“My father told me, never have partners.” (Howard Hughes)
“I’m not a paranoid, deranged millionaire.” (Howard Hughes)
Howard Hughes lived a life that was quintessentially American, and his personal history was so varied, improbable, and extraordinary that he practically resembled a living folk hero. Hughes was barely in his 20s during America’s Roaring Twenties, but he had already begun to command the nation’s headlines as a multitalented millionaire, and the varied pastimes that his talents and wealth afforded him made him nearly impossible to ignore. In the ’20s and ’30s, the most famous people in the country were generally gangsters, jazz musicians, inventors, baseball players, Hollywood stars, or flying aces, and by the end of the ’30s, the 35-year-old Hughes was at least three, and arguably four, of those; perhaps learning to play jazz or hit home runs seemed greedy at that point.
After receiving a handsome inheritance in his teens, Howard made himself into one of the world’s first billionaires by the time he was in middle age, so he clearly wasted no time. Already a tycoon at the age of 20, Hughes took no pleasure in rest or success, and his accomplishments were just as unique as the man himself. He made Oscar-nominated films while simultaneously becoming the fastest man on the planet by setting airspeed records in a plane of his own invention, but even as he became a national celebrity, he displayed little interest in other people. A consummate loner, he rarely interacted with the elite social circles to which he had access unless business necessitated it, instead surrounding himself with employees to carry out the practical matters of his empire, make his designs into reality, cobble together his film productions, and organize the disparate parts of his life according to his precise specifications. He was known to millions and managed a diverse empire, but was a friend to no one.