A Las Vegas figure who continues to fascinate us is Howard Hughes. His world still resonates with us 50 years ago after his arrival in Las Vegas.
Geoff Schumacher is the author the 2008 book, “Howard Hughes: Power, Paranoia & Palace Intrigue.” Geoff is giving a talk, "The Secret World of Howard Hughes," at The Mob Museum on Tuesday, November 22.
Schumacher also updates us on the The Mob Museum's acquisition of a gun owned by mobster Al Capone. There's been some confusion about the gun that went on display a few weeks ago. Was it the wrong gun? Schumacher explains.
What is it that draws us to Howard Hughes?
I think there are two different things about Hughes that have drawn people over the years. One is the fact that he was a really brilliant business man and an innovator.
He was most famous, in his entire life, in 1938 when he traveled around the world in record time by airplane. This is something people forget when they think about the recluse who was living at the [Desert Inn] in Las Vegas in the late 60s.
Later, he became the sort of strange reclusive figure that probably today most people think about. I think that is what’s fascinating about him. What was really going on in his head, separating the truth from the fiction in regard to what was happening behind closed doors?
Hughes came to Las Vegas in November 1966, why did he come here? And did he come in secret?
He came in secret. The year before Howard Hughes had won a settlement from the TWA. He had been the major shareholder of TWA. He was in a fight with the other shareholders. It was a long drawn out legal battle but he ended up selling the shares for $546 million. So, he had a check.
So, what happens when you suddenly have $546 million? The IRS wants to come and take a big chunk of that. And Howard Hughes didn’t want that to happen. So, he was looking for ways to re-invest that money. So, he decided that he would move to Nevada… he secretly moved here. He came here by train in the middle of the night and ended up at the DI.
Where is Howard Hughes on the list of influential Las Vegas residents?
I think Howard Hughes would definitely be top ten. I don’t know if I want to go top five. Because he was not a builder. He didn’t build giant resorts like Steve Wynn or Sheldon Adelson. But he did have these subtle influences on Las Vegas that continue to ripple today. For example, the Corporate Gaming Act in 1969 allowed corporations to invest in Las Vegas in a way they could not do before. It was Howard Hughes arrival in Las Vegas that had prompted the thinking about that.
The second thing is he nudged the mob out of Las Vegas. I don’t want to say more than nudging because there is a lot of evidence that even after he bought a series of casinos on the Las Vegas Strip that the mob was still skimming from the very casinos he had bought from them.
But what he did do is open the door for main stream business America to say, ‘You know what we can invest in Las Vegas too.”
There is a section of the book about Hughes, movies and Channel 8 KLAS-TV:
One of the things Hughes did in his life was he made movies. He was a movie mogul. He made some very famous movies as a director and a producing, including the original “Scarface,” depicting the life of Al Capone in 1933. Before that he made a picture called “Hell’s Angels” about World War I with all these really daring flying feats.
He was a film maker. So he took great interest in movies and he watched a lot of movies, especially later in his life. And he was also a night owl. He loved to stay up late at night. This was part of him being an eccentric. He slept during the day and stayed up all night.
When he was at the Desert Inn hotel, he wanted to watch movies all night. Channel 8 would shut off the movies at 2 a.m. or something like that. Back in those days TV stations went off the air for a period of time. Well Hughes didn’t want that to happen. Second, he wanted them to show certain movies that he wanted to watch.
Hughes ended up buying Channel 8 specifically so that he could schedule the movies, the late night movies on Channel 8. He didn’t take a great interest in the news. He wasn’t influencing the news.
Give us an update on the Al Capone gun because there was so mix up with the guns:
We have a received a loan of a gun from the IRS Criminal Division in Washington, D.C. There was a gun that was originally owned by Al Capone. We put that gun on display originally in September only to learn a few days later that we actually did not have the correct gun on display.
IRS Criminal had two guns very similar and that they had accidentally brought us the wrong one. They brought the correct gun to us and we quickly switched those out. Now, we have the correct gun on display.
How did anyone know it was the wrong gun?
I’m not a gun expert but a lot of our guests are. So, when we described the gun whether it was on the label in the museum or on Facebook where we had posted a story about. There were gun experts going, ‘I don’t think that is exactly the gun you’re describing.’ People are very particular about these things.
Geoff Schumacher, director of content, The Mob Museum
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