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(1:40:08) In the continuum of ET : the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), this shot expressed a colossally rectilinear vibe, associated with the power of the cops, when I saw it as a kid. I thought it a remarkable effect : it urged me to wonder about how the camera conveyed such things. Though the houses block the backward view here, the feeling of the shot (boosted by a lateral camera movement) was similar to the rectilinear shock of Inherent Vice above. Cinematographer : Allen Daviau.


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“The pastness of the past”


There are dozens of references to seeing in both EWS and Sophocles’ Oedipus. PTA has caught the bug :


(6:42) “Someone might be watching.” A bittersweet moment, a vibe brought out pointedly by the collaboration of the music cue. Obviously, considering the motifs of the film, the remark evokes a strong sense of far-out paranoia. There's more to consider, though, as there always is. Inherent Vice is an historical recollection of a lost time; an aura of melancholy suffuses the entire narrative. An exemplar of the film's melancholy awareness of a lost recent past is this line : “Someone might be watching.” It is as if the film is saying, “Hopefully one person on earth may be paying attention to this narrative about a forgotten time that will never return.”


(“Is not the pastness of the past the profounder, the completer, the more legendary, the more immediately before the present it falls?” Forward to Thomas Mann's Der Zauberberg.)


PTA has used this self-referential technique before :


ALMA : “If you want to have a staring contest with me me you will lose.” (22:02) In PT, this line at face value is amusing, as in, “You are so handsome I cannot keep my eyes off you.” The line is also the film standing up to the audience, reminding the Spectators that the physical film will outlast them in time : an uncanny feeling, like a goose walking over one's grave.


This technique is as old as Sophocles : resonances in Oedipus abound to the concept of being caught in a story, being caught in a role. All this recalls a remark by Nabokov in Lolita : “No matter how many times we reopen King Lear, never shall we find the good king banging his tankard in high revelry, all woes forgotten . . .” (1.25)


We can present many examples of this self-referential technique from world cinema. Here is one :


“I should know, sir. I’ve always been here.”




Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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The 1970s-cinema vibe


(4:32) There is a wondrous humor in PTA’s rendering of a “sensitive”, “realistic”, “documentary-type” 1970s vibe to some character interaction in Inherent Vice.


One example of an infinity:


Three Days of the Condor (1975), 46:28


Btw, compare the PTA shot above to this one : the window.




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The Dark Muse


(9:21) Note the window again. The nihilist ambience behind the Muse is an intentional contrast to her usual self, a personage virtually always presented as lovely and wondrous throughout Art History. For example :


Parnassus, Andrea Mantegna (1497)


The nihilist ambience recalls a camera set-up from Psycho : Reason in the Void.






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"Howard Hughes was Italian?"




Howard Hughes spent over $300,000,000 in cash in Nevada in the years 1967 to 1970. Hughes’ gambling-related acquisitions in Nevada:[1]


Desert Inn Hotel and Casino[2]  (600 rooms)  April 1967  $13.2 million

The Sands Hotel and Casino[3]  (729 rooms)  July 1967  $14.6 million

The Frontier Hotel and Casino[4]  (571 rooms)  September 1967  $23 million

The Castaways Hotel and Casino[5]  (229 rooms)  October 1967  $3.3 million

The Silver Slipper Casino[6]  April 1968  $5.36 million

The Landmark Hotel and Casino[7] (525 rooms)  January 1969  $17.5 million


Harold’s Club casino in Reno[8]  Late 1968  $10.5 million


Through 1968, Hughes endeavored to buy up most of the monuments on the Las Vegas Strip. As it was, he ended up owning almost 50 percent of the hotel-casinos in Las Vegas at the time. Moreover, he acquired a series of motels and restaurants.[9] Furthermore, Hughes eventually bought up virtually every vacant lot along a three-mile stretch of the Strip between the Tropicana and the Sahara—land which by 1972, according to Hank Greenspun, was worth $18,000 a foot.[10] “We bought practically every piece of raw land,” Maheu recalled. “Where the Mirage is today. Where the Treasure Island is today.”[11] He took steps to purchase the Stardust (for $30,509,035), the Bonanza, the Silver Nugget, and Harrah’s hotels and casinos, but the U.S. Justice Department threw a spanner in the works when it denied him the privilege of acquiring any more casinos while the government wondered if Hughes was breaking antitrust laws by attempting to buy up the Las Vegas Strip wholesale.[12] Still, in 1970 Hughes attempted to buy the Dunes Hotel and Casino as well. No one man had ever owned one casino outright, let alone seven.


Such profligacy was a throwback—but on a much larger scale—to Hughes’ early years in Hollywood. And yet in his own mind there was a method to his madness. By plunging his cash into Vegas he could keep it out of the hands of the IRS.[13] In the process he became a local hero, “revered as the Pied Piper who had brought Las Vegas back to economic life,” Maheu recalled.[14]


Jack Anderson described Hughes as “the uncrowned king of Las Vegas”.[15] Playboy magazine remarked, “Over 15 percent of Nevada’s gambling revenue now flowed into the coffers of a man who did not gamble, smoke nor drink.”[16]


Hughes set about rewriting the way casinos were run. Before Hughes arrived, casino employees often used to set patrons up with cocktail waitresses, chorus girls, call girls, in order to keep the patrons happy and on-site. Hughes forbade that practice at his properties. Maheu went on the record as saying, “We will not tolerate any of our employees hustling women around—and they know it.”[17] Hughes provided his casino employees with free life and health insurance as well as a pension plan.[18]


On the other hand, Hughes’ largesse didn’t extend to the modestly bankrolled gamblers who comprised the great majority of players in his casinos. He nixed the practice of handing out free drinks and free meals. Now, unless you were a high roller, you had to pay your own way. And if you lost all your cash at Hughes’ tables, too bad, don’t expect a free ride to the airport.[19]


Hughes’ casinos were on the cutting-edge of technology insofar as they utilized computer systems to streamline and monitor operations (in areas such as table-by-table gambling receipts, hotel reservations, and food and drink acquisition).[20] Also, the Hughes organization installed all manner of sophisticated electronic surveillance equipment which watched gamblers as well as dealers and other employees 24 hours a day.[21] Early-generation video cameras and 8mm movie cameras set up in the rafters above the gaming tables filmed through “Eye-in-the-Sky” two-way mirrors.


During his tenure as head of Hughes Nevada Operations, Robert Maheu informed the press, regarding the technological overhaul of Hughes’ casinos: “We have set in the necessary controls, comparable to controls you have in a bank.”[22]


One of the most visible changes to the casino operations at Hughes’ properties following his acquision of them was the increase in the number of security men keeping an eye on the gaming tables and slot machines. A Sands Hotel employee told Omar V. Garrison, “The number of uniformed guards in the casino was just about doubled. . . . After a lot of players complained, they took most of them out of uniform. But they’re still around, dressed in business suits.”[23] The same went for the Desert Inn.[24]


Print advertisements promised, “The Fun Never Sets on the Hughes Resort Hotels!” Hughes’ hotels and casinos operated 221 gaming tables and 2,275 of the state’s 33,614 slot machines. Hughes’ properties were bringing in close to $75 million of the $552 million annual gambling volume in Nevada.[25] Las Vegas welcomed 27 million tourists a year, and gambling revenue comprised 32 percent of Nevada’s yearly revenue.[26] Hughes’ hotels encompassed over 2,000 rooms in a period when Las Vegas hotels and motels were reporting an annual occupancy rate of ninety to ninety-five percent.[27] Hughes was routinely described as the “biggest gambling operator in Nevada”.[28]


He was also the second-largest employer and landowner in the state, behind the federal government.[29] By 1970, Hughes’s enterprises comprised one-sixth of Nevada’s economy.[30]




Las Vegas was a hot house of mafiosi as well as a menagerie of small time crooks of all kinds. Though Hughes had ostensibly muscled in to the action, the mob was still entrenched, running the Stardust, the Riviera, and the Fremont, among others, including Hughes’ own casinos. By the time Hughes left Vegas behind in November 1970, the mob was still there. In fact, the most violent days of Vegas were yet to come; the notorious mobster Tony Spilotro, cold-blooded genius of crime, arrived in town in February 1971.[31] The mob remained the primary force in Vegas through the 1970s—a blood-soaked decade for the gangsters in town—and into the easy-money Reagan years and beyond. America had been wrong to think that Las Vegas had cleaned itself up following the advent of Howard Hughes in town. Nothing changed in Las Vegas during Hughes’ reign there except for the public’s attitude toward the town.




There is another aspect to the theme of Hughes’ “cleaning up” and transforming Las Vegas. If many citizens of Las Vegas had believed the newspaper headlines and harbored expectations that Howard Hughes would transform their city morally and economically, transforming it into the Supercity that his press releases promised, they were, in the end, quite simply deceived. When Hughes left Las Vegas, the city was essentially in the same condition as when he had arrived. He had built nothing of note—except perhaps Maheu’s grand mansion and tennis courts on the grounds of the Desert Inn. It would be years yet before Las Vegas became identified as one of America’s fastest-growing cities.


However, though Hughes had given up on the place like turning one’s back to a TV set, his dream for Las Vegas eventually became a reality.


Nowadays Las Vegas is the family-friendly resort that Hughes had envisioned back in the 1960s. The Strip is decorated with Disneyland-type attractions: a massive pyramid; a replica of the Eiffel Tower; a hotel-casino in the shape of the Manhattan skyline; a rollercoaster; and so on. The casinos are run by corporations, and Hughes’ innovations remain—no free drinks and completely computerized operating systems. In his ideas for Las Vegas as for so many other of his projects, once again Howard Hughes was ahead of his time.




From 1967 to 1970, tourist and gambling income in Las Vegas increased more than 25 percent a year, yet Hughes’ own hotels and casinos went into the red in this same period. Incredible as it sounds, Hughes’ casinos proceeded to lose money! While Hughes’ casinos registered a 6.15 percent profit in 1968, earnings plummeted to only 1.63 percent in 1969. According to a memorandum written by Raymond Holliday and submitted to Hughes on June 13, 1970, in 1968-69 Hughes made a ridiculous $24,942 on investments of over $171 million in Nevada.[32] In 1970, Hughes’ casinos lost $10.022 million; in 1971, another $6 million more was lost.[33] All the while his competitors on the Strip were earning consistent annual profits.[34]


Taking Hughes’ Nevada properties as a whole, Hughes Nevada Operations registered a consistent loss year after year: $700,000 in 1967, $3.2 million in 1968, $8.4 million in 1969, no less than $7 million in 1970.[35]




HUGHES: THE MAFIA’S BEST FRIEND. With Hughes’ purchase of the Landmark Hotel and Casino, Hughes proved himself to be the Mafia’s best friend in Las Vegas. This business deal of Hughes’ exemplifies the cosy relationship—if we needed any more examples!—between the Hughes Organization and the American Underworld in Nevada.


