Hughes News: Howard’s First Marriage

Howard Hughes, Jr.

Of all the famous figures to come out of Houston over the course of history,none was ever more mysterious, more talented, richer, or more powerful than the late Howard Hughes, Jr. The attention he drew to aviation design was only matched by the futility of ego he drafted into the motion picture industry and the women he helped make famous by very personal interest and investment in their acting careers. Actresses Jane Russell and Jean Peters leap immediately to mind as the two greatest beneficiaries of Howard’s “benevolence,” but starlet Terry Moore of “Mighty Joe Young” movie fame is quickly recalled as one of the solid others.

Ella Botts Rice Hughes

There are ample biographies on Howard Hughes out there – and quite a bit of information available even more easily over the Internet. That being said is being said here as simply my notation that any occasional column I write on the subject as “Hughes News” is simply anecdotal or sidebar to what we do not ordinarily see in the mainstream print about him. Today’s facts and questions are items  that you will not necessarily see without some serious or accidental search and find time in some library or personal collection somewhere.

Today’s contribution comes from a research colleague and new friend of mine named Randy Foltin. I’m not at liberty to talk abut it here, but Randy is currently working on one of the most exciting Houston history projects I’ve seen in a very long time. In the process, he sometimes uncovers peripheral information that he has no time to dally-dabble search these items because of his own research goals. As I’ve also learned over the years, the blessing/curse of historical research is that we find things of interest that we weren’t looking for, but, if we dabble into them too much for too long, we endanger the time and energy we need to spend on our particular research goals.

Sometimes, too, it’s not so easy yo know when a side junket in research is not a waste of time, but a new way of learning about the main research subject. That was not the case here. The case here was that Randy had turned up some long ago photos and information about Howard Hughes that he wanted it to pass on to me because of my general interest in Houston history. These photos had to do with young Howard’s early Houston education and his even earlier than we thought, or knew, connection with the woman who would become his first wife. The other recognition comes straight from Randy Foltin as a shrewd body language observation about young Howard Hughes from an early school class picture.

First of all, the individual photos of young Howard and his first bride are ancient. The one of Ella is the same photo used in the South End Junior High School “annual,” sometime between 1917-19, in which she also was proclaimed as the “Football Queen.” Howard Hughes also was a student at South End  back then, but it is unlikely that he and Ella were connected as a couple that early. For one big thing, she was two grades ahead of Howard at the time. For another, she was then the toast of the school jocks at the same time that the nerdier younger adolescent Hughes was busy developing both the first radio broadcasting tower and the first motorized bicycle in Houston.

By the way, South End Junior High School, south of downtown between Fannin and San Jacinto, later became better known as San Jacinto High School.

At any rate, Howard and Ella finally did get together, I understand, with the help of certain family connections, and they were married in Houston on June 1, 1925, about three months prior to Howard’s 20th birthday, but after the death of both parents and his assumption of control of the family business.

Howard and Ella moved to Los Angeles shortly after their 1925 marriage to help Howard fulfill his goal of producing movies. He succeeded as a filmmaker, but his Houston marriage didn’t work out. Ella moved back to Houston in 1929 and filed for a divorce. And Howard was already on his way. To other women. To more movies. To grand aviation projects. To great wealth. And to his final role as the most powerful and eccentric recluse in the history of the world.

And the words “different” … “powerful” … and “recluse” all lead us to Randy Foltin’s other photo find and the observations he also attached to the display, awaiting confirmation that young man in the lower left hand front row of this South End Junior High School photo is, indeed, Howard Hughes. (What you cannot see here because it makes the photo too small for publication value – is the list of names of all students in the photo and showing one in about that lower left side spot as “Howard Hughes.”)

My call, from the second sectional crop of the young man on the lower left is that I believe it is Howard Hughes as a very young boy. Now let’s look at the photos – and then conclude with Randy Foltin’s observations about the body language communication we see in this picture of Howard Hughes.

Is that Howard Hughes on the lower left side, front row?

I am 99.999% sure that Mr Dark Suit Left is Howard Hughes.

