Howard Hughes Case Study In 1923, personal tragedy transformed the life of an eighteen-year-old Texan named Howard. This overprotected college freshman had never made a major decision for himself. When a heart attack killed his father, only two years after the death of his mother, Howard suddenly inherited three-fourths of the interest in the family's lucrative tool company. His uncle and grandparents, who owned the rest of the business, urged Howard to return to school. Despite his reputation as a shy and obedient boy, Howard refused. Within four months, he bought out his relatives' share in the company. By the time Howard was nineteen, a judge had granted him adult status, giving him full legal control of the million-dollar company(Barlett & Steele, 1979). However, he had no interest in running the family business. Instead, he wanted to become the world's top aviator and most famous motion picture producer. "Then," he told his accountant, "I want you to make me the richest man in the world" (Dietrich & Thomas, 1972, p. 73).By the time he was thirty eight, Howard Hughes was an American legend. He founded the Hughes Aircraft Company, manufacturer of the first spacecraft to land on the moon. He transformed Trans World Airlines into a $500 million empire. He designed and built airplanes for racing, military, and commercial uses. As a pilot, he broke many aviation records, capping his triumphs with a 1938 round-the-world flight.Ticker-tape parades in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Houston honored his achievement(Drosnin, 1985). However, long before that, when he was only twenty years old, he had already reaped national honors producing several films, among them an Academy Award winner. As head of the RKO film studio, Hughes used his power to fuel the 1950s anticommunist purge in Hollywood. Eventually,Hughes realized his ambition; he became the world's richest man.Despite his incredible public success, Howard Hughes was a deeply disturbed individual. As his empire expanded, he became increasingly disorganized. He began to focus so excessively on trivial details that he accomplished less and less. He became a recluse, sometimes vanishing for months at a time.Hughes's mishaps as a pilot and driver caused three deaths. On several occasions Hughes suffered serious head, face, and, perhaps, brain injuries; one near-fatal plane crash resulted in what became a lifetime addiction to codeine (Fowler, 1986). His risk taking extended to the world of finance as well,where he lost over $100 million of taxpayers', stockholders', and his own money (Dietrich & Thomas,1972).As he grew older, Hughes became obsessed with germs. On hearing a rumor that an actress he once dated had a venereal disease, he burned all his clothes, towels, and rugs. Eventually, the only people allowed to see him were members of his "Mormon guard," an elite cadre of men who never questioned his often bizarre orders. Those orders included instructions to "wash four distinct and separate times,using lots of lather each time from individual bars of soap" (Drosnin, 1985, p. 167). Anything their employer might touch they wrapped in fifty-tissue swaths of Kleenex; each box opened with a clean,unused knife.Paradoxically, Hughes lived in squalor. He rarely wore clothes or washed, never brushed his teeth, and used an unsterilized needle to inject himself with large doses of codeine. He stayed in bed for days at a time. The richest man in the world slowly starved his 6-foot, 4-inch frame to an emaciated 120 pounds.Looking to Hughes's childhood for clues to the paradox of his personality reveals many possible links between his early experiences and their later transformation. Similar to his father, Hughes loved mechanical gadgets. At age three, he started taking pictures with a box camera. He tinkered in his father's workshop, creating objects out of bits of wire and metal. He was allowed to play in the workshop?as long as he kept it spotless.Hughes's parents fussed excessively about his health. His quiet, dignified mother devoted herself full-time to him, taking him to the doctor at the slightest provocation. At fourteen, his parents sent him to a boarding school in Massachusetts. A developing hearing loss isolated him from friendships. The highlight of his stay in the East was a ride with his father in a seaplane that "fired his fascination with airplanes and marked the beginning of a lifelong love affair with aviation, his most enduring passion."Later, when he went to a California school, Hughes spent much of his time alone, riding his horse in the hills and visiting his Hollywood screenwriter uncle. At his uncle's Sunday brunches, Hughes met many stars and movie moguls, as did his father, who had an eye for beautiful women. Hughes began to perceive people as objects to be avoided or collected. He would bring teenaged aspiring starlets to Hollywood, put them up in apartments, and, as they waited for stardom, forget all about them (Fowler,1986).A few years before Hughes's death, his former barber reflected on the eccentric billionaire's personality, "I know he has his problems: don't we all? He just operates a little different from the rest of us. Who's to say who's wrong?" (Keats, 1966).?
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