2006.01.25 A tribute to Howard Hughes

Written by David Green.

By JEFF PICKELL

Some say he was the last of a dying breed—the evil, stark-raving, megalomaniacal lunatic billionaire. He was never too afraid to be afraid of a non-existent threat, never too poor to dump millions of dollars into the liquidation thereof, and never too sane to realize just how crazy he was to feel threatened in the first place.

Take, for instance, nuclear testing in the Nevada desert. Plenty of millionaires today are against the testing of nuclear weapons, but that’s mostly because they’re against nuclear proliferation. Howard Hughes, on the other hand, was against nuclear testing because he was afraid of “the contamination” the distant detonation would rain down on the Las Vegas hotel he was holed up in.

Lesser maniac billionaires, when faced with the non-threat of contamination from an explosion hundreds of miles away, would’ve folded. They would have packed up their years and years worth of unread newspapers and their meticulously labeled jars of urine and found a new penthouse to hide in. But Howard Hughes was not your garden variety madman.

He had vested interests in Las Vegas, like his own TV station, which he demanded stay on 24 hours a day so he would have something to watch when the other broadcasts ended. And his various mistresses, which he kept stationed around the city but refused to let anywhere near him.

So, no, moving just would not do. Hughes was convinced the Department of Defense just had to find somewhere else to test their little bombs. And he approached presidents Johnson and Nixon with $1 million bribes to that effect.

As legend has it, after reading Hughes’ memo, Nixon said “Just who in the hell does Howard Hughes think he is?”

Legend also has it that it was the only bribe Nixon ever declined, and that alone speaks volumes of Hughes’ self-serving psychosis.

Hughes came from the golden age of evil billionaires, when William Randolph Hearst owned the media, and Kennedys were bought and sold like toy soldiers. These men didn’t care about the money. These men weren’t in the game for any kind of material gain. No. These men were evil, and they were hellbent on world domination, plain and simple. It is my belief that, somewhere along the line, evil billionaires forgot this purpose.

Now, instead of concocting devious schemes that amount to hair brained stabs at power, billionaires are concerned with finances, throwing around terms like “maximizing profit” and “marketing to the target consumers” and “swindling the pants off our stockholders.”

And they’ve gotten sloppy. Take the Enron execs. Do you think Howard Hughes would’ve gotten caught with his pants down like they did? Of course he would’ve, and he did, but the difference is, Hughes was addicted to so many pharmaceuticals that he knew he wouldn’t survive detox, so he fled the country and lived the rest of his life on the lam. Like a true evil billionaire, for Hughes, the drugs were always more important than the money.

It almost puts shame in my heart to pick up an issue of Time Magazine and see Bill Gates, the richest man on the planet, named Man of the Year. I like to think of April 1976, when Hughes himself was on the cover of that magazine, dressed only in a robe, clinging, with hands full of Kleenex, to the burly man carrying him. They say he squandered $150 million in his final five years alone.

Of course, the Time cover was an artist’s interpretation—Hughes was too far gone by this point to even consider letting himself be photographed, but you could still see it in his eyes, that nostalgic, cancerous glimmer that said “I’d buy all the air in the world if only the government would let me.”

I’m going to avoid moralizing—it’s not in the best interest of evil, but I will ask this of you: next time you hear tell of Ted Turner buying a million square acres of Montana land for horseback riding, or of Rupert Murdoch pandering to Communist China, or of Michael Jackson’s addiction to plastic surgery, remember the cowardly, compulsive son of a tool baron who started it all—Howard Hughes.

– Jan. 25, 2006
  • Play Practice
    DRAMA—Fayette schools, in conjunction with the Opera House Theater program, will present two plays Friday night at the Fayette Opera House. From the left is Autumn Black, Wyatt Mitchell, Elizabeth Myers, Jonah Perdue, Sam Myers (in the back) and Lauren Dale. Other cast members are Brynn Balmer, Mason Maginn, Ashtyn Dominique, Stephanie Munguia and Sierra Munguia. Jason Stuckey serves as the technician and Trinity Leady is the backstage manager. The plays will be performed during the day Friday for students and for the public at 7 p.m. Friday.
  • Front.F.school
    PROGRESS continues on the agriculture classroom addition at Fayette High School. The project will add 2,900 square feet of space and include an overhead door that would allow equipment to be driven inside. The building should be ready for the start of school in August. Work on ball fields and a running track is also underway.
  • Front.rover
    CLEARING THE WAY—Road crossings in the area on the construction route of the Rover natural gas pipeline are marked with poles and flags as preliminary work nears. Ditches and field entry points are covered with thick planks in many areas to support equipment for tree clearing operations. Actual pipeline construction is progressing across Ohio toward a collecting station near Defiance. That segment of the project is expected to wrap up in July. The 42-inch line through Michigan and into Ontario is scheduled for completion in November. The line is projected to transport 3.25 billion cubic feet of natural gas every day.
  • Front.geese
    ON THE MOVE—Six goslings head out on manuevers with their parents in an area lake. Baby waterfowl are showing up in lakes and ponds throughout the area.
  • Accident
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  • Front.teacher Leading
    PRESCHOOL MUSIC—Fayette band director Jeffrey Dunford spends the last half hour of the day leading the full-day preschool class in musical activities. Additional photos are on page 7 of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Face Paint
    FUN NIGHT FUN—Savanna Miles sits patiently while Abbie White works on a face paint design Friday during the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Gracie Snead watches the progress after having spent time in the chair. Abbie was one of several volunteer painters, each creating their own unique look. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.

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