When Howard Hughes first proposed to buy the Landmark Hotel and Casino in September 1968, the Justice Department threatened his lawyers with an anti-trust suit, just as they had months earlier when Hughes was negotiating for the Stardust. On January 17, 1969, in the month that Richard Nixon began his first term as President, the Department of Justice backed off and the Landmark buy went through.


The Landmark was a thirty-one story “space-needle” tower located on Paradise Road running parallel to the Las Vegas Strip. Construction had begun in 1961 but the project went bankrupt before it opened, and remained idle for a total of eight years. The unfinished tower—Nevada’s tallest building—remained a blot on the Las Vegas skyline.


Construction on the ill-starred Landmark had resumed in the fall of 1966 after its owners received a loan of $5.5 million from the Teamsters Union Pension Fund—mob money, courtesy of E. Parry Thomas of the Bank of Las Vegas. When the Landmark was finished, another bombshell hampered operations—the owners were denied a gaming license.


The owners of the Landmark were losing $30,000 a month on the fiasco. Though Robert Maheu was against the buy, Hughes insisted that Maheu go ahead and buy the Landmark. Its close to three-dozen creditors were to be paid, according to Hughes’ instructions, “100 percent on the dollar.”[36]


Nevada Senator Howard W. Cannon went to bat for Hughes in Washington, D.C., when the Justice Department had still been mulling over the Landmark sale. “This is a clear opportunity to assist the economy of Nevada and the employment opportunities of its citizens,” Senator Cannon said.[37]


Hughes acquired the Landmark through his Hotel Properties, Inc.[38] He assumed debts of over $14 million—$8.9 million in Teamster loans and around $5.6 million in other debts—and, on top of that, he paid off the mob-affiliated owners, who had gone into involuntary bankrupcy, $2,444,000. On top of the more than $17 million that Hughes dropped on the Landmark, yet another $3.2 million had to be spent on the hotel before it could open.


The Landmark opened on July 1, 1969 with great hoopla. Hughes was permitted to operate 26 gambling games and 401 slot machines at the Landmark.[39] In the first year of Hughes ownership, the Landmark lost $5.944 million, and never turned a profit in Hughes’ lifetime.[40]




THE HUGHES SKIM SCAM. What happened with Howard Hughes in Las Vegas? Hughes bought into seven casinos in Nevada—he bought into one of the most profitable industries in America and yet the Hughes Nevada Organization lost money year after year. What happened to the money? It was as if a million vacuum cleaners emerged from out of the shadows and each reduced by so much Hughes’ gargantuan pile of greenbacks. Was Hughes kept apprised of the drain on his financial resources? Was he given accurate reports? How could a man run an empire if for most of the week he was reduced to a narcotized zombie?[41]


Why did Hughes plunge a fortune into Las Vegas in the first place? Hughes wanted somewhere to put his TWA shares windfall without the IRS taking a big bite of his dollars.[42] Hughes knew that if he reinvested the upwards of $470 million within two years, he would lawfully elude capital-gains taxes.[43] That’s the cover story and official story. The casino business in Nevada seemed a perfect venture for the adventurous Hughes, considering that a well-organized skim of cash off the daily take could reap hundreds of millions of tax-free dollars. But what did Howard Hughes know of the concept of casino skim? Did Hughes believe that the Hughes Organization would assume control of the skim? Or eradicate it altogether? How much information was Howard Hughes given about how a casino is run? Hughes would buy casinos, then, theoretically, their value—their location value and land value—would rise as the years went by if Las Vegas remained as popular as ever.


Hughes would buy his casinos and to him the process was as if depositing his hundreds of millions of dollars in a bank. Hughes stored his money in the casino entities. One day he could “cash out”, sell his entire casino holdings—no doubt for a profit—and apply his mind and fortune to other ventures. The Las Vegas buying spree was his idea—perhaps.


Hughes was secreted away in his Desert Inn hotel room where his communication with the outside world was reduced to a telephone and incoming-and-outgoing memoranda. Might his aides, or whoever, have issued memos in Hughes’ name? Or kept significant memos or reports from Hughes? Might the details of various incoming memos have been changed before they reached Hughes’ eyes? We will never know what Hughes knew and did not know, cooped up in his master control center atop the Desert Inn in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip. Regardless of how much he knew or did not know, Howard Hughes might have thought himself “on top of the world”, however much his incarceration resembled banishment to a desert cave.


When Howard Hughes gave the go-ahead for Robert Maheu to buy casinos from the mob syndicate, Johnny Rosselli understood immediately the ramifications of such a deal. The mafia’s operations in Las Vegas could mask their clandestine operations behind the Hughes organization. Ironic that Howard Hughes would become a “front”—considering that next to no-one saw the man in the flesh!


Rosselli knew that Hughes was looking to buy gambling properties, and he knew that the casino owners were seeking a new front organization that would shield them from the skimming investigations. . . . The key was that, with Hughes on the gambling license and Maheu at the helm, the skim from the Desert Inn casino could continue under a veneer of respectability.[44]


Hughes bought casino after casino, then let the casinos run themselves. That is to say, he let the gangsters remain in charge. For example, at the time that the Hughes organization bought the Sands in July 1967, a Hughes representative announced, “We plan no change in the operation of the Sands Hotel.”[45] As it happened, the representative kept his word.


“There were very few changes in personnel,” recalled Sands casino manager Harry Goodhart, himself a forty-year veteran in the business.[46]


With regards to the Desert Inn, the FBI’s Las Vegas office described a similar situation in a report dated March 27, 1968:


There are rumors circulating around the Desert Inn Hotel-Casino, expressing doubt that MORRIS DALITZ and his group [Morris Kleinman, Sam Tucker, Ruby Kolod, and others] are actually out of the Desert Inn. The basis of this, according to [blacked out] is that DALITZ is seen frequently at the Desert Inn and seems to have free access to anyplace he wants to go. DALITZ was observed in the Desert Inn on June 29, 1967, when he walked into the “cage” and picked up a sealed brown envelope.[47]


Major General Edward H. Nigro, deputy chief executive of Hughes Nevada Operations, as well as vice president and general manager of the Sands and Castaways, remarked to Ovid Demaris early in 1969,


I guess you understand that there isn’t one of us naïve enough to think he could walk downstairs and operate a casino. . . . I’d say we retained ninety-nine point nine percent of all personnel that was here.[48]


During 1967, the Hughes Nevada Organization ensured the smooth-running of its casinos by negotiating with Sidney Korshak, the mob’s foremost lawyer in Nevada, who at the time was employed as a “labor consultant” by the Nevada Resort Association.[49] These negotiations ensured that HNO wouldn’t be surprised by strike action by its hotel and restaurant employees.


With the gangsters in charge, the well-organized skim that had served the mob so well over the decades remained in force. Money that should have been going to Hughes, who was no full-blooded mafioso, went instead to the various components of the syndicate with interests in the Vegas operation.


The Wall Street Journal reported that millions were being skimmed. The Syndicate desperately needed a front. Moe Dalitz, owner of the Desert Inn, was under investigation. So were Syndicate men at the Frontier and Sands. Hughes aborted these investigations by taking title to these three casinos. But he kept Dalitz, among others, for advice. “The many contacts I made with Mr. Dalitz were made at the specific suggestion of Mr. Hughes, wherein Mr. Hughes wanted the benefit of their thinking,” Hughes aide Robert Maheu later explained.[50]


Hughes’ entrance in Vegas was perfect for the clandestine elements in the city. The outside world would think American hero Howard Hughes, in buying up Vegas, was somehow now in charge of the place. The “Hughes mystique” would recast Las Vegas in the media from a seedy haunt of cold-blooded gangsters to a proper and honorable business organization. The truth was that the gangsters never had to budge an inch from their positions. Whether he thought about it or not, Hughes was the perfect front man for the Mafia in Las Vegas from 1967-1970.


Roping Hughes into fronting for the mob at the casinos in Las Vegas was Johnny Rosselli’s greatest caper, a crowning achievement that drew on all his past experience in Hollywood, in espionage, and as a criminal strategist.[51]


An IRS audit on Hughes’ Nevada casinos carried out in secret in 1971 concluded that Howard Hughes might have lost more than $50 million as a result of a well-organized mob skim.[52]



