Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Howard Hughes, Part II

Hughes in 1930

According to his father’s will, Howard had been left with 75% of the Hughes Tool Company – not what Howard had in mind. He badgered his grandparents, aunts and uncles into selling him their stock so that he would have complete control of the company. He even engaged in homosexual activity with his Uncle Rupert in order to have Rupert petition his stubborn parents into selling.

This became the norm to Howard – he’d use whatever ammunition it took to accomplish his task – usually in the form of sex combined with lots and lots of cash. He was also young, rich, handsome and virile at a time when the Hollywood lifestyle was a temple to debauchery, and Hughes was at its epicenter.

As a school boy, Howard had been rebuffed by a young girl named Ella Rice, daughter of the prominent Houston family for whom Rice University is named. When Howard was six years old, Ella had humiliated him by returning his Valentine card. Howard vowed to get even with her some day. Fast forward to 1925, when Howard was back in Texas tending to business at the Hughes Tool Company. Ella was still around, and Howard hatched a plan to woo her, then humiliate her. Trouble was, she was now engaged to a fellow known as James Winston. James never knew what hit him. Howard focused all his attention on the boy, seduced him, gifted him with a yellow Duesenberg and an envelope containing $25,000. Worked like a charm. With James Winston out of the way, Ella and Howard were married on June 1, 1925. Dudley Sharp was Howard’s best man. At the age of nineteen years and seven months, Howard owned 100% of the Hughes Tool Company and had talked a young lady, who had humiliated him when a child, into marrying him. He was just getting warmed up.

Later Howard told his Hollywood pal Billy Haines (see post of August 5) that, on the day of the wedding, “I was so nervous I had to get sucked off by Dudley to calm my nerves before the ceremony.” Just after the ceremony, while embracing Dudley in private, Howard said, “You should never have let me go through with the ceremony. Ella will never mean as much to me as you do.” While on his honeymoon on Long Island, Howard wrote to Dudley, “My marriage is a disaster. Ella and I are not sexually compatible!”

A debonaire pilot:

Upon returning to Los Angeles, the first person Hughes called was Billy Haines, who asked, “Are you a staid old married man now, or can we go out on the town and raise hell?” Hughes answered that he was married “in name only.” Upon checking into the same hotel where his father had bedded countless women, Howard asked to be placed in a suite with separate bedrooms, instead of the honeymoon suite, which had been reserved. Hughes left his newlywed to her own devices and went out with Haines, not returning until eight o’clock the next morning. Thus began a time of protracted humiliation of Ella (she should never have returned that Valentine!). By this time, Hughes was already displaying eccentric traits that would dominate his later years. He seldom shook anyone’s hand for fear of germs. He was later to display obsessive-compulsive behavior of such exaggerated proportion that it boggles the mind. He was also dealing with a serious loss of hearing.

Hughes had a brief affair with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., who went on to marry Joan Crawford. After their divorce, Miss Crawford forever rebuffed Howard’s requests for a date. Said Joan, “I adore homosexuals, but not in my bed after midnight.”
Howard was somewhat alarmed to learn that he had quite the reputation as a bisexual around Hollywood. When he was approached by actress Madge Bellamy (who famously turned down the female lead in Ben-Hur, Ramón Novarro’s greatest triumph), she said, “I hear you’ve already had Ben-Hur (a reference to Novarro), so why not sample the actress who turned down the picture?”

Hughes formed a Hollywood film production company and scoured the town for star material. He had uncompromising taste in beauty. He didn’t care if a person was male or female – Howard just had to have whoever was the handsomest, the most beautiful. For three years Hughes maintained a sexual relationship with a young, upcoming Gary Cooper, buying him cars, clothes and other lavish gifts along the way. Cooper’s eventual replacement was a young, blond William Boyd*, later known to millions as Hopalong Cassidy.

*Bisexual actor Richard Arlen was hosting an all male nude beach party at a secluded cove on Catalina Island, and Hughes asked William Boyd to tag along with him. Somehow a photographer got close enough to snap nude photos of Hughes and Boyd, which became the talk of Hollywood. RKO, Boyd’s studio, was having apoplexy (an interesting aside is that later, in 1948, Hughes took over the reins at RKO and ran it into the ground; they were out of business ten years later). When Hughes and Ben Lyon were having an “off-the-record” weekend in Mexico, they were photographed engaging in a torrid kiss. It took thousands of dollars to buy back the negative. Pocket change for Hughes.

