Death of the Dream, Again

Article excerpt

OURS, as you have been told often enough, is the American Century, hostage to the American belief that their lurid confection of opportunity, daring, ambition, rugged individualism, wealth and happiness is self-evidently worth pursuing, even if it doesn't seem to be working out terribly well just at the moment.

No, no, you groan, please, not another piece about the Death of the Dream; it will have rich irony and deep tragedy, it will be set against the gaudy background of Hollywood, which will be called The Dream Factory and also used as A Metaphor For The Whole, and I don't think I can stand it.

Well, yes: but this, in honesty, is not any old Death; this is the Death of the Dream that Freud and Jung would have popped their couches for; this is the Gone With The Wind, the Ben Hur, the Sunset Boulevard of Dead American Dreams; this, ladies and gentlemen, is Howard Hughes.

Allow me to precis: Howard Robard Hughes, Jr, was the son of an obsessively philandering father and an obsessively possessive mother. He was born and brought up in Houston, a city split between the old southern gentilities and Texas brashness. His father founded his fortune on the invention of a drill bit tough enough to penetrate down into the oil waiting to transform America. His company was the Hughes Tool Company (to save space, please work up your own metaphors where appropriate). Both parents died young and suddenly, leaving a teenager who was awkwardly tall, very shy, quite deaf, stifled, patchily educated, very rich and very keen on films, flying and sexual intercourse.

For the record: Films: Hughes produced Hell's Angels (1930), an immensely expensive airborne spectacular which introduced Jean Harlow; The Outlaw (1943), which introduced Jane Russell's breasts, for which he designed a cantilevered brassiere (Hughes had a thing about breasts); and very little else worth mentioning, despite his ownership for a period of RKO, always excepting John Wayne as Genghis Khan ("This Tartar woman is for me and my blood says take her!").

Flying: Air Speed Record (1935); TransAmerica Record (1937); Round World Record (1938). He founded the Hughes Air Co, becoming a vital figure in the American air and space defence systems industry; he was also owner of the greater part of TWA, leading the way in developing post-war long-haul flying.

Sexual intercourse: Jean Harlow, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Yvonne De Carlo, Rita Hayworth, Linda Darnell, Ginger Rogers, Kathryn Grayson, Ava Gardner, Lana Turner, and some hundreds of sundry starlets.

All this was based on the wealth provided by the Tool Co. According to numerous psychological studies, it was also an attempt to escape, emulate and revenge himself upon his parents. Hughes's mental health was not helped by the 14 separate head injuries he sustained in air and car accidents. He was also diagnosed as suffering from Neurosyphilis and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). He kept the stable of starlets he used for occasional sex in a form of purdah, holding out to them the hope of film roles that rarely came. …