TRIVIA QUESTION: How Did Howard Hughes Stop The Great Publishing Hoax of 1972?


ANSWER: After a 1946 plane crash in Beverly Hills, Howard Hughes went into seclusion. He recovered from his injuries but had a long term addiction to pain killers. For the next three decades he was well known for his refusal to meet with anyone.
The top executives of his major companies (Hughes Aircraft, RKO, TWA and the Hughes Medical Center) never met him. Hughes owned seven casinos in Las Vegas and had over 8000 employees in the state, but despite repeated demands, he refused to meet with the Nevada Gaming Commission. He finally left Nevada after five years to avoid them.
By 1971, he had spent the previous 14 years living in various hotels. Throughout the 1960s he was one of only two U.S. billionaires (the other was J. Paul Getty).
Hughes was an outstanding business success and a high profile celebrity. He was romantically linked to Ava Gardner, Olivia de Havilland, Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers and Gene Tierney.
His life changed dramatically after a July 7, 1946 plane crash. He was the pilot in an XF-11 reconnaissance plane his company built for the U.S. Army Air Force, and he was never the same person again. His behavior was erratic and several professionals thought he was suffering from an obsessive–compulsive disorder.
The billionaire tried to avoid publicity but on December 7, 1971, McGraw-Hill announced it was planning to publish his “authorized” biography. They claimed to have a signed authorization from Hughes, and the book by author Clifford Irving contained an introduction allegedly written by the billionaire as well as numerous interviews.
Irving also had forged handwritten letters. He was interviewed by the CBS program “60 Minutes” and Mike Wallace said Irving was telling the truth. Time magazine said the same thing, and Life magazine also claimed the book was authentic.
A handwriting expert said the Hughes letters were genuine, while a lie detector test was inconclusive. Irving received a $765,000 advance from McGraw Hill for both Hughes and himself.
A second hoax biography was about to be serialized in Ladies Home Journal. Hughes immediately issued a statement saying the books were a fraud, but that did not satisfy anyone. The story received huge media coverage for the next month, and the publishing firms would not back down.
The authors were surprised on January 9, 1972 when Hughes agreed to a three hour telephone interview with seven prominent journalists he had previously known. The journalists said that as soon as they heard Hughes’ distinctive Texas accent they knew it was him. The press conference was televised but only the journalists were seen.
They asked him difficult questions that only Hughes could answer, and his recall of events that had taken place decades earlier was excellent. He spoke of the Lockheed Constellation he helped design and his first visit to Paradise Island.
Hughes was asked about an interview he had with one of the journalists thirty years earlier in an empty aircraft hanger, and he remembered everything. The journalist had never written about those details and said “This is definitely Howard Hughes.”
Clifford Irving confessed to fraud on January 28th after it was revealed his wife had opened a Swiss bank account in the name “H.R. Hughes” and into which the McGraw-Hill advance for Hughes had been deposited. Irving spent 17 months in jail and had to return the entire advance.
In 1981 he wrote “The Hoax” about his crime, and it was made into a 2006 film with Richard Gere which received favorable reviews. Significant parts of the movie were filmed in my hometown, Armonk, NY.
Hughes died in 1976 at age 70 without a will, and his estate was worth $2.5 billion. All lights on the Las Vegas Strip were dimmed for one minute in his memory.
A 2004 movie about Hughes, “The Aviator”, was directed by Martin Scorsese and starred Leonardo DiCaprio and won five Academy Awards. The tagline of the movie was “Some men dream the future. He built it.”
“Howard Hughes, The Untold Story” by Peter Brown concludes “His legacy is in the skies and in Las Vegas and on the screen. To Hughes, the skies were there to conquer; the desert was a frontier, not a wasteland; and the censorship codes were something to fight, not fear. He also left a stunning medical bequest…..the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.”
It is today the second-largest philanthropic organization (after the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), with an endowment of $11 billion and annual spending of about $450 million. The Hughes staff includes seven Nobel Prize winners.
Howard Hughes is one of the select few who received the Congressional Gold Medal. It must be approved by a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate, and is America’s highest civilian honor. The award was made in 1939 to honor his aviation accomplishments.

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One response to “TRIVIA QUESTION: How Did Howard Hughes Stop The Great Publishing Hoax of 1972?

  1. debra strandberg

    Thanks, learned a few things i did not already know. The life of Howard Hughes has always intrested me.

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