SEATTLE, Washington - My obsessiveness in reading Howard Hughes books closely parallels the obsessions of the old man himself. Below are some notes and comments, not really reviews, of the Hughes books that I've read, in the order that I first read them. I've read most of them several times.
Howard Hughes: His Life and Madness by Donald Barlett & James Steele
I have the 1979 edition of this book, when it was called Empire. (Hughes died in 1976.) The authors are Philadelphia newspaper reporters, and the book materially and stylistically reflects this - it is fairly light on the tits and ass, and long on the business dealings. The authors are quite critical of the Mormon Mafia and are not in love with Bob Maheu either. Hughes is portrayed as almost completely incompetent in his last year or two. Written so soon after Hughes's death, certain details are missing (e.g. later developments in the estate battle, and some of the Watergate revelations.)
Best/unique things about this book: Most detailed coverage of various legal battles, including TWA, Air West, and the 1947 Senate hearings; probably the best coverage of the Glomar Explorer affair; detailed coverage of the 1975 Mell Stewart enema showdown.
Hughes: The Private Diaries, Memos, and Letters by Richard Hack
Hack is a celebrity biographer, and that's the nature of the book - heavy on the ladies, light on the litigation. Probably as breezy a read and as good of an introduction to Hughes as any of the books. Some saucy stuff, but nothing outlandish. Heavy coverage of the mid-to-late 1930s, Hughes's most active time with women, and almost no coverage of 1961-1966, when Hughes was living in Bel Air and consumed with TWA litigation. Does not fawn over Maheu even though Hack co-authored Maheu's memoir (discussed below).
Best/unique things about this book: Contains the full, nine-part, 3-page single spaced Hughes memo on how to open a can of fruit.
Howard Hughes: The Untold Story by Peter Harry Brown and Pat Broeske
Another tits-and-ass effort by two entertainment writers. In terms of sheer volume of women discussed, this is the top book by far. The authors had access to Hughes's "security chief" (actually, more like Director of Surveilling Women) Jeff Chouinard (who, mysteriously, is not mentioned in any other book as far as I can recall,) and he provided piles of details on the chick scene from the late 1940s onward. The authors are fairly critical of Bill Gay and the Mormon Mafia. This book attributes Hughes's erratic late-life behavior to undiagnosed neurosyphilis.
Best/unique things about this book: Most detail on Hughes's marriage to Ella Rice in the 1920s; best coverage of how Hughes worked on the mothers of the young women he was pursuing.
The Passions of Howard Hughes by Terry Moore & Jerry Rivers
Hughes staged a bogus wedding in international waters with the young starlet Moore in 1949 to get her into bed. It worked. Moore later claimed to be married to Hughes for 8 years, which is interesting because she married another guy in 1951, divorced him, and married yet another guy in 1956. This book consists of vignettes (with lots of dialogue cobbled up by Moore) on various business and sexual escapades. Much of it reads like Hustler Forum letters. But, in books like this, it's the spirit that counts, not the narrow correctness of the dialogue, and Jane Russell said that this is the only book she ever read that captures the essence of the real Hughes.
Best/unique things about this book: Attributes the following dialogue to entertainment legends:
- Billie Dove: "Get the champagne and pour it over my feet and up my legs and onto my pussy... now be a good boy, Howard, and lick it all up."
- Marilyn Monroe: "I dyed my pussy just for you, Howard."
- Bette Davis: "Or were you dreaming about my tummy and how smooth it would be, and how it would feel when you ran your hand over my stomach down to my pussy and how silky the hair would feel?" - "I'm going to show you what it's like to fuck a real woman." - "Can Katie Hepburn offer you this?" - "I'm going to show you what the word 'fuck' really means."
Citizen Hughes: The Power, the Money and the Madness by Michael Drosnin
This book covers a narrow time period, the Vegas years (1966-1970) and the immediate aftermath, and is based largely on memos stolen from Hughes's Romaine Street headquarters (pic of the HQ that I snapped here) in 1974. Drosnin also wrote The Bible Code, that's not a good sign, but still, this book is valuable for direct, extensive quoting of Hughes memos from the relevant time frame. Many of the memos are between Hughes and Bob Maheu (see Maheu review below.) Drosnin is pretty hard on the Mormons.
