US industrialist, aviator, and film producer whose obsessive privacy in later life led to considerable speculation and a notorious fraud case.
When his father died in 1924, Hughes took control of Hughes Tool Company, which held the patent on a drilling bit used in oil and gas exploration. This was the basis of Hughes's fortune. After he had attended the Rice Institute of Technology, Houston, and also the California Institute of Technology, in 1926 Hughes made his debut as a Hollywood film producer. Hell's Angels (1930), featuring Jean Harlow, was a box-office success. Later Hughes films included Scarface (1932) and The Outlaw (1941), with Jane Russell (1921– ) in her first starring role.
The founding of the Hughes Aircraft Corporation enabled Hughes to indulge his passion for flying and in 1935 he set a new record speed of 352 mph in a plane of his own design. Three years later he made a record round-the-world flight in 91 hr 14 min piloting a Lockheed 14. Hughes was less successful with his massive eight-engined flying boat designed for 750 passengers. It managed a flight of just one mile, in 1947.
Hughes shunned public life for the last twenty-five years of his life, living in almost total seclusion except for his bodyguard. In 1971, author Clifford Irving sold the publication rights for what he claimed to be Hughes's personal memoirs. These were subsequently discovered to be a fake and Irving and his wife were convicted of fraud. Hughes died on a flight from Acapulco to Houston for medical treatment.
Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).