The Nation: Scenes from the Hidden Years

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"The boss is stacking his papers," the aide on duty said.

Later Margulis watched him many times. "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."

As Margulis soon learned, Hughes was an incredibly capricious eater.

At the Desert Inn, he went for a marathon stretch subsisting on Campbell's canned chicken soup. [During his Campbell's soup period he maintained Margulis on full-time duty to warm up his canned soup to the precise temperature he preferred.] While living week in and week out on a diet that a ten-cent-store clerk would have spurned, he was as finicky as a habitue of Maxim's about its preparation.

"It was not unusual for Hughes to take eight hours to consume the two bowls of soup produced by a single can," Margulis recalls. "He would eat a spoonful and then get interested in watching a movie on his projector—often a movie he had already seen twenty times. The soup would cool down and he would send it back to be reheated. It had to be heated carefully, so that it would be hot enough but not too hot.

"He would eat another spoonful or so, get involved in the movie again and send the soup back to be reheated. There were times when I reheated the same can of soup ten or twelve times."

When he came off his marathon canned chicken-soup diet, he switched to the hotel's vegetable soup. "Now this is only a trial period," Hughes said, "because I want it just the way I like it, and it has to be right."

Hughes instructed that his soup be prepared separately from that for hotel diners. It was to be cooked only in a stainless steel pot and with bottled Poland water. He tried the vegetable soup three times, labeling them Batch One, Two, and Three, and then designated one of the batches as acceptable.

"The chef told me later," said Margulis, "that he had used the same recipe each time."

[When Hughes settled on a menu,] he would demand the same meal every day. This precipitated the great Baskin-Robbins ice-cream fiasco.

He tried some of Baskin-Robbins' 31 varieties of ice cream, chose banana-nut as his favorite, and had two scoops of it with every meal for months.

The staff kept it constantly on hand.

One day the ice-cream supply was running low, and Mell Stewart was sent to the local Baskin-Robbins to replenish it. He came back with bleak news. The ice-cream chain, which adds new varieties periodically and drops others, had discontinued the Hughes favorite. No more banana-nut.

The aides went into a panic. There were only about six or eight scoops left, and then what? One of the aides saw a way out of the looming crisis. He told Stewart to telephone the Baskin-Robbins office in California and ask if they could make up a special batch of banana-nut.

"I got on the telephone and talked to one of the executives," Stewart says. "He said they didn't ordinarily do this, but it could be done.

"I asked what was the smallest batch they could make on special order. He said 350 gallons."

Stewart's mind reeled. "[But] by now 1 was beginning to understand how

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