What was it about Howard Hughes? Why was he catnip to so many beautiful Hollywood actresses?
Couldn’t have been his gorgeous good looks.
Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here today wondering if even our beloved Mrs. Norman Maine had an illicit affair with Hughes.
The great Hollywood raconteur Oscar Levant recalled in his The Memoirs of an Amnesiac (1965) that he and guests were once in Chasen’s Restaurant when a slovenly attired man came in and said hello to me. I cut him dead.
Someone said, ‘ That was Howard Hughes.’ Just to reveal my lack of character, I got up, went to his table, and shook hands with him. Howard Hughes’ whims and indulgences make any other Hollywood character look like a pygmy.
In her recollections of Hughes, actress Joan Fontaine — yet another of the mogul’s romantic interests — perhaps hit the nail on the head. She was put off by the fact that everything seemed to be a ‘deal,’ a business arrangement, regardless of the picture he had tried to paint of our future together.
Then why did Fontaine entertain Hughes’ romantic blandishments? Money is sexy and he certainly had a blinding overabundance of cash.
OK, this is where Linda Darnell comes in. Producer-director Otto Preminger noted in his Preminger: An Autobiography (1977) that Hughes was extremely successful with women, partly because of his quiet charm, partly because of his money, and mostly because of his persistence.
Preminger recalled that Hughes expressed an interest in meeting Darnell, the striking actress who at the time was married, and whose contract at Twentieth Century Fox had several years to run. “I don’t need to know him,” said a dismissive Darnell.
As Preminger tells it, the Howard Hughes seduction machine then kicked into high gear.
Although he was an accomplished golfer, Hughes enrolled in the same golf lessons that Darnell was taking at the time.
When she saw him there she naturally felt flattered. Hughes introduced himself to the actress, asking her ‘What harm could there be in the two of us having lunch together?’ Darnell said, yes, providing her agent could come along.
Hughes arrived at the appointed hour, picked up Darnell and agent in an old Chevrolet, and drove to his private airfield. Warming up on the landing strip was a Constellation, one of the biggest planes then in use. ‘What’s going on?, asked an alarmed Linda Darnell. ‘We are going to lunch,’ Hughes answered.
The three of them boarded the plane, with Hughes taking the controls. Destination — San Francisco.
There a car was waiting for them. They were driven to the Fairmont Hotel, which had a spectacular view of the city and the bay. Hughes had taken an entire floor of the hotel. A small orchestra played, a delicious buffet was laid out, and waiters served them with great solicitude, Preminger wrote in his memoir.
I don’t exactly know what happened except that Linda got a divorce from her cameraman husband a few months later.
She never married Hughes, though. It was Preminger’s view that at the time marriage was one human condition Hughes wanted to avoid at any price. (He did, however, wed actress Jean Peters in 1957. The couple divorced in 1971.)
Hughes is pictured above with Bette Davis. Another of his conquests. Her husband named Hughes in his divorce proceedings.