By Marc Kelley
Syndicated by: Montana News
It's fairly safe to say, most have us have heard the name Howard Hughes and we have heard many stories about the reclusive billionaire. As do many with unique personality types, Howard Hughes lived a life of his own choosing. From the very beginning, it seems Hughes was destined to live a life outside of the mainstream; yet, flourish as both a celebrity and business tycoon.
Howard Hughes was born in Humble, Texas, December 24, 1905, to parents, Howard Hughes Sr and his wife Allene. As if writing the history of their only child, it was clear Howard Hughes Sr, walked to the beat of a different drummer. In 1892, the elder Hughes entered Harvard University, with the intention of following in his Father's footsteps, as an attorney. However, after only one year, he became disinterested in the rigors and strict expectations that accompany a law career, leaving Harvard to become an entrepreneur. Hughes tried and failed at several different endeavors, before moving to Humble,Texas. In 1901, oil was discovered just outside Beaumont, Texas and the young Hughes was eager to capitalize on the new found industry as a "wildcatter".
Discovering the difficulty of drilling thru the hard rock, Texas ground with the "fishtail" drill bits of the time, Hughes put his brain to work and developed a vastly superior, two cone, roller cutting bit, which would ultimately revolutionize the oil drilling business. In 1909 Hughes patented his design and with his partner, Walter Sharp, the pair founded the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company. In 1912, Walter Sharp died and Howard Hughes Sr, purchased his shares in the company and changed the name to the Hughes Tool Company. In 1924, Howard Hughes Sr. died, leaving the entire company and its fortune to his son Howard Jr. and, at the age of 18, Howard Hughes was a millionaire.
After his fathers death, Hughes, following in his fathers footsteps, dropped out of Rice University to manage his new company. Once again, like his father before him Hughes became disenchanted with the daily grind of running a large company, and in 1925 set out for the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and the silver screen. In 1926 Hughes produced his first movie entitled "Swell Hogan", a comedy which turned out to be a disaster, failing to recoup its initial investment, let alone turn a profit. Four other films followed which did in fact make money including the 1927 film Two Arabian Knights, which won the Academy Award for Best Director. Hughes most notable film, entitled, The Outlaw, was released in 1946, and told the classic tale of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and starred a scantily clad, curvy brunette, by the name of Jane Russell.
Over the next several years Howard Hughes continued to stay busy managing his holdings which now included ownership of Trans World Airlines (TWA), his film business and the development of the Hughes H-4 Hercules or "Spruce Goose". The Hughes H-4 Hercules is a prototype strategic airlift flying boat intended as a transatlantic flight transport for use during World War II. Built from wood as a result of wartime restrictions on the use of aluminum, it was nicknamed the Spruce Goose. Made almost entirely of birch, the aircraft is the largest flying boat ever built, as well as having the largest wingspan of any aircraft ever flown. While the H-4 Hercules contributed to the mystique of Howard Hughes, the aircraft made but one flight on November 2, 1947; thereafter, to find its home at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon.
In the early 1950's the "cold war" was in full swing and the US began testing nuclear weapon at the Nevada proving Grounds, some sixty-five miles outside of Las Vegas. By 1966, Howard Hughes was in the full grasp of the mental condition known as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Feeling persecuted by the media and the Justice Department, in November 1966, Hughes moved into the the Penthouse of the Desert Inn in Las Vegas. Increasingly paranoid and plagued by delusions, Hughes used his wealth and influence to purchase the Sands, the Frontier, the Silver Slipper and the Landmark Casinos, hoping to insulate himself from the outside world, which he considered unclean.
As a major business owner in Las Vegas businesses, Hughes wielded much political and economic influence. During the 1960s and early 1970s, he fixated on the underground nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site.Convinced he was at risk from nuclear radiation, Hughes began intensive, albeit delusional efforts to stop the testing, going so far as to instruct his top aids to offer million-dollar bribes to both Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon.
As Howard Hughes became more and more reclusive, his closest aids attempted to provide some degree of normalcy to his life. Hughes became obsessed with Baskin-Robbins, banana nut ice cream and instructed his staff to secure a bulk shipment to be sent to Las Vegas. After learning Baskin-Robbins had discontinued the flavor, Hughes aides began a search to secure the discontinued ice cream from distributors inventories. After an extensive search, 350 gallons of the ice cream was in fact secured and shipped to the Las Vegas Casino. Only days after the ice cream arrived in the desert, Howard Hughes made the announcement, he no longer would eat banana nut ice cream and now wanted only French Vanilla. In what many feel was the beginning of the concept of providing casino gambles with incentives to keep then at the tables and slot machines, the Desert Inn, began giving free, Baskin-Robbins, banana nut ice cream to their patrons. In a 1996 interview, Robert Mahue, a long time spokesman for Howard Hughes, and Chief Executive Officer for the Nevada operation, indicated, there continues to be a large supply of banana nut ice cream available at the casino, to anyone who would like to give it a try.
Even though, Hughes owned a total of seventeen resorts and casinos in Las Vegas, the operations never truly performed up to expectations. Slowly and methodically the Mafia regained control of the gambling operations in Las Vegas. Howard Hughes was out, but the practice of providing incentives to keep gamblers at the tables continues to this day, with free drinks, all you can eat buffets and of course FREE banana nut ice cream.