They often say that genius and madness always walk side by side. One of the wealthiest people in the world, Howard Hughes has become known worldwide for his outstanding achievements in different spheres, but through his entire life he could barely find peace and death turned out to be his only possible redeemer.
Howard Robard Hughes, Jr. (1905 – 1976) has lived a long life and managed to leave his brilliant trace in aviation and engineering, film making and directing, philanthropy and big business. He was presumably born in Houston, Texas to a talented inventor Howard R. Hughes, Sr. who in 1909 founded the Hughes Tool Company. By the age of nineteen, Howard R. Hughes, Jr. lost both his parents, but inherited a good sum of money, so that he could easily get engaged in what he was interested in. The sphere of his interests became clear in his early childhood. At 11 he constructed his first radio transmitter, at 12 he became locally known for his motorized bicycle, at 14 he took his first flying lesson and from that on flying became his lifelong passion. Unfortunately, this passion brought not only satisfaction and success to him, but also a lot of sufferings which never left him till the last day of his life.
In 1920s he directed his first films, and both of them, Everybody’s Acting and Two Arabian Knights immediately became successful among critics as well as viewers (Phelan 1976, p. 47). He won the first Academy Award for Best Director and later was often nominated for different awards too. His films were often controversial and maverick, but he knew how to win the public’s interest and was original and brave enough to say what he wanted to say. His attitude to cinema is probably one of the keys to understanding his complex personality.
He had a lot of women through his life, and was married several times, but Gene Tierney, one of his girlfriends, once admitted: “I don’t think Howard could love anything that did not have a motor in it”ť (Moore & Rivers 1996, p. 110). Hughes was a incorrigible aircraft enthusiast and pilot, and nothing could keep him away from the sky. He managed to set numerous world records (for example, in 1938 he flew around the world in 91 hours), and designed such influential machines as H-1 Racer, Hughes D-2, Boeing 307 Stratoliner and Lockheed L-049 Constellation. The first serious traumas were experienced by Hughes when he tested his Sikorsky S-43 in 1943. Hitting the upper control panel, Hughes got a severe gash on the top of his head. In 1946 oil leak led to the yawing of XF-11, and Hughes suffered significant injuries, including collar bone crushed, ribs cracked, left lung collapsed, and heart shifting to the right side of the chest cavity.
Howard Hughes took a lot of effort to survive, but pain never left him. It was a serious life test for him, and his metal health was also impacted by the accident. It is worthy to mention that even before traumas Hughes demonstrated signs of mental illness, first of all obsessive-compulsive disorder. For example, while directing The Outlaw in early 1940s he “became fixated on a minor flaw in one of Jane Russell’s blouses, claiming that the fabric bunched up along a seam and gave the appearance of two nipples on each breast”ť (Real 2003, p. 99). Before and after that he often got fixated on some unpleasant trivial details and could not stand seeing some dust or tine objects on the clothes of other people and so on. He was also known for constant mood swings, and in 1957 he spent several months in the darkened screening room all on his own, not washing himself and not cutting his hair and nails and isolating himself from any contact with the outside world, except writing memos for his aides. In 1976 his sufferings were over when he died because of kidney failure while he was on the board of an aircraft.