Howard Hughes & Women: Katherine Hepburn, his Wife & Girlfriends

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  • 0:00 Intro to Howard Hughes
  • 0:43 Hughes' Early Life
  • 1:11 Marriage and Hollywood
  • 2:31 Katherine Hepburn
  • 3:13 Other Wives
  • 4:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erin Carroll

Erin has taught English and History. She has a bachelor's degree in History, and a master's degree in International Relations

In this lesson, you will learn a little bit about the famous billionaire, aviator, and film producer Howard Hughes and his relationships with women. He was an infamous womanizer and carried on affairs with many of Hollywood's starlets.

Intro to Howard Hughes

Howard Hughes was a successful film producer, aviator, and eccentric. Information about his private life seems more like tabloid headlines than historical fact. As you might imagine, most of the information we have about Howard Hughes' romantic affairs are mostly the province of gossip, speculation, and decades-later recollections.

However, some details have been revealed or whispered often enough to be taken as truth. By many accounts, Hughes was a misogynist who was possessive with women and dated a large number of them. This lesson will simply take a quick look at Howard's relationships with women throughout his life.

Hughes' Early Life

Hughes was born in 1905 in Houston, Texas. Howard's father patented a piece of equipment called the two-cone roller bit that was very valuable for oil drilling. This invention made the Hughes family a multi-million dollar fortune. Howard's mother Allene died in 1922 from pregnancy complications, and his father died suddenly two years later of a heart attack. At just nineteen years old, Howard inherited three-quarters of the Hughes family fortune.

Marriage and Hollywood

Hughes became interested in movie making, and shortly after the deaths of his parents he made plans to move to Hollywood. The surviving members of the Hughes family demanded that Hughes get married before moving out to California, so Howard married Houston socialite Ella Rice in 1925. The two moved to Los Angeles, but almost immediately Hughes placed his new wife in a nice hotel and ignored her while focusing on becoming a film producer. In 1929, Ella moved back to Houston, and the two were soon divorced.

Hughes remained in Hollywood and began making movies. He also began seeing a lot of beautiful actresses. It's really no surprise that a rich and influential film producer in Hollywood was able to initiate relationships with dozens of 1930s starlets.

After his divorce, he fell in love with actress Billie Dove and apparently tried to pay Dove's husband to divorce her. He was notoriously unfaithful and also prone to propose marriage early and often. Ava Gardner, Ginger Rogers, and Katharine Hepburn all recall turning down his repeated marriage proposals. Howard was rumored to be highly jealous and possessive, and he could be physically abusive with women.

There are also many reports that Hughes enjoyed relationships with some of Hollywood's most prominent male actors.

Katharine Hepburn

In the late 1930s, Hughes had a prominent relationship with the notoriously independent actress Katharine Hepburn. They met as both were trying desperately to become rich and famous in the business.

It was around this time that Hepburn made a few films that flopped and was literally labeled as box office poison. Hughes had become more and more infatuated with Katharine and proposed marriage. However, Hepburn was determined to get her career back on track. She starred in the Broadway play 'The Philadelphia Story', and bought the film rights for the play with Howard's help. The movie proved to be a huge success and re-launched her illustrious career. The relationship between Howard and Katharine fizzled out.

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