Best/unique things about this book: Most detailed coverage of Watergate issues; entire chapter on Hughes's dislike of blacks; excellent coverage of Hughes's dithering regarding the party to open the Landmark casino in 1969.
Next to Hughes by Robert Maheu and Richard Hack
Maheu first started working with Hughes in the 1950s and served as his Vegas top dog and alter-ego in the late 1960s, all without ever meeting the big guy. Maheu mixes discussion of his work with Hughes with the stuff he was doing on the side, like arranging to have his mob pals murder Fidel Castro. Maheu blasts Bill Gay, who orchestrated the ouster of Maheu from the Hughes empire in 1970-71, as being the greedy bad guy in all of this (which some claim Maheu was) and essentially "killing" Hughes through drugs and isolation. Kirkus reviews called this book the "self-servingly selective reminiscences of a world-class hustler" and "a graceless, narcissistic, score-settling apologia."
Best/unique things about this book: Actually, considering who wrote this book, it is rather light on details. The best parts are the parts only tangentially related to Hughes (like the Castro business.) Maybe this really is "selective reminiscences." I learned more about the Hughes-Maheu relationship from the Drosnin book than from the Maheu book.
Howard Hughes: The Secret Life by Charles Higham
Prolific celebrity author Higham makes the most controversial claims of all - that Hughes was a prolific, practicing bisexual and died of AIDS or an AIDS-like disease. In addition to extensive, sordid coverage of Hughes's heterosexual action, Higham alleges homosexual action between Hughes and (among others) Jack Buetel, Tyrone Power, Randolph Scott, and Cary Grant (the last two pictured here). This book is nonjudgmental, almost to the point of apologetic, about the role of Bill Gay and the Mormons in Hughes's late life isolation and physical decline. The Hughes in this book is colder and more uncaring than in any other portrayal.
Best/unique things about this book: Best coverage of Stewart Granger's idea to murder Hughes, and the actual physical attacks Hughes suffered at the hands of Glen Davis and Oleg Cassini.
The Asylum of Howard Hughes by Jack Real & Bill Yenne
Jack Real worked with Hughes for years when he was an executive with Lockheed, and eventually started working for Hughes himself in the last years of Hughes's life. He was the only "friend" Hughes had in his last years, the only man who regularly saw Hughes who was not a part of the Mormon Mafia. Real is vicious in his portrayal of Bill Gay and most of the Mormon aides. Interestingly, he portrays Chester Davis in a somewhat warmer light than Gay, where most writers portray Gay and Davis as being birds of a feather. Most of the book covers the post-Vegas years (1971 to 1976) and thus has almost no coverage of Hughes's sexual adventures.
Best/unique things about this book: Has coverage of some Hughes business dealings that are not covered in any other book; extensive detail on Hughes's last few piloting experiences in England in 1973; a somewhat rose-tinted view of Anastasio Somoza; details Hughes's attempt to communicate a bribe offer to Del Webb via ESP.
The Mysterious Howard Hughes Revealed by Verl Frehner and Chuck Waldron
Chuck Waldron started working for the Hughes organization in 1957 and joined the inner inner circle of Hughes aides, controlled by Bill Gay, in 1971. He's not the aide Jack Real identified as the "good" one. Verl Frehner is just some guy, not an author, who became Waldron's neighbor in Las Vegas after Hughes's death, got to talking with Waldron about the Hughes years, and has written this book. Waldron is listed as the co-author but he's always referred to in the third person in the book. This is a strange, published-on-demand book that is written in an aw-shucks style and clearly has not been professionally edited. Gay and his Mormon troops are portrayed in the cheeriest possible light, dutifully carrying out Hughes's wishes. Hughes is portrayed as being a busy bee, wheeling and dealing up until about a month before he died, while all other authors portray a Hughes greatly slowed down in his last few years.
Best/unique things about this book: Detailed coverage of Hughes's "escape" from the Bahamas in 1972, and in general, the most detail on Hughes's moves from residence to residence in the 1970s.