According to Foltin, Hughes sits apart from his classmates as he eventually sat apart from all people. I agree with Randy completely. That’s what the picture says. Notice his self-containment. His hands are planted firmly on his own knees, ready to pull himself up by his own boot straps, if need be.  There isn’t a hint of emotional outreach to others here – and that’s pretty much how Hughes both lived and died. All people were little more than props in the life of this genius narcissist.  – and that trait is what eventually helped him die of malnutrition as the world’s richest man.

Randy Foltin saw that distance in the class photo and I could not resist placing my own impression of it here as a lifelong student of Howard Hughes. The man was an almost autistic genius, with the rare skill for combining strong business principles and creative vision in one human package. He simply lacked empathy for others and the drudgery issues in the human condition bored him to tears.

A prime example of Hughes’s self-centeredness in the wake of human tragedy is the great earthquake that struck Nicaragua in December 1973. Hughes was “reclusing” in the capital city of Managua at the time. Once the mighty quake hit, Howard mobilized his whole crew to the goal of getting out as fast as they possibly could – and that’s exactly what they did, escaping to the safer environs of Las Vegas, Nevada. By contrast, that was the same disaster that cost baseball great Roberto Clemente his life. While Howard Hughes was “getting the hell out of Dodge,” Roberto Clemente was getting himself killed in a plane crash while trying to fly away from the safety of his own home in Puerto Rico. His plane was loaded beyond capacity with essential supplies and it crashed into the ocean after it tried taking off, killing all the crew, and Clemente, upon impact.

The contrast between Hughes and Clemente here is stark, but it best makes the point of explaining who we are are talking about when we discuss the missing parts of loner Howard Hughes. He simply lacked a capacity for really caring about what happened to others.

Because he had no truly selfless empathy for others, Hughes did not know how to hire people who might be capable of acting with “tough love” empathy for the self-destructiveness they might have seen in him, the world’s sickest rich man. As the result, Howard Hughes, the man who once sat alone in a class photo, also died alone. surrounded by a staff who would rather let him die than get fired for standing up and saying “no” to the death choices he was making by the way he lived.

Thanks for the input, Randy Foltin. I’ve been looking for a bully pulpit on Howard Hughes for a very long time.

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9 Responses to “Hughes News: Howard’s First Marriage”

  1. Darrell Pittman Says:

    A fascinating read.

    He’s buried in Houston, you know…

    http://tinyurl.com/335ogx7

  2. Mark Wernick Says:

    His hands look unusually large here, for example in proportion to the size of his face.

  3. Randy Says:

    Great job Bill. I just want to emphasize that we’re seeing this image of Howard for the first time. Certainly this image is coming to light some 90 after people started putting their South End JH yearbooks into storage, and my brief foray into internet searches never came up w/ Hughes as an adolescent. I would love to see if any others exist. His schooling in the East may yield other school photos from the respective publications from those schools, but will be hard to track down, as if this South End JH annual wasn’t hard enough in itself.
    But to see HH as a “part” of the Houston scene before fortune and fame arrived is a rare, rare thing. He was an avid golfer and probably plied this trade at the Houston Country Club.
    The other aspect of this story, that being his future wife appearing here as the football sweetheart for the 1918 team, really intrigues me. Was he adoring her from afar even at this time? He certainly had to have known who she was, and that she was the center of the affection of others. Did this heighten his interest in her? Was it just happenstance in which they came together after he inherited his fathers’ business and money, or did he exchange a knowing glance with her when passing in the halls at South End? Dare I even think that there was the prospect for the “roots” of love, like angelhair, taking place at South End? Maybe not, but his pursuit of the beautiful woman probably started here if only from afar. His delight must have been unbounded that came about w/in a scant 5 years or so that “put” him in her arms. Regardless of the conjecture, here are the images and the circumstance that started one of the most discussed “womanizers” of all-time on his path of conquest of the amorous sort. And it was IN HOUSTON with all the makings of a schoolboy crush, THAT CAME TRUE if only for a while.

    • Kerry duncan Says:

      I was told Howard Hughes, real name was Monroe Houston Jones. Maybe why it can’t be found in yearbooks

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  7. piglet Says:

    what a load of crap

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