December 11, 2018

The Truth About Howard Hughes and Me–No Hoax

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Theatres from Portland, Maine to Walla Walla, Washington brim with film-goers salivating for the truth about Howard Hughes. Did he really walk around with his feet in Kleenex boxes? Is it true that the Japanese stole a secret design from Hughes and manufactured the deadly Zero? Did he really have eight wives and never sleep with any of them because he was fearful of germs?

Furthermore, what about the tale that he escaped from his corporate captors in Las Vegas, and fled into the desert? After he crashed his Harley way out there in the dry, dusty desert in the pre-dawn darkness, the contentious mogul was allegedly rescued by a young Utah man to whom he reportedly signed over a chunk of his billion dollar fortune to show his appreciation.

And what about Clifford Irving? Was he truly one of the slimiest literary con men in the tawdry history of tawdry literary con men? If he was a fraud, however, why did Hughes’ men leak him damaging evidence against President Nixon?

Well, no one asked me, and that was way too bad for them, because you see, Hughes was my uncle. I say again, I was Hughes’s nephew. Yes indeed. And it was because of that connection that the editor of an effete Eastern rag ordered me to the smog-encased cuckoo land, otherwise known as L.A. Believe this or not, my assignment was to sneak into a giant, secret hanger in Long Beach where the infamous Spruce Goose, the gigantic cargo airplane, was hidden, and take photos, interview pilots, whatever.

Why was I was selected to do this, me with two small children and a perpetually nervous spouse? I was selected to do this because the previous correspondent for the effete Eastern rag that paid us had been chased away by men with Winchester rifles and told that anyone else from the staff of the effete Eastern rag were surely have their knees broken—or worse.

Could this be the work of my uncle Howard? Surely were he to learn that I was in town, he’d order his thugs to back off and let me take a photo of the plane which flew once for 20 seconds. Now my task was to find my uncle in a town full of thieves and vultures, busy with cutthroat agents and lots of men with foreign monikers carrying violin cases that didn’t contain violins. A friend of mine whose uncle produced shorts for W.C. Fields, took me to a saloon on the sunset strip known to be a beehive of gossip, where the likes of Dick and Liz, Barbara Stanwyck, and the Duke consumed adult beverages. The man who knew it all was Danny the Bartender, a legend in his trade for the mallet kept below the bar should someone misbehave. The mallet showed wear.

Now Danny and I had mutual friends and one of them worked for my Uncle Howard though he didn’t know that I was related to his boss. I knew the man slightly and so to force the issue, I followed him to the men’s room to find a way to reach my uncle. Times were tense! Wall Street was trying to take TWA away from my uncle. Senior bankers made it known that if my uncle didn’t show up at a certain court hearing, he’d be fined—big time. By the time I arrived in the men’s room, after walking past colored photos of Errol Flynn, Jack Barrymore, Dana Andrews and Fanny Bryce, I found the Hughes man cursing, banging his fist against the gold leaf embossed wall. In between curses he yelled into the sink, “Long Sam, don’t let the bastards get you. Skip the court appearance, listen to me.”

Well, I was on deadline, so I left the men’s room scene without disturbing the pitiable man and returned to the Beverly Hills office of an effete eastern magazine to cable that quote to the editor in New York, attributable to a Hughes staffer. For a moment I forgot about trying to find my uncle, for I had a new assignment: A succession of cocktails with Hedy Lamarr, whose face still stopped clocks from one end of Europe to the other. Don’t ask what happened. But a few days later I stopped by the celebrated saloon to get the latest gossip and ask Danny about our mutual friend who worked for my uncle.

“Guess you haven’t heard,” murmured Danny. “Old man Hughes saw a quote in a magazine that used the name Long Sam. Well, our friend’s been suspended, his daughter’s wedding cancelled and his office cleaned out. You work for that rag? Know anything about it? You see, our friend was the only person that called him Long Sam, you know, the woman from Lil Abner? What have you heard?”

“Nothing,” I lied. Now I had to find Uncle Howard. The time had come to set the record straight. Just then the phone in the bar rang. Danny said that it was for me, some man who didn’t say who he was. Here’s what the voice said, “I know what you’ve been saying. I’m sending some of my boys over to pick you up. We’re going for a ride in the desert. I never knocked up your aunt! And Boris Karloff is your real uncle.”

“I don’t believe it,” I replied, “You are Howard Hughes.”

At that, the man, whoever he was, hung up. But I know who it was.

At least I think I know.

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