[1] The Desert Inn, The Sands, The Frontier, and the Silver Slipper were situated on the Las Vegas Strip. The Landmark was just off the strip on Convention Center Drive. The Castaways was located on Fremont Street in downtown Vegas. ¶ The complex corporate arrangement of the properties of Hughes Nevada Operations is discussed in Davenport, Hughes Papers, p. 176. ¶ All six of Hughes’ Las Vegas casinos were bought from mob outfits which were components of the Syndicate headed by Meyer Lansky. ¶ According to Lansky associate Joseph “Doc” Stacher: “We worked out a deal that gave each [mob] group an interlocking interest in each other’s hotels, and our lawyers set it up so that nobody could really tell who owned what out there.” Eisenberg, Meyer Lansky, p. 267. ¶ “Up to the close of 1969, Mr. Hughes had invested about $150 million in Las Vegas properties.” See “Life of Howard Hughes Was Marked by a Series of Bizarre and Dramatic Events”, p. 70; also Turner, “Maheu Jury Weighs New Data on Complex Hughes Business Deals”, p. 11. ¶ As of 1970, Hughes’ Nevada properties as a whole was worth around $200 million, according to Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 209. ¶ About $85.5 million for the seven hotels and five casinos, says Turner, Wallace, “‘Billionaire’ Hughes’s Wealth Put at Only $168,834,615”, New York Times, March 16, 1977, p. 17. ¶ “As chief of Hughes-Nevada Operations, Robert Maheu controlled, under Hughes’ direction, a gaming empire that employed more than 8,000 people, with a total payroll of some $50,000,000 a year and a gross handle of some $500,000,000.” Fadiman, “Can The Real Howard Hughes . . .”, p. 257. See also “The Case of the Invisible Billionaire”, p. 75. ¶ “By mid-1970, Hughes’ seven casinos accounted for 17 percent of Nevada gambling revenue.” Schemmer, “What Happened to Howard Hughes”, p. 23. ¶ “His hotels . . . on the Strip, with a total of about two thousand rooms, represented “20 percent of all resort hotel accommodations on the Strip.” [HH:HLM], p. 301-2. ¶ The prices of casinos vary slightly according to source: see Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 48 (Desert Inn); 56 (Sands); 75; 79 (Frontier); 115 (Castaways); 174 (Silver Slipper); 229 (Landmark); Davenport, Hughes Papers, p. 65 (Desert Inn); 76 (Sands); 79 (Frontier); 81 (Castaways and Silver Slipper); 87 (Landmark). Also Drosnin, Citizen Hughes, p. 473 (all listed). Also Hack, Hughes, p. 288 (Desert Inn); 292 (Sands); 293 (Frontier, Castaways); 297 (Silver Slipper);  319 (Landmark). Also [HH:US], p. 339 (all listed). Also [HH:HLM], p. 289 (Desert Inn); 298 (Sands); 302 (Frontier and Castaways – prices not listed); 316 (Silver Slipper); 367 (Landmark – price not listed); 484 (Harold’s Club – price not listed); Denton, Money and the Power, p. 273 (Desert Inn); 277 (Sands, Frontier, Landmark). Cole, “Hughes’s Properties Are Reported Worth $2 Billion”, p. 30, gives figures for each for a total of $78.35 million. Also Schemmer, “What Happened to Howard Hughes”, p. 23, gives a figure for total price of all seven casinos: $107.4 million. Marrett, Howard Hughes: Aviator, p. 196, says Hughes paid about $96.8 million for his seven casinos. ¶ “One set of figures shows that he put down $83.2 million in cash to acquire the gambling houses. . . . But in one document, Mr. Hughes’ managers told him that he had put $185 million into Nevada.” Turner, “Casino Sale Seen as Step to Liquidation of Hughes Gaming Interests”, p. 19. ¶ April 1969: “bought about $200 million in gambling and mining property” “Hughes Adds Sixth Casino”, Washington Post, April 26, 1969, p. D9. ¶ “estimated $250 million in Nevada holdings.” Egan, “Hughes as a Wheeler-Dealer”, p. F1. ¶ For “$300 million Nevada empire”, see “Shootout at the Hughes Corral”, Time, December 21, 1970; “The Case of the Invisible Billionaire”, p. 75; O’Hanlon, Thomas, “The High Rollers Shoot for Power in Las Vegas”, p. 36; Coffee, “The curious Washington days of deposed Vegas Prince Bob Maheu”, p. 8; 12; “Hughes Aides Vie For Vegas Control”, Washington Post, December 6, 1970, p. 5.

[2] “The Desert Inn, the flossy place on the Las Vegas Strip, has floor shows, a fancy golf course, swimming pools, a hotel, and an atmosphere of opulence designed to attract the high rollers, the gamblers who are willing to risk losses in a night of $30,000 or $50,000 or even more.” Turner, Gamblers’ Money, p. 104. ¶ “Included in the package were the 600-room hotel, the Desert Inn Country Club, casino, bars, restaurants, and theater-dining room.” Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 48. ¶ Katsilometes, John, “Desert Inn Celebrates Its Golden Anniversary”, Las Vegas Sun, April 20, 2000, available online, says that the D.I. had only 300 rooms until 1978. ¶ “What Mr. Hughes bought was the operating rights, not the real estate. And he agreed that at the end of his lease, which would be about the year 2027 if all options were picked up, to return it in the same condition he found it.” Turner, Wallace, “Summa Corp.: Rebuilding the House of Howard Hughes”, New York Times, June 17, 1979, p. F3.

[3] “The Sands . . . The price was $14.6 million, the cash arranged through the Texas Bank of Commerce and Hughes Tool . . .” Higham, Howard Hughes, p. 227. ¶ “$14.6 million . . . plus the assumption of $9 million in hotel debt.” Hack, Hughes, p. 292.

[4] The Frontier had “ten crap games, twenty blackjack tables, two roulette wheels, the baccarat layout, and a one-hundred-seat keno lounge.” Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 77.

[5] “The featured attraction at the Castaways (outside the casinos, of course) is an intricately carved teakwood replia of a Jain temple in India. . . . Hughes encountered little difficulty in having his wholly owned Hughes Tool Company licensed to operate the casino’s nine tables of games, one keno, and 152 slot machines. . . . The Hughesmen reopened with a bawdy musical called the Tom Jones Show. It featured a number of lusty ballads and a chorus line of footlight ladies dressed in bosom-flashing Elizabethan costumes.” Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 115; 116. ¶ For list of Hughes Tool Company executives listed on the Castaways license along with Hughes, see Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 116.

[6] “Hughes turned its operation over to his staff of former Revenue men, security guards, and ex-FBI agents.” Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 174.

[7] “The gleaming, 525-room pleasure mart included two fully equipped casinos—one on the first floor and another on the second level of the three-story steel-and-glass cupola atop the tower. Adjoining the sky-high casino is a lounge bar and coffee shop. The topmost floor of the structure is occupied by a plush night club which provides a panoramic view of the city. The dance floor is large enough to accommodate 250 patrons. Two lavishly appointed gourmet restaurants and a bar occupy the first level of the triple-tiered dome. . . . The casinos would open with 26 table games and 401 slot machines.” Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 233. ¶ Hughes paid $17.5 million, $17.8 million, or $17.9 million for the Landmark, according to O’Hanlon, “The High Rollers Shoot for Power in Las Vegas”, p. 36; Turner, Wallace, “Summa Corp. Seeks To Reduce Its Losses On Nevada Holdings”, New York Times, October 20, 1977, p. 13; Turner, “Casino Sale Seen as Step to Liquidation of Hughes Gaming Interests”, p. 19.

[8] Harold’s Club was located on North Virginia Street, where the action was in Reno. The founder of Harold’s Club was Harold S. Smith, Sr., who wrote a history of his casino in 1961 called I Want to Quit Winners. In the book Smith identified Harold’s Club as the largest casino in the world, with over 1100 persons working around the clock. Harold’s Club included the Roaring Camp Room, which advertised itself as containing the largest collection of old wild west arcana (guns, wagons, music boxes) in the United States. ¶ “Harold’s Club, the largest gaming room under one roof in the world.” Fadiman, “Can The Real Howard Hughes . . .”, p. 257. ¶ Founded in the 1930s, Harold’s Club was one of the most successful and popular of all of the casinos in Nevada from 1940s-1960s. ¶ “The Harold’s Club pattern pushes out a type of advertising and promotion that attracts the smaller gambler, the visitor with $50 or $100 to spend, or even less.” Turner, Gamblers’ Money, p. 104.

[9] The Black Forest Inn, the Three Fountains, the Travelodge, and the Grace Hayes Restaurant. See Higham, Howard Hughes, p. 303.

[10] See Denton, Money and the Power, p. 277; 321. ¶ Hughes’ Vegas land included “one-fourth of the vacant land on both sides of Las Vegas’s seven-mile hotel row known as the Strip.” Cole, “Hughes’s Properties Are Reported Worth $2 Billion”, p. 30. ¶ Hughes purchased “approximately $100,000,000 in raw land around McCarran Airport and along the Strip. . . . This includes Husite, a 27,000-acre (forty-two-square-mile) tract some eight miles west of Las Vegas, which has been in the portfolio since 1954.” Demaris, “You and I”, p. 77; see also Schemmer, “What Happened to Howard Hughes”, p. 23. ¶ In 1970 the New York Times estimated the worth of Husite at $25 million. See Cole, “Hughes’s Properties Are Reported Worth $2 Billion”, p. 30;  also Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 143; Dwiggins, Howard Hughes, p. 73; and Turner, “‘Billionaire’ Hughes’s Wealth Put at Only $168,834,615”, p. 17. ¶ “The [Las Vegas] Chamber of Commerce noted in its 1968 report that “the unseen hand of one of the world’s greatest industrialists has steadied the city’s economic outlook . . .” Demaris, “You and I”, p. 73.

[11] See Robert Maheu interview in “Howard Hughes: The Real Aviator”, DVD documentary.

[12] Hughes was faced with the threat of anti-trust violations even though George Franklin, District Attorney for Clark County, went on record as saying, “I am firmly convinced that any antitrust action would have to involve interstate operations. . . . There could be no antitrust action against Hughes on an operation in a single state.” Quoted in Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 198; see also 206-7. ¶ Though Hughes’ plans to acquire the Stardust were terminated on August 15, 1968, by March 1969 Hughes will own land surrounding the Stardust Raceway, located west of the Strip. Moreover, the Hughes Tool Company will be bidding for the Stardust Golf Course. See FBI file on Morris Dalitz, reports dated 10-31-68 and 3-4-69 (Las Vegas field office file # 92-461).

[13] On the subject of Las Vegas and tax, see Maheu, Next to Hughes, p. 202; Phelan, Scandals, Scamps, and Scoundrels, p. 191; Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 28.

[14] Maheu, Next to Hughes, p. 241.

[15] See Anderson, “Las Vegas Is Changing—on the Surface”, p. C11.

[16] Fadiman, “Can The Real Howard Hughes . . .”, p. 257.

[17] Quoted in Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 63. ¶ However, Hughes’ ban of the girlie trade may have been nothing more than a smoke screen. According to a reporter for the Wall Street Journal in late 1967, a call girl operation at the Sands was still up and running. See Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 62-3.

[18] See “Visionary Backgrounds: Howard Hughes” on the Welcome to Las Vegas home website.

[19] See Turner, “Fight For Hughes Holdings Emerges in His Absence”, p. 77.

[20] As of 1970, “A team of electronic engineers and technicians had been working for almost a year on a computer system that would be used for reservations, registration of guests, and credit checks.” Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 72.

