(5 of 5)
Whatever the outcome of the legal proceedings, Hughes will be one of the hottest show-biz properties of 1977. People the world over will be seeing and reading more about Howard Hughes next year than at any time since he was setting new air records and squiring numerous beautiful women in the 1940s and '50s. Warner Bros, is planning to make The Howard Hughes Story, possibly starring Warren Beatty; Universal has an option on The Melvin Dummar Story. NBC, CBS and ABC all are producing specials on Hughes. The British Broadcasting Corp. and CTV are teaming up to produce a 90-minute dramatized documentary. Seven books are in the works, including a William Morrow edition titled His Weird and Wanton Ways: The Secret of Howard Hughes, by Richard Mathison.
For the Phelan book, Random House plans an exceptionally big first printing of 50,000 copies. To the closest aficionados of Hughesiana, large parts of Phelan's book will not be new, and the writing is sometimes flatfooted. But Phelan has unearthed an impressive amount of new material, and the story he tells is suspenseful, sometimes pathetically humorous, and always absorbing.
In his prime, Hughes was the archetypal American hero —the daring aviator and indefatigable tinkerer who spurred science to new horizons. He owned one of the most crucial defense firms in the U.S. (Hughes Aircraft), a flag-carrying airline (TWA) and myriad companies whose prosperity guaranteed the welfare of dozens of communities. Even during the hidden penthouse years, Hughes exercised great influence at the highest levels of Government. As he wasted away in the Desert Inn, the CIA used him for a cover in an operation fraught with serious international repercussions.
The circumstances of his last years and his death require clarification. In his book, Phelan makes no claim to have uncovered the whole truth. But he has made a beginning.