disease-causing germs. Ironically, during a childhood illness, Hughes lost much of his hearing and was plagued by a continual ringing in his ears throughout his life.

Although extremely shy, Howard demonstrated genius early on in math and mechanical engineering and by age 11, he had constructed what was likely the first wireless broadcast set in Houston.

At the age of 14, Howard took his first flying lessons and a life-long passion was born. As a child, he declared that he would one day be the world’s best pilot, the world’s best filmmaker and the world’s richest man – and he remained obsessed with flying, movies and wealth throughout his lifetime.

In 1922, Howard’s mother, Allene, passed away, followed in 1924 by the death of his father. At age 18, Hughes was now an orphan. He inherited an estate valued at close to a million dollars.

In 1925, Howard fought for control of his father’s company, Hughes Tool. Since he was not yet 21, he had to go to court to be declared a legal adult. Winning the judgement, Hughes became the company head, but rather than run it, (He put the capable Noah Dietrich in charge) he soon left for Jazz Age Hollywood to pursue a career in film, financed by the company’s substantial earnings. This same year, Hughes agreed to an arranged marriage with Houston socialite Ella Rice, and the couple moved to Los Angeles together. However, the marriage fell apart, and Hughes divorced in 1929. Hughes married twice more in his life, to little-known actresses - Jean Peters and Terry Moore.

Throughout the late 1920s, Hughes worked feverishly on his epic, “Hell’s Angels,” acquiring the largest private air force in the world in the making of the film. During filming, Hughes did many of his own stunts and even crashed his scout plane, breaking his cheekbone. Chasing after perfection, at the end of production, Hughes decided to re-shoot the entire film to accommodate the latest movie technology- sound. The film ultimately cost a record $3.8 million, a stunning revelation after the Stock Market Crash of 1929.

“Hell’s Angels” was released in 1930 in the midst of the Great Depression to resounding success and box office records. It rocketed the then-bit-actress Jean Harlow to superstar status. He followed that film with “The Age For Love,” “The Front Page,” “Cock of the Air,” the legendary “Scarface” and “Sky Devils.” During his career, Hughes produced over 40 films, and also became head of RKO, a powerful member of the Hollywood Studio system.

Having developed an indelible passion for aviation, and believing it to be the industry of the future, Hughes founded Hughes Aircraft in 1932, and hired the best and brightest engineers in the country to push aviation to new heights of speed and efficiency.

In 1935, Hughes set the new air speed record, flying at an unprecedented 352 mph in the H-1 airplane he designed. One year later, he set another record, this time for transcontinental flight, journeying from Los Angeles to New Jersey in a then-speedy 9 hours and 27 minutes.

One of Hughes’ most famous flights took place in July of 1938, when he set a new record for flying around the world in 3 days, 19 hours and 17 minutes. Upon his return to Manhattan, he was greeted with a ticker tape parade down Broadway

By the late 1930’s and early 40’s Hughes had become a Hollywood legend, romantically linked with a number of leading screen stars, including Bette Davis, Ginger Rogers, Rita Hayworth and perhaps most importantly, Katharine Hepburn, with whom he had a three-year relationship and Ava Gardner, with whom Hughes had an on-again-off-again tumultuous relationship for two decades.

It was 1939 when Hughes bought up a majority of TWA stock and took over the airliner. Making a deal with Lockheed, he asked their engineers to secretly design a plane that could out-perform any currently in service and provide a more comfortable flying experience. The result was The Constellation, which would be a tremendous success for more than a decade. / Issue 42 - September 2576
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