[21] “. . . the elaborate system of hidden cameras, flow charts, and daily computer printouts, which was put into operation when Hughes took control. The computers instantly spot a table where there appears to be some irregularity in receipts. Dealers and casino employees are under constant surveillance by concealed electronic devices.” Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 59. Regarding the Desert Inn, “Hughes proxies dropped hints that space-age anti-cheating equipment had been installed in the casino . . . It was generally understood that the concealed paraphernalia included advanced types of movie and video camera which could film all the action in the gambling pit, as well as monitoring equipment which might possibly be used to eavesdrop elsewhere in the hotel.” Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 80. ¶ See also “Visionary Backgrounds: Howard Hughes” on the Welcome to Las Vegas home website.

[22] Quoted in Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 59.

[23] Quoted in Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 64.

[24] See Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 79-80.

[25] See O’Hanlon, “The High Rollers Shoot for Power in Las Vegas”, p. 36; Cole, “Hughes’s Properties Are Reported Worth $2 Billion”, p. 30; Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 200-1; Dwiggins, Howard Hughes, p. 29. ¶ “These casinos . . . made Hughes the biggest gambler in Nevada.” Turner, “Secrecy Shrouds Hughes Empire’s Fate”, p. 71. ¶ “William Fisk Harrah, 62, Nevada’s second-ranking casino mogul, after Howard Hughes” “Milestones”, Time, July 1, 1974. ¶ 1970: “The hotels and casinos alone employ 8,000 people and do $500 million business annually.” Aarons, Leroy F., “Fired Hughes Aide Accused Of ‘Plundering’ $10,000”, Washington Post, December 10, 1970, p. A3.

[26] See Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 204-5.

[27] See Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 234.

[28] See, for example, Turner, “Casino Sale Seen as Step to Liquidation of Hughes Gaming Interests”, p. 19; “Hughes Aides Vie For Vegas Control”, p. 5.

[29] See “The Hughes Legacy: Scramble For The Billions”, Time, April 19, 1976; “Summa Comes Back from Debacle”, Time, October 6, 1980.

[30] See Tinnin, Everybody v. Hughes, p. 385.

[31] A character based on Spilotro is played by Joe Pesci in Martin Scorsese’s Casino.

[32] See Turner, “Hughes Documents Disclose Big Losses in Last Decade”, p. 26.

[33] See Schemmer, “What Happened to Howard Hughes”, p. 23; also Hargeaves, Superpower, p. 140.

[34] See Fadiman, “Can The Real Howard Hughes . . .”, p. 257.

[35] According to the financial report by Raymond Holliday sent to Hughes on August 24, 1970. See [HH:HLM], p. 435; Higham, Howard Hughes, p. 253. ¶ “State authorities and even some of Maheu’s most vocal supporters cite simply “management problems.” Schemmer, “What Happened to Howard Hughes”, p. 23.

[36] See Maheu, Next to Hughes, p. 233.

[37] Quoted in Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 231. See also Anderson, “Howard Hughes and His Hired Hands”, p. D23.

[38] “Listed as directors of the Hughes corporation were: Robert Maheu, Edward H. Nigro, Richard Gray, and L. T. “Mickey” Rhylick. Rhylick was also named general manager of the Landmark operation.” Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 233. ¶ “Hughes personally went over every detail of the hotel plans and dictated a number of changes, including improverments in the décor and furnishings. When he discovered that beds only thirty-six inches wide had been ordered for the smaller rooms, he viewed this as cutting corners and angrily gave instructions that they were to be replaced with beds of standard forty-two-inch width.” Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 233.

[39] See “Hughes Permitted To Open 6th Casino”, Washington Post, April 25, 1969, p. A6.

[40] See [HH:HLM], p. 367; 449; Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, chapter 13, “Howard Hughes And His Landmark Tower”, p. 227-40; also Drosnin, Citizen Hughes, chapter 11, “Howard Throws a Party”, p. 317-42; also 492; Schemmer, “What Happened to Howard Hughes”, p. 23; Dwiggins, Howard Hughes, p. 73; Denton, Money and the Power, p. 226; Turner, “Summa Corp. Seeks To Reduce Its Losses On Nevada Holdings”, p. 13; Sederberg, “Smart Money Is Betting Hughes’ Las Vegas Venture Will Pay Off”, p. D2; “Hughes Adds Sixth Casino”, p. D9; Greer, “New Breed of Casino Owners”, p. D10.

[41] Edward Morgan, one of Hughes’ attorneys in the Las Vegas era, described Hughes’ state-of-mind as “a sine curve. There was fleeting brillance and enthusiasm, but then they waned, they always waned into prolonged periods of stupor and depression.” Quoted in Hougan, Spooks, p. 265.

[42] See, for example, Maheu, Next to Hughes, p. 202.

[43] See Schemmer, “What Happened to Howard Hughes”, p. 22.

[44] Rappleye, Rosselli, p. 280; 281. ¶ Casino skimming: creaming off the daily take of cash in the casino count room before any account figures of inflow are entered into any ledger or record. ¶ “According to several sources, the Syndicate formed a partnership with the Hughes organization. The Syndicate supplied casino expertise; Hughes lent the necessary respectability.” Kohn, “Strange Bedfellows”, p. 78. ¶ “We roped Hughes into buying the Desert Inn,” Rosselli reportedly told hit-man-turned-informer Jimmy “the Weasel” Fratianno. . . .“He’s just what we need, especially with Maheu running the show.” Drosnin, Citizen Hughes, p. 120; also quoted in Denton, Money and the Power, p. 276.

[45] Quoted in Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 56.

[46] Rappleye, Rosselli, p. 284. ¶ For an account of the night of the transfer of ownership of the Desert Inn, see Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 54. For a short account of Maheu’s casino operations, see Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 277-8.

[47] See FBI file on Morris Dalitz, report dated 3-27-68 (Las Vegas field office file 92-461).

[48] Demaris, “You and I”, p. 80. See also Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 67-8. ¶ Nigro referred to “former owners Mr. Carl Cohen and Mr. Jack Entratter” who had been kept on as “senior vice presidents. . . . Carl Cohen, by virtue of our wonderful rapport, runs the whole show in the casino [Sands].” Demaris, “You and I”, p. 80. ¶ “Hughes . . . did little or nothing to purge mob-connected figures from the casinos he purchased. He retained many of them as casino pit-bosses and gambling overseers because of their invaluable expertise.” Phelan, Scandals, Scamps and Scoundrels, p. 191. ¶ “The questionable Carl Cohen and Jack Entratter, high on Attorney General Bobby Kennedy’s special target list for investigation and prosecution . . .” Higham, Howard Hughes, p. 220. ¶ For Entratter and Cohen and their mob ties, see Levy, Ratpack Confidential, p. 96-103; see also Denton, Money and the Power, p. 276-7.

[49] See Hersh, Seymour M., “Korshak’s Power Rooted In Ties to Labor Leaders”, New York Times, June 28, 1976, p. 1; also Scott, Crime and Cover-Up, p. 30; Denton, Money and the Power, p. 84; and Scott, Deep Politics, p. 155. ¶ “Called by the FBI “possibly the highly paid lawyer in the world,” and known in las Vegas as the “Chicago Juice” who usually stayed in the Presidential Suite of the Riviera, Korshak was the personal fount of most of the Teamster money into Las Vegas in the sixties and seventies.” Denton, Money and the Power, p. 316.

[50] Kohn, “Strange Bedfellows”, p. 78. ¶ “Mr. Dalitz has been very helpful over the years in making suggestions. He was not compensated in any way. But I might add that many contacts I made with Mr. Dalitz were made at the specific suggestion of Mr. Hughes, wherein Mr. Hughes wanted the benefit of his thinking.” Quoted in Schemmer, “What Happened to Howard Hughes”, p. 25.

[51] Rappleye, Rosselli, p. 286.

[52] See Drosnin, Citizen Hughes, p. 120; 473-4; also Hargeaves, Superpower, p. 139. ¶ In District Court in December 1970, “Mr. Maheu said that, when he came to Las Vegas, he refused to handle fiscal accounts. He also said that he had nothing to do with collecting markers or dispersing money from the casinos.” See Turner, “Maheu, in Court”, p. 48. ¶ In 1969, “state officials looking into the accounts of the Hughes-owned Sands Hotel turned up $186,000 in “markers,” some of which were lOUs signed with fictitious names. Hughes’ managers wanted to write off the $186,000 as bad debts, a request that the state officials bluntly refused.” “Shootout at the Hughes Corral”, Time, December 21, 1970; see also Schemmer, “What Happened to Howard Hughes”, p. 23. ¶ In May 1972, “IRS investigators assembled in Las Vegas to investigate Hughes’ employees for tax evasion and manipulation of funds.” Higham, Howard Hughes, p. 280; also 288. ¶ “On May 11, 1972, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Internal Revenue Service had opened a probe of the Hughes gambling empire with 20 full-time agents, because of allegations that huge sums of money which should have gone to Hughes had found their way to foreign countries; underworld figures may have siphoned off casino profits; entertainers may have had to kick-back to underworld figures from 10 to 15 per cent of their paychecks; Hughes mining properties may have been purchased at inflated prices; and casinos were reporting marginal profits despite massive investments.” From Marvin Miller, Compiler, The Breaking of a President 1974, excerpted online. ¶ “The IRS was uncovering what the Wall Street Journal called the largest skimming operation the IRS had ever seen. In its July 31, 1972, report, the Journal said, “The Billionaire was roundly fleeced . . . the noose is beginning to tighten.” It quoted a “seasoned” Federal agent as saying the situation involved “some of the most incredible swindles I’ve ever seen” and described the “massive investigative force that is coming Las Vegas, several other U.S. cities and such remote points as the Netherlands and the Dominican Republic.” DuBois, “Puppet and the Puppetmaster”, p. 190. ¶ In April 1972,  “Six men were convicted of plotting to conceal their illegal ownership of the Frontier Hotel, Las Vegas, and of being mob fronts and guilty of racketeering and spin-offs at the time the hotel was sold to Hughes.” Higham, Howard Hughes, p. 288. ¶ “After he left Las Vegas, an investigation was begun by some twenty Internal Revenue officials, two Justice Department organized-crime strike forces, and a private intelligence service retained by the Hughes organization. Their investigations will take years to complete, but they have already revealed that Hughes was cheated on a scale that beggars the imagination. . . . According to the Wall Street Journal, Hughes’ casino revenues had been heavily skimmed by his own employees.” Hargreaves, Superpower, p. 140. ¶ “In 1971 . . . Meyer Lansky was indicted by a federal grand jury in Nevada for conspiring to defraud the U.S. Government of income tax on $36,000,000 in profits from crime syndicate operations in Las Vegas.” Eisenberg, Meyer Lansky, p. 301; see also Hargeaves, Superpower, p. 577. ¶ Lansky fled the country then was arrested at Miami Airport on November 7, 1972, and went on trial for criminal contempt for dodging his subpoena early in 1973. His court battles dragged on for years. Lansky died in a hospital bed in Miami Beach in 1983.