Howard Hughes as film director, wearing his trademark argyle socks:

Obsessed with aviation and movie making, in 1927 Hughes began shooting an epic film about fighter pilots, Hells’ Angels, that would not be completed until 1930, an astonishing circumstance at a time when the average film was completed in three or four weeks. Hughes, who made the film with $3.8 million of his own money, directed the dogfight scenes himself and performed some of the aerial stunts. Amazingly, the film went on to earn a $4 million profit and made Jean Harlow a star.

The next years were a blur of activity. By 1928 Hughes had his pilot’s license. Two Arabian Nights, a film Hughes produced, won an Academy Award in 1929. Howard and Ella, who had been separated for over a year, divorced in 1929. Hughes decided that Hell’s Angels would have to be a talking film and reshot all the scenes with dialogue, doubling the film’s cost. He was seriously injured in a plane crash while making Hell’s Angels (he did some of the stunt flying himself). Moving on, Howard founded the Hughes Aircraft Company in 1932, and  Hughes was chasing fame and fortune with unbridled zeal. He was twenty seven years old.

By the 1930s Howard learned that sharing details of his private life could get him into trouble. Soon Cary Grant (photo at right) became his only confidant, a friend to whom he could tell anything. Since Grant himself was miles deep in the closet, this was a safe policy (insiders say that Cary Grant was the one great love of Howard’s life). Hughes soon became obsessed with his own privacy, and like most things in his life, he carried it to wild extremes.

To be continued...

Howard Hughes: The Secret Life (1993) by Charles Higham
Howard Hughes: Hell’s Angel (2005) by Darwin Porter


  1. I think that it was Cary Grant which Hughes showered with gifts for three years, not Gary Cooper.

  2. Your remarks about James O Winston Jr are incorrect. He did not meet Ella until after she was married to Hughes, and once divorced, she married him. They remained happily married for 60+ years until her death. There were no gifts to him from Hughes.....but it makes for a more torid story.

  3. Not according to the two biographies I read. Noah Dietrich was an employee and confident of Howard Hughes. Not only did he run Mr. Hughes’s industrial empire for 32 years, he wrote a biography, Howard: The Amazing Mr. Hughes (1972). Because many of the key players were still alive upon publication of this book, Dietrich’s mention of the Winston-Rice-Hughes relationship is absurdly simplistic – that Hughes feigned severe illness to win Rice away from Winston. Even though this scenario is extremely unlikely, it too has Rice dating Winston before Hughes came back on the scene. The source for the version I relate in this post was Dudley Sharp himself. Sharp was the best man at the wedding of Hughes and Rice.

  4. In the movie The Aviator there is no mention about Hughes' homosexuality. Why have they eluded that subject if it is not a taboo thing nowadays? (In the occidental culture, of course).

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  6. How did he and Ella get married on June 1, 1930 and then divorce in 1929 "after being separated for over a year"?
    This is an extremely unorganized article; it's all over the place, many of the "facts" are wrong and it is poorly written.

    1. From your blogger:
      It's called a typo. Howard and Ella were married in 1925. The "facts" are from the sources I cite. I challenge you to prove that they are wrong, and that you are an authority on Hughes. If you were, I doubt that you'd be hiding behind an anonymous post. It's cheap and easy to be snarky behind the mask of anonymity.

  7. Billie Dove said Howard was happiest in cabin with dirt floor.
    Whereas,Katherine Hepburn said
    Howard like things clean & was
    a perfectionist & orderly in place.
    Howard Hughes uncircumcized man.Felt that he was inaquate of being male.Hughes had mother take care of him .His father did not have much to do with him. Hughes 1st girl friend he showered her with jewelry which he did with most any female he ever had. Infact Hughes gave Dudley a ring he stole from his mother jewelry box gave it to him. Howard Hughes clickish with Randolph Scott, Cary Grant, Errol Flynn, Danny Kaye and others. Infact he would take them on his airplane they all would fly to some secret place.Hughes was well known for take off and being gone for a while .Infact people did not when he was come back. Hughes expect his Chef to wrap his silverwear in plastic wrap (like McD does now) to make sure it is sterlized also the Chef had to sterilize his cooking Utensils and Cook food/prepare it in a certain way other wise he would not eat it.
    Hughes like homemade fudge, Steak,ice cream,normal kinds of things .Hughes was very particular what he put in his mouth & what he put on his hands.Germophobic Hughes.So was Nik Nicolay aka Verner Nicely Howard Hughes?
    Did he marry Eva Campbell McLelland Or Jean Peters?

  8. I doubt that Gary Cooper and Howard Hughes were ever "involved"--Once "Coop" bedded Clara Bow, a known nymphomaniac, he became addicted to the openly sexual actresses of the 1930's- Marlene Dietrich and others