Howard Hughes is most famous for the last years of his life, when his mind faded and he lived the life of a wealthy, paranoid recluse. But earlier he had been a dashing and innovative businessman. Inheriting the Hughes Tool Company at age 19, Hughes became by turns a Hollywood movie producer, aircraft inventor, mining mogul, casino owner and ladies' man. (He dated Ava Gardner and Katharine Hepburn among many other starlets.) An avid and daring pilot, Hughes set a handful of aviation world records, including one for a 1938 flight around the world in just over 91 hours. In the 1960s his business dealings paid off handsomely and his wealth reached one billion dollars, a staggering amount for the era. In the 1950s certain personality quirks began to dominate and Hughes grew increasingly unbalanced. He dropped from public view and became famous for his wealth and his mysterious hidden ways, surfacing via telephone in 1972 to say that a biography written by Clifford Irving was a hoax. The gossip and confusion about his whereabouts and lifestyle continued after his 1976 death, when various parties contested his will amid much-publicized legal wrangling.
Leonardo DiCaprio played Hughes in the 2004 biopic The Aviator, directed by Martin Scorsese? The 1980 movie Melvin and Howard told the story of Melvin Dummar, a small-time gas station owner who claimed he was heir to Hughes?s fortune; actor Jason Robards played Hughes? Among the movies produced by Hughes was Scarface (1932), based loosely on the life of Al Capone and forerunner of the 1983 film Scarface? Hughes?s most famous airplane was the Spruce Goose, a giant eight-motored flying boat made of wood. The plane flew only once, in 1947, and is now on display at an aviation museum in McMinnville, Oregon.
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