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Howard Hughes : Fascinating Recluse


THE LOCATION OF LAS VEGAS. Howard Hughes certainly chose a characteristically eccentric location where he would maintain himself as a recluse. Instead of choosing an out of the way location like a private estate on the outskirts of conurbation, he installed himself on the top floor of the Desert Inn Hotel and Casino smack dab in the midst of the congested Upper Las Vegas Strip. In a way you could call his penthouse a “Captain’s Bridge”. If Hughes, pale as a ghost, had poked his head out of his window on the ninth floor of the Desert Inn, he would have seen the Frontier and the Silver Slipper directly across the street, with the Castaways and the Dunes to their left, and the Stardust and Circus Circus to their right; he would have also seen, on his side of the street, the Sands, the Flamingo, and the Tropicana to his left, and the Riviera and the Sahara to his right. Just here was the highest concentration of “monumental” buildings in Las Vegas, all within hailing distance of one another. These hotels and casinos were ensconced within a thickly-packed layout of small motels and gas stations and shopping centers and restaurants and banks. The Las Vegas Strip was a congested clot of commercial enterprise open twenty-four hours a day. Hughes chose to hide himself away on the busiest street in Nevada!



The Strip itself was a six-lane highway (Route 91) with a wide median dividing two halves of three lanes each. 3.9 miles in length, running south-northeast, it connected McCarran Airport in the south with Fremont Street at the center of town; a 45-degree bend halfway along divided the Strip into its two straight upper and lower halves. The speed limit was 30 miles an hour. Most of the traffic in and out of Las Vegas drove along Route 91. Secluded in his Desert Inn domicile Hughes was at the heart of the action in town. He was an urbanist even in his reclusiveness, as if permanently in two minds regarding his odd choice of lifestyle. Anybody at all could mosey by the Desert Inn and point up to the ninth floor window behind which Hughes was hidden twenty-four hours a day.



Hughes was squarely in the midst of a fairyland of audacious visual stimuli. Hotel and Casino signs and “reader panels” in all manner of extravagant and whimsical shapes and illuminations encrusted every inch of the Strip, along with a flurry of billboards (for tanning lotion; for sunburn unguents; for alcoholic products). The landscape was literally full of words. One didn’t see the Vegas strip, one read it. Everywhere you looked something enticing was on offer.



Nowhere else in the world could a traveller see such a collection of weird and strange architecture in one place. Las Vegas of the 1960s was a research and development site for a new aesthetic of roadside architecture. The city was at the vanguard of the new world of ‘autopia’. New relationships were being explored between human traveller and architectural landscape. The staccato interaction of commercial signs, the schizophrenic diversity of freestanding geometric oddities illuminated by millions of lightbulbs proclaimed Las Vegas as the ‘holy city’ or ‘first city’ of advertising art. The Las Vegas Strip was the leading edge of kitsch.



The casino zone was a twenty-four-hour district in which night and day bled together to create one ongoing “Vegas Time”. Visitors to the windowless casinos engulfed by the jangling slot machines and green baize gaming tables lost track of the hour if not the day. Venturi put it well:



Day is negated inside the casinos, and night is negated on the strip. . . . [Inside the gambling room] Time is limitless, because the light of noon and midnight is exactly the same.[1]



Since Hughes was himself a man who had never followed a normal 9-to-5 time schedule, this aspect of Las Vegas would have felt just right.



Howard Hughes had never put on airs or stood on ceremony. He was a “down-home”, plain-speaking character. According to Wallace Turner in Gambler’s Money, Las Vegas would appeal to such a character: “The dignity of Monte Carlo is absolutely missing from the mass gambling joints of Nevada.”[2] Dennis Eisenberg put it plainly in Meyer Lansky: “Las Vegas is gambling for the common man.”[3]



The city of Las Vegas was designed as a temporary stopping place for travellers, tourists, and nomads. Howard Hughes chose to dwell in this vivid spot which was meant to be an ephemeral experience for most. Hughes felt “at home” in this transitional environment.



THE DESERT INN HOTEL AND CASINO. Four years in construction, and financed with a loan from the Teamster’s Union Central States Pension fund, the Desert Inn first opened on April 24, 1950. The hotel and casino was run by an association of gangsters from Cleveland, Ohio, headed by Morris “Moe” Dalitz. In 1951, an 18-hole golf course was constructed on its 272 acres of property alongside the Strip. In the 1950s and early 1960s the place was often referred to as “Wilbur Clark’s Desert Inn”. Clark was a small-time gambler who built a reputation as a wheeler-dealer, and as such served as an innocuous front man for the mobsters who actually owned and ran the Desert Inn.[4] The Desert Inn was one of the trademark sites on the Las Vegas Strip for fifty years, an impressive fixture of the “good old days” of the heyday of Vegas, a vibrant playground for the wealthy, and one of the leading casinos in town.[5] Along with Caesar’s Palace, the Desert Inn was the casino for high rollers.[6]



The exterior of the building was somewhat bland and looks institutional—might a quick glance have mistaken the boxy place for a hospital?



OFF-LIMITS. There was no way for unwanted outsiders to reach the ninth floor from the ordinary hotel elevator. Inside the elevator, Hughes’ operatives had replaced the button for Hughes’ floor with a lock-and-key contrivance.[7] If one wanted to rise above the eighth floor, one needed not only a key but the knowledge of how to turn the key a specific way to get the elevator to rise to Hughes’ floor. If a would-be intruder attempted a different method of access, he would be out of luck. There was no way to get to the ninth floor from the hotel’s stairway. Not only was the ninth-floor stairway door locked, but the doorknob on the stairway side had been removed.[8] An intruder couldn’t even get to Hughes’ bedroom by parachuting in, because armed guards patrolled the rooftop.[9]



On the ninth floor, the elevator and the fire exits were protected by a twenty-four hour rota of armed guards. A desk for the guards was set up in the hotel hallway, replete with two phones, one connected to the lobby switchboard, the other to the hotel’s security office.[10] Behind the desk was a locked partition blocking access to Hughes’ end of the hallway. If an intrepid interloper was somehow able to jimmy the elevator and arrive at the ninth floor, he would find himself in a small area with no place to go but back down. These security measures remained in force in whichever hotel Hughes moved to for the rest of his life. While these measures were taken for Hughes’ safety, they also kept Hughes many removes from his freedom.



BEDROOM. The ninth floor consisted of seven penthouse suites.[11] Each suite consisted of a bedroom, living room, dressing room, and bathroom.[12] Hughes stayed in a penthouse suite at the far-right corner of the building. Located on the east side, Hughes’ suite overlooked the swimming pool and golf course.[13] His suite—Penthouse One—cost him $250 a day.[14] While Hughes was paying for all of the suites on the ninth floor, Richard Hack says that Hughes’ suite was the only one in use on the entire floor.[15] The front door to Penthouse One was always locked. Phelan and Hack refer to the door’s “peephole grill”, which makes one think of War Rooms or Mafia enclaves.[16] The Reader can almost hear the muffled words, “Who goes there?”



Robert Maheu had overseen the transformation from penthouse suite to impenetrable redoubt. Journalist Edwin Fadiman, Jr. reported on some details of Maheu’s hotel room makeover in an article for Playboy in December 1971: “The bulletproof steel doors, painted to look like wood, had to be made and installed. Custom-built sanitary facilities had to be incorporated. Special hospital equipment, working on unusual voltages, had to be hooked up and made operative.”[17] Every so often an anti-bugging team would “sweep” Hughes’ suite with electronic devices in order to make sure that no outsiders were listening in.[18] James Phelan reported that “the eighth-floor bedroom immediately below Hughes’ room was kept vacant and locked . . . to forestall any “enemies” from eavesdropping.”[19] Remarking on the security measures, Maheu told a newsman in 1969, “Suffice it to say, [they] are uncompared anywhere in the world—which is as it ought to be.”[20]



The majority of the details of Hughes’ personal life at the D.I. would only become a part of the public record after some of his aides gave depositions and interviews in late 1976 and 1977.



Howard Hughes’ bedroom was 15 feet by 17 feet. The windows were sealed shut. The air was filtered by an air-purifier, while an air conditioning unit maintained a constant temperature of 70°F.[21] Hughes refused a vacuum cleaner to enter his domain, fearing that the thick layer of dust, when roused by the vacuum, would contaminate his nostrils. Heavy dark green draperies covered every window.[22]



Most of the time Hughes was stretched out on his hospital bed in front of an array of television sets. (“He watched television with a passion,” said Maheu.[23]) A foundation of paper towels would have been placed over his bedsheets to protect his body from germs that little bit more. “He hated the inconvenience of changing the linen,” one of his aides reported, “so he would make his sheets last as long as he could.”[24] Now and then he moved to his black Naugagyde reclining chair, in which he sometimes fell asleep.[25] Hughes covered his barcalounger with paper towels as “insulation” as well. When specific paper towels had reached the end of their duty they were shredded along with other documents and burned in the incinerator behind the hotel. He was also prone to falling asleep while sitting on the toilet.[26]



Hughes’ bedroom was the heart of his empire, yet it resembled grandma’s attic. Demonstrating Hughes’ compulsion to hoard things, both Barlett and Steele and Michael Drosnin listed some of the clutter in Hughes’ bedroom: piles of newspapers, TV Guides, aviation magazines, folded and rolled maps, hillocks of balled Kleenex, towering piles of corporate papers. “Stack after stack of neatly piled documents,” Drosnin described, “thousands of yellow legal-pad pages and white typewritten memos.”[27] Hughes dwelt within a mini-city of his own making, the stacks of papers his skyscrapers reminding him of the broad power of his world empire. “Hughes was forever losing important documents in the mountains of papers,” Bartlett and Steele noted.



There were two telephones on an ordinary hotel nightstand by the bed. Like all of the phones in the suite, Hughes’ phones were protected by anti-wire-tapping equipment. Sound-amplifying equipment assisted Hughes in hearing his phones, the television, and his projected movies.[28] He read the Las Vegas newspapers.[29]



“Everything Hughes needed was in easy reach of his bed,” the two journalists went on to say, “including the metal box where he kept his tranquilizers and narcotics and the syringe he used to inject himself with the drugs.”[30] Hughes’ body and mind were desperately in thrall to codeine and valium. Drosnin, specifying that Hughes used an “unsterilized hypodermic needle”, expanded upon the drug theme:



Mixing a fix, he would dissolve several white tablets in his pure bottled Poland Spring water, then jab the spike into his wasted body. Then he would relax, and in the first warm flush of relief and satisfaction now and then softly sing a little jingle to himself, a little scat bebop routine he remembered from the old days. “Hey-bop-a-re-bop. Hey-bop-a-re-bop.[31]



Aide Gordon Margulis recalled, “He had one song. It was that nonsense song from the early 1950s, ‘Hey! Ba-ba-re-bop.’ He’d sing it to himself, just that nonsense line over and over.”[32]



Around the outset of 1967, Dr. Norman Crane, associated with Hughes since the 1950s, left his Beverly Hills office to go to work as one of Hughes’ private physicians full-time in Las Vegas, for which he was paid $80,000 a year and given a luxurious suite at Hughes’ Desert Inn. This new arrangement ensured that Hughes would never have a problem in acquiring his colossal amounts of codeine and Valium.[33]



Hughes the man had diminished in physical stature to a skeletal wraith. Constant drug-taking coupled with poor eating habits reduced him to a vitamin-starved,  nutritionally-deprived state. Reduced down to 110-120 pounds, Hughes looked like an inmate of a death camp. He never wore clothing.[34] Bedsores ate into his skin all over his back, but he was loath to change his habits. “There was no way you could get him to sleep on his side or stomach,” one of his aides recalled.[35] During his four years in Vegas he refused to cut his hair, beard, fingernails, or toenails. (Healthy hair grows at an average rate of six inches to one foot a year, a beard six inches a year, fingernails 0.8 inches a year, and toenails about a quarter-inch a year. It takes two years or so for all of these to grow out to their full length.) His thin gray hair grew past his shoulders, his thin beard eventually reached his chest, shaggy eyebrows punctuated his lined face. “His fingernails were two inches long,” one of Hughes’ aides told Time magazine, “and his toenails grew and grew until they resembled yellow corkscrews.”[36] He refused to brush his teeth; his mouth was becoming a periodontal catastrophe.[37] During his stay in Las Vegas his swollen gums would become progressively more and more inflamed and begin to bleed; his teeth were loosening and his jaw bone was slowly eroding. Intravenous drug use was evident up and down his body. Needle marks stippled the length of his skeletal arms, his thighs, and all around his groin.[38]



Hughes sometimes spent hours obsessively stacking and restacking his skyscrapers of papers. One of the aides told James Phelan, “He would take a thick sheaf of papers, whack them down lengthwise to align them, turn them, whack the topside, then the third side, then the bottom. Then he’d do it all over again, over and over.”[39]



Other obsessive behavior was just as strange. He would sit in the bathroom, spending hours rubbing alcohol onto his body.[40] He urinated into jars which, for reasons known only to Hughes, he demanded were to be kept in storage in a closet of his suite.[41]



In Las Vegas his sleeping habits were as erratic as ever. Hughes might stay up for close to four days at a stretch before falling asleep.[42]



(In December 1970 Newsweek reported a Hughes-in-Vegas rumor—describing it as “unverified”—which remained one of the most persistent anecdotes of his later life: “he shuffles around with his feet in empty Kleenex boxes to ward off germs.”[43] This detail will be featured prominently in The Simpsons episode from its fifth season in which the megalomaniacal Mr. Burns opens a casino, moves onto the top floor, and begins turning into Howard Hughes, down to the Kleenex boxes as slippers.[44])



Hughes would lay eyes on only twelve different people in total—his aides; physicians; and, for five seconds, one of his lawyers—during his four years in Las Vegas.[45]



“He never looked out the window,” Robert Maheu explained. “Darkness frightened him. He just couldn’t bear to see night fall. It bothered him enormously. I think—in fact, I know—that’s part of the reason why he lived the way he did. He didn’t like to be reminded that it sometimes gets dark.”[46]



With the windows sealed shut, curtains closed, air filtered, and a lamp on, Hughes dwelt in an eternal twilight time, where there were no ambient changes to mark the progression of the hours or the seasons.



FOOD. Hughes’ eating habits while at the D.I. were as strange and unhealthy as they had ever been. Though Hughes had a personal chef on the payroll in the hotel’s kitchen, he was never interested in elaborate meals.[47] “He sometimes went for weeks on just candy, cookies, and milk,” reported Phelan.[48]



Hughes went through manias whereby if he acquired a taste for a specific food, he would keep eating it day in day out until he lost his appetite for it, then go on to the next food fixation. Joseph “Doc” Stacher, an associate of Meyer Lansky, recalled:



Moe [Dalitz] was particularly proud of the Monte Carlo Room at his hotel, where he had a French chef and food every gourmet appreciated. The chef nearly walked out several times because Howard Hughes wanted Campbell’s canned chicken soup served to him twice a day. It was bad enough that the chef had to keep sending up those bowls of heated canned soup, but what really infuriated him was when Hughes sent down notes to the kitchen complaining that the soup hadn’t been prepared exactly the way he wanted it. It was to be heated to a precise temperature and one or two bits of things added. Moe had to plead with his chef to take no notice—the man upstairs was crazy.[49]



Berton Cohen, president of the Desert Inn in the late 1960s, had his own story to tell, the “Ice-Cream Saga”:



I want to say it was banana nut, but it doesn’t matter. The point is he was a creature of habit. I got word we were running out of banana nut and called Baskin-Robbins in L.A. to have some shipped in. They’d discontinued the line and would only make something like 100 gallons. Then word came in the next day that he changed his mind and wanted something else and we had to switch.



Cohen said in the year 2000, “Somewhere at the D.I. they still might have old gallons of unopened banana nut.”[50] Regarding Hughes’ taste for ice cream at this time, Charles Higham reported, “Childlike as ever, he had a special spoon, which must never be replaced.”[51]



Other foods Hughes developed a short-lived mania for during the D.I. years included Swanson’s frozen turkey dinners; Arby’s roast beef sandwiches; and apple strudel.[52] The New York Times reported on December 10, 1970, “He eats beef ragout and fresh vegetables for breakfast.”[53] Sometimes Hughes reverted to his traditional fare of grilled steak, medium rare, and peas.[54] Look magazine in June 1971 added, “Hughes prefers milk and springwater, imported from Colorado or Arkansas at four dollars for six half-gallon bottles.”[55]



SUPPORT STAFF. Hughes was tended to by five inner aides and a series of outer aides.[56] While sometimes referred to in the media as “nursemaids” or “bodyguards”, they preferred to be called “staff executives”. They worked in rotating eight-hour shifts. Their “command center” or “communications center” was the hotel’s living room alongside Hughes’ bedroom.[57] There were telephones, a typewriter, filing cabinet, office furniture. Drosnin described the aides as “lackeys with no special skill, not even shorthand.”[58] Hughes was so anxious about human contact that he often communicated with his Mormon aides silently and from afar, through memos.[59] “He would require that you wrote a note to him rather than talk because he was hard of hearing,” one Hughes aide recalled. “So we would write notes to him and he would put them on his stash—papers and things that he read.”[60] Anyhow, according to Drosnin, “Both his body odor and breath were so rank that they didn’t want to get near him.”[61] As for the projection of his 16mm films, Hughes used a system of hand signals (twisting his wrist; moving his hand and fingers) to communicate with the projectionist when he wanted the image focused.[62] Omar Garrison described how the aides went “about their tasks as silently and unobtrusively as ghosts, sometimes swathed like aides in surgery to prevent contamination of personal articles Hughes must handle.”[63] If Garrison’s reference sounds outlandish, one of Hughes’ aides later reported in a taped interview, “On occasion he would have us wear white gloves when we did certain things for him . . . [such as] when we went shopping for him. To his way of thinking it was a normal thing to do.”[64] At this point in our story the mass media did not know the identities of Hughes’ aides, who were sometimes referred to in the press as the “penthouse Mafia” and in Las Vegas as “the Big Five”.[65] In July 1971, James Phelan reported, “Only the insiders knew all five of these men, who shuttled mysteriously around Las Vegas for four years.”[66]



“No one was permitted to speak in Hughes’ presence,” Richard Hack reported. His aides’ purposes were “merely to listen and follow instructions. He was neither interested in nor wanted to hear their opinions, took no interest in their personal lives, and formed no bond of any kind with any of the men on his staff.”[67]



“Hughes was a very somber man,” one of his aides confirmed. “He didn’t joke too much with you. He was pretty stern.”[68]



Two closed-circuit television screens permitted Hughes to see what was going on in the communications center alongside his own bedroom.[69] The living room/communication center divided Hughes away from the front door of the suite. In one way the aides protected Hughes, while another way of looking at it was that they kept him in.



“Hughes had achieved a degree of human inviolability that eluded even absolute monarchs: he dictated the composition of his own peer group,” noted three journalists from the London Sunday Times. “Even absolute monarchs sometimes had to meet people outside their courts, such as ambassadors and occasional peasant leaders.”[70]



The aides were Hughes’ buffer with the outside world. They controlled all communications coming in and going out. (Newsweek magazine described the “round-the-clock monopoly they held over the boss’s communications with the outside world.”[71]) They were in Hughes’ employ but got their ultimate orders from Romaine Street. “Even though Romaine Street was now far away, Gay’s boys on the scene kept him well informed on Howard’s condition,” Robert Maheu recalled. “As it turned out, Gay was far better informed than I was.”[72] Barlett and Steele noted, “The aides quietly communicated with Gay or his deputy Kay Glenn, passing along information about Hughes’ physical or mental state, his financial deals, his current whims.”[73]



For security reasons, the internal Romaine Street-Hughes mail was never sent directly to the Desert Inn, but to a secret post office box at the nearby McCarran Airport not far down Route 91. One of Hughes’ aides collected the mail daily. In this manner sensitive communications could be kept from Robert Maheu’s knowledge, as from Hughes’.[74]



Back in Southern California, Hughes’ operations at 7000 Romaine Street had reduced in scope to a skeleton crew. As Hughes’ harem of starlets had been disbanded years earlier, the driver’s pool was retired from service. His Bungalows at the Beverly Hills Hotel remained empty and silent. Romaine, once his thriving master control center, now seemed as barren as an abandoned warehouse, a dusty monument to his Hollywood prime. For Hughes, Las Vegas was where the action was, and his main man was Maheu. In Hughes’ mind, it was as if Bill Gay and Nadine Henley had ceased for exist. Yet in the rigidly compartmentalized world of the Hughes empire, Gay and Henley had quietly retained their power and influence in direct contravention to Hughes’ attitudes toward them. From his base at 17000 Ventura Boulevard, Gay still sent orders which percolated down though the pipelines of the empire, which was organized in such a hierarchical and bureaucratic manner that, according to James Phelan, “Those who received or executed the orders down the line usually did not know who had originated them.”[75] This would become an increasing problem for Robert Maheu and the stability of his own position in the empire.



Though Hughes had a silver bell with which he could summon his aides to his side, Hughes preferred to generate a sound more dramatic than an elegant tinkling sound—he’d flick his long fingernails against one of the paper bags (from Smart and Final) which he sometimes used as trash bags.[76] The sound of his fingernails flicking a paper bag to summon his aides was an antagonistic sound, a crass, ornery sound. It wouldn’t have bothered Hughes much, who, with his bad ears, probably barely heard it. Might there have been something of spite in the gesture, as if he were summoning a dog, or a disrespectful slave, or imbecilic lackey? It was a jeering sound, quick and precise as a firecracker burst. Was it an act displaying a regal unconcern for his underlings?



WHAT ABOUT JEAN PETERS? When Hughes departed from Southern California in the summer of 1966, he left his wife behind at the Bel Air mansion. It wasn’t long before Hollywood types as well as the media began speculating about the condition of their marriage. For the November 1968 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal, some of Jean Peters’ friends offered a series of cover stories in an attempt to limit the weirdness of the Hughes phenomenon. Reported one:



They take secret trips together. Howard calls for a helicopter to land on the top of the Desert Inn. They fly to his own airstrip, and in a matter of minutes they’re off for Peru or some such place on one of his jets.[77]



And then another:



Jean spends most of the week at her home in Bel-Air. Then on Thursday or Friday she flies to Las Vegas and spends the weekends with Howard at his headquarters at the Desert Inn.



Yet an executive at the Desert Inn told the same magazine, “I’ve never seen the lady.”[78]



The truth? Husband and wife never set eyes on either other in Las Vegas, though Hughes telephoned her a little over 100 times during his stay.[79]



BLEAK HOUSE. For all of Las Vegas’ visual excitement, no matter where you stood out in the arid Vegas air, you felt the bleak open spaces of the Mojave Desert all around. Out there was a harsh land of parched earth barely populated by human, with rubble strewn from ancient geological events; sagebrush; bleached bones. The silence of the valley floor stretching back to distant mountains contrasted with the absurd excitement of the casinos, clustering as a small oasis of visual cacophony in a vast and forbidding landscape. Robert Venturi noted, “Beyond the town, the only transition between the Strip and the Mojave Desert is a zone of rusting beer cans.”[80]



Las Vegas was a schizophrenic place. Here, risk was supposed to be fun. Losing your hard-earned cash was supposed to be no big deal. Here dream and nightmare bled together as one tense experience: Las Vegas was a brightly-lit blip of lunacy in a desert. There was something febrile, frenetic, risky, and hallucinogenic about the place which could drive the ordinary American visitor around the bend. A psychiatrist at the County Hospital told Tom Wolfe, “Three-fourths of the 640 patients who clustered into the ward last year were casualties of the Strip or the Strip milieu of Las Vegas.”[81]



For all of its visual excitement, Las Vegas is a bleak and gloomy place. Its disposition is a cynical exuberance. Las Vegas seduces its visitors to live the dream in order to sucker them out of their reality. Year in year out, perhaps more people leave Las Vegas shellshocked than any other place in America. Las Vegas is a dream world; an air-conditioned nightmare.[82]

[1] Venturi, Learning from Las Vegas, p. 31; 44. ¶ “Las Vegas pays little attention to calendar or clock. The sunshine seems to be permanent, regardless of season; breakfast is served twenty-four hours a day, because gambling goes on twenty-four hours a day.” Hill, Gladwin, “Atomic Boom Town In the Desert”, New York Times, February 11, 1951, p. 158. ¶ “It is a city where there is no time—where living is not controlled by the circadian rhythms of night and day.” Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 25.

[2] Turner, Gamblers’ Money, p. 42.

[3] Eisenberg, Meyer Lansky, p. 262.

[4] See Turner, Gamblers’ Money, p. 42-44.

[5] See Levy, Ratpack Confidential, p. 95; Turner, Gamblers’ Money, p. 9.

[6] See Pileggi, Casino, p. 90.

[7] See Gerber, Bashful Billionaire, p. 310; Phelan, Hidden Years, p. 67; Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 43-4.

[8] See Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 43; Phelan, Hidden Years, p. 68.

[9] See “Mr Howard Hughes is in London”, The (London) Times, December 28, 1972, p. 2.

[10] See Phelan, Hidden Years, p. 67; Hack, Hughes, p. 286.

[11] See Davenport, Hughes Papers, p. 63.

[12] See Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 44.

[13] See Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 44; Demaris, “You and I”, p. 81; Davenport, Hughes Papers, p. 23-4.

[14] See Cole, “Hughes’s Properties Are Reported Worth $2 Billion”, p. 30; also “Life of Howard Hughes Was Marked by a Series of Bizarre and Dramatic Events”, p. 70.

[15] See Hack, Hughes, p. 286.

[16] See Phelan, Hidden Years, p. 68; Hack, Hughes, p. 286.

[17] Fadiman, “Can The Real Howard Hughes . . .”, p. 257.

[18] See Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 44.

[19] Phelan, Hidden Years, p. 68.

[20] See Demaris, “You and I”, p. 81.

[21] See Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 44; Demaris, “You and I”, p. 81; Fadiman, “Can The Real Howard Hughes . . .”, p. 257; Davenport, Hughes Papers, p. 23-4; Higham, Howard Hughes, p. 225. ¶ Fadiman, Jr. suggested a link between Hughes’ 1946 XF-11 crash and the reclusiveness of his later years: “A man who survives such terrible wounds is particularly susceptible to respiratory infection; conceivably, he might not survive pneumonia. This may account for the sterile, air-conditioned, controlled environment in which Hughes lives today.” Fadiman, “Can The Real Howard Hughes . . .”, p. 250. ¶ Also in 1971: “Las Vegas appealed to Hughes. He was known to be a bacteriophobe, and the desert air was germ free.” Schemmer, “What Happened to Howard Hughes”, p. 22. ¶ “a 1946 air crash injured his lungs, rendering him susceptible to bronchial infection.” “The Hughes Legacy: Scramble For The Billions”, Time, April 19, 1976. See also “Billionaire Howard Hughes Dies at 70”, p. 8; “The Secret World Of Howard Hughes”, p. 31.

[22] See Gerber, Bashful Billionaire, p. 311; Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 43; Drosnin, Citizen Hughes, p. 107.

[23] See Maheu, Next to Hughes, p. 16.

[24] See [HH:HLM], p. 368; see also 426.

[25] See Phelan, Hidden Years, p. 67.

[26] “Occasionally, “on the way to the bathroom, or on the way back,” a stark-naked Hughes would pause by the door to the adjoining room where the aides maintained their office and dictate instructions to be forwarded to one of his lieutenants.” [HH:HLM], p. 368. 

[27] Drosnin, Citizen Hughes, p. 53.

[28] See Turner, “A Glimpse into Hughes’s Hidden Life”, p. 49; “The Case of the Invisible Billionaire”, p. 76; Fadiman, “Can The Real Howard Hughes . . .”, p. 257.

[29] See Schemmer, “What Happened to Howard Hughes”, p. 23.

[30] See [HH:HLM], p. 368.

[31] Drosnin, Citizen Hughes, p. 45.

[32] Phelan, Hidden Years, p. 143; see also “The Secret Life of Howard Hughes”, Time, December 13, 1976; Hack, Hughes, p. 373.

[33] See Maheu, Next to Hughes, p. 211; Real, Asylum, p. 271.

[34] “The wardrobe of the one of America’s richest citizens was equally simple, consisting of two sport shirts, two pairs of slacks, and one pair of shoes. Hughes never put on any of these. There was one bathrobe, two pairs of pajamas, and one pair of sandals.” [HH:HLM], p. 367.

[35] See Phelan, Hidden Years, p. 59.

[36] See “The Secret Life of Howard Hughes”, Time, December 13, 1976; also Anderson, “Howard Hughes Revisited”, p. L47; Anderson, “Were There 2 Hugheses?”, p. B11; Anderson, “Intimates Differ on Hughes’ Status”, p. B15.

[37] See [HH:HLM], p. 426; Higham, Howard Hughes, p. 263.

[38] See Drosnin, Citizen Hughes, p. 45; “The Secret Life of Howard Hughes”, Time, December 13, 1976.

[39] See Phelan, Hidden Years, p. 69. See also Drosnin, Citizen Hughes, p. 53.

[40] See Higham, Howard Hughes, p. 225.

[41] See [HH:HLM], p. 426; Higham, Howard Hughes, p. 263.

[42] See Anderson, “Intimates Differ on Hughes’ Status”, p. B15; Sederberg, “Smart Money Is Betting Hughes’ Las Vegas Venture Will Pay Off”, p. D2.

[43] “The Case of the Invisible Billionaire”, p. 76. See also Brussel, “Is Howard Hughes Dead and Buried Off a Greek Island?”.

[44] “Springfield (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Legalized Gambling)”, original airdate: December 16, 1993.

[45] See [HH:HLM], p. 289; 324.

[46] See Hougan, Spooks, p. 264; 311.

[47] See Demaris, “You and I”, p. 81.

[48] See Hidden Years, p. 17.

[49] Quoted in Eisenberg, Meyer Lansky, p. 268-9; see also Higham, Howard Hughes, p. 221.

[50] Katsilometes, John, “Desert Inn Celebrates its Golden Anniversary”, Las Vegas Sun, April 20, 2000—from their website archives. See also [HH:US], p. 340-1; Phelan, Hidden Years, p. 86-8; Higham, Howard Hughes, p. 221-2.

[51] Higham, Howard Hughes, p. 221.

[52] See Phelan, Hidden Years, p. 84-5; Hack, Hughes, p. 312-3; Higham, Howard Hughes, p. 221; 226.

[53] Turner, “A Glimpse into Hughes’s Hidden Life”, p. 49.

[54] See Higham, Howard Hughes, p. 221.

[55] Schemmer, “What Happened to Howard Hughes”, p. 23.

[56] Inner aides were Roy Crawford, Howard Eckersley, George Francom, John Holmes, and Levar Myler. Other aides included Gordon Margulis and Clarence “Chuck” Waldron.

[57] See Schemmer, “What Happened to Howard Hughes”, p. 23.

[58] Drosnin, Citizen Hughes, p. 53.

[59] See, for example, “The Hughes Legacy: Scramble For The Billions”, Time, April 19, 1976.

[60] See George Francom interview in “Howard Hughes: The Real Aviator”, DVD documentary.

[61] Drosnin, Citizen Hughes, p. 62.

[62] See Frehner, Hughes and Me, p. 224.

[63] See Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 44.

[64] See George Francom interview in “Howard Hughes: The Real Aviator”, DVD documentary.

[65] See, for example, Schemmer, “What Happened to Howard Hughes”, p. 23; “Shootout at the Hughes Corral”, Time, December 21, 1970; “The Case of the Invisible Billionaire”, p. 76.

[66] Turner, “All the Hughes”, p. 73.

[67] See Hack, Hughes, p. 286.

[68] See George Francom interview in “Howard Hughes: The Real Aviator”, DVD documentary.

[69] See Garrison, Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, p. 44; Fadiman, “Can The Real Howard Hughes . . .”, p. 257; Davenport, Hughes Papers, p. 23-4.

[70] Fax, Hoax, p. 47.

[71] “The Secret World Of Howard Hughes”, p. 31.

[72] Maheu, Next to Hughes, p. 218.

[73] [HH:HLM], p. 325-6.

[74] Phelan, Hidden Years, p. 83.

[75] See Phelan, Hidden Years, p. 9; Phelan, Scandals, Scamps and Scoundrels, p. 189; [HH:HLM], p. 296; Hack, Hughes, p. 294.

[76] See Hack, Hughes, p. 286; Drosin, Citizen Hughes, p. 469; Frehner, Hughes and Me, p. 84; Higham, Howard Hughes, p. 200; 225, Phelan, Hidden Years, p. 68.

[77] See Lyons, “America’s Richest Wife”, p. 165.

[78] See Lyons, “America’s Richest Wife”, p. 161; Scott, “The Closely Guarded Life of Mrs. Howard Hughes”, p. 115.

[79] See [HH:US], p. 342; Finstad, Heir, p. 23. ¶ A contradictory account, which reports that Jean Peters was Hughes’ only regular visitor during his Las Vegas years, is in Schemmer, “What Happened to Howard Hughes”, p. 22; Helenthal, The Keokuk Connection, p. 18; Lyon, “America’s Richest Wife”, p. 161. ¶ One rumor about Hughes’ Vegas years is that he sometimes spent several days at a time at the ranch in Red Rock Canyon with Jean Peters. See Sederberg, “Smart Money Is Betting Hughes’ Las Vegas Venture Will Pay Off”, p. D2; “Life of Howard Hughes Was Marked by a Series of Bizarre and Dramatic Events”, p. 70.

[80] Venturi, Learning from Las Vegas, p. 42.

[81] Wolfe, “Las Vegas (What?)”, p. 33.

[82] Nod to Henry Miller.

Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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Inherent Acid

674650796_110.thumb.jpg.efc81c4a86f4ae4ce2e608e731ba828b.jpg(1:10) The first shot of JP in Inherent Vice (2014). Consider the color of the shot. Contributing to the humor of JP's first scene is that JP is blasted on acid and the audience has no idea. (How else do we explain his heavy environmental eyeball activity at the title credit at 7:30?) Film director PTA is conveying this interior secret to the audience right at the start with the psychedelic colors : a lovely trick, a lovely grace note to start the movie. PTA is showing the Spectator a secret which the Spectator cannot yet understand : this is the process of Art.


In a first-rate film, the general condition of the frame always (so to speak) conveys an interiority of the subject character.


Example :


Two characters enter the same room. Why does Kubrick shoot Dr. Bill that way, and Carl the other way?




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Note the sadness of the man. Of the man alone. Of the man looking out a window. A window we cannot see.


This is a contemplative character, perhaps remembering (how to put it?) “the past outside the window”, and displaying a melancholy passivity.


Is there also perhaps a sense of being caught? The exit is there—the window—but inaccessible in this shot. Notice the bright 2001: A Space Odyssey–type detailed filament on the couch. Is it not a barrier between JP and the window?


A man alone, remembering the irrecoverable past.


We the audience are looking through the window of the film, remembering the irrecoverable past.


The character's inner radiance of mind-thoughts is conveyed by the golden light illuminating his head.


Blue is often a color of sadness (“Feeling blue”). Here, the color collaborates with the actor's melancholy expression.


Is this a shot of desolation?


The year 1970 is evoked via the retro cushions. What can we learn about this character from his environment? The eclecticism of the furnishings, the clash of styles of cushions and sofa . . . ?  


The color red. The international color of danger. People see such a dramatic red every single day : a stop sign. Why a stop sign? 1970 is dead and gone.


Red is also the color of life-blood pumping. Life is passing the passive person by.


Note the contrast of the cinematographer's vibrant lights with the character's facial expression. Melancholy passivity mixed with vibrant colors conveys the condition of a full-blooded human being, full of potential and feeling and heart, trapped in a Situation and abandoned by society to rot until death. Heart and mind, caged. Sound familiar?


Note the black ambience with white highlights on the right side of the screen. Did we not just hear the Muse’s voice? The next time we see her, notice the window behind her.




The window becomes visible when JP rises, revealing that the outdoors is the same color as JP’s shirt. Coincidence? Note the icy-white illumination around the window panes : cold. The window on the left even looks as if it has a bit of snowflakes piled up. Note the contrast of coldness and heat (the lamp). 


A man from the past, thinking about the past. A hot-blooded man in a cold world. Sounds like PTA. Sounds like the Spectator.


Sounds like first-rate filmmaking.




Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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Magnolia (1999) : Great Directors in Six Minutes






Taxi Driver, 10:49






1982 : the most significant year in 1980s Hollywood (e.g., Spielberg's ET becomes highest-grossing film of all time and remains so for rest of decade).

The repetition of "82" throughout the first six minutes—for example :


recalls the repetition of "42" in The Shining


Summer of 42 (1971)



"In the city of Los Angeles on March 23rd, 1958"—the year of Hitchcock's Vertigo, not just any old movie. Recall the Foreign Correspondent (1940) connection :







After Hours (1985), 1:14:35






A spitting image of Charles Whitman.


"Charles Whitman killed 12 people from a 28-story observation tower at the University of Texas. From distances of up to 400 yards." (Full Metal Jacket)


Loading the weapon in a lonely room recalls one of Hollywood's very first police procedurals, The Sniper (1952), directed by the once-blacklisted Edward Dmytryk.




Which is Spielberg's Always (1989) and which is Magnolia?




Jane Eyre (1943), 7:20






Citizen Kane, 55:12



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The Genius of "Making More"


LIPPI, Filippino, Disputation with Simon Magus and Crucifixion of Peter (1481–82), Fresco, Cappella Brancacci, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence.


One structural technique used in this fresco is a colossal fundamental of the old masters.


Note the passageway in the center of the frame. This structural set-up conveys, as it does in every Renaissance artwork in which this structure is employed (so to speak), that there is literally a world of difference between the one side and the other.


But this extremely common technique is applied here with an added element to it, which makes the use in this particular example extra interesting : the hill in the distance, dead-center in the frame, is evidently meant to remind the Spectator of the nightmare place of Golgotha.


Note, however, what an apparently beautiful day it is weather-wise out there in the place which reminds us of the human death of a world religion’s god : contrast.


(On that last line, see W. H. Auden, “Musee des Beaux Arts”.)


Here, an ordinary technique is intensified. The view in the distance conveys both consonance and contrast simultaneously!


One might conclude this artist is a genius. In fact, he is, and the world knows it.




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A Breathtaking Genius Touch


MASACCIO, Crucifixion of St Peter (1426), Tempera on panel, Staatliche Museen, Berlin.


Note the remarkable symbolism here. This unfortunate man has entered a world of pain. The doorway behind him leads to pitch darkness : not an auspicious sign. But wait. Consider the man’s head, and how it is propped up on what looks like a sewer grating. A sewer is underground, just as a grave is. But the man’s head is stopped from going under—and the suggestion is that he is not going under. But there’s more, which is breathtaking. The sewer grating is equivalent to the holy glow around the heads of the sanctified in Renaissance painting.

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Cinematography : Beauty and Ugliness.


Let us pause for a moment to note an extremely strange phenomenon that artists in painting and film must confront : the beautiful visualization of ugliness.


That sounds like a contradiction : a beautiful depiction of the death of a god?


I remember when I saw Mississippi Burning (1988) in the movie theater way back when. In it is one shot of especially horrible American history : the hanging of a black slave. What struck my young mind was the extreme beauty of the shot : the slave is hanging amid a wealth of fiery flames, captured with all the genius of the cinematographer Peter Biziou. If one removes the content of the shot, the shot is wondrously beautiful in color, shadow, nighttime atmosphere—state-of-the-art lensing back in 1988.


Even as a kid I noted the contradiction happening there : We are watching an extremely beautiful shot of something extremely horrible!


This is the precise same problem the Renaissance painters faced when depicting the crucifixion.


Europe has many, many, many thousands of beautiful crucifixions!


This theme/structure dichotomy is an inherent glitch in Art. Isn’t it? Generally speaking, what is ugly in life should be captured as ugly in art—right?


But how do you get Spectators to contemplate your ugly subject if the presentation repels the eye?


I have been considering this phenomenon since 1988 and I haven’t moved any further from simply noting the problem : Art’s strange phenomenon of depicting ugliness beautifully.

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