THE LEGENDARY HOWARD HUGHES JR.

His genius,visions, passions and mystique.

From Prosso to Fessenden


 

Howard Robard Hughes Sr. sent his son, Howard jr.only to the best and most prestigious schools possible. When he was old enough , Howard jr. went to Prosso Elementary School in Houston. School director James Richardson observed that Howard jr. was taunted by the other boys who called him “sissy”. Richardson urged Howard Sr. to extricate his son from his mother’s side because “he was brought up to feel his superiority and he needs to feel he is part of the world, instead of the larger or better parts”.

 

In 1916, when Howard jr. was 11, this unhealthy bond between mother and son was disrupted for the first time when he boldly asked to attend a boys camp in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. It’s founder was the much loved and well respected Daniel Carter Beard ( a former US army rough rider and co-founder of the Boys Scouts of America). The camp was sort of a survival school for eastern preppies who had been pampered since birth.To his mother, Allene, Beard wrote of Howard jr., “He is an interesting little chap…he shows no sign of homesickness at all and seems very happy”.

Allene would send her many letters of concerns for Howard jr.’s health and safety to Beard even if there wasn’t a single real cause for alarm.  After nearly 6 weeks away from home, Howard jr. became sun-bronzed and sturdy and even boated on Lake Teedyuskung with the camp’s first-timers or “tenderfoots” , and camped out overnight. He even learned to make fires without matches, fry up a breakfast of bacon and flapjacks and excelled in bird studies in “scoutcraft”. But Allene just couldn’t leave her son alone and she wrote her pitiful letters again telling Beard of her fear for the polio virus. Against, Beard’s protests Allene took her son out of the camp, to Howard jr.’s disappointment ,embarrassment and humiliation.

 

In 1919, when Howard jr.was 14, he attended South End Junior High (now San Jacinto High) in Houston. He was only a mediocre student but his father was determined get him enrolled in the best schools. He wanted to send his son to Harvard and as a preparation thereof, Howard jr. was enrolled in the exclusive Fessenden School in West Newton, Massachusetts in the fall of 1920. Frederick James Fessenden, founder of the school wrote of Howard jr. “It is important for him to do what’s required of him. It isn’t easy for a boy who has never attended boarding school and who was been so indulged at home”.

Though he would stay only a year in Fessenden, it was here that Howard jr.was introduced to his lifetime passion. During a weekend visit he talked his father into taking him to a New England River where a seaplane bobbed. Reluctantly Howard Sr. let his son take a brief flight at the cost of  $ 5.00. This changed the course of Howard’s life and later on, of modern aviation itself. Howard jr.would graduate at Fessenden in 1921 in the  8th grade ,with distinction. Howard Sr. felt that the experiment of weaning his son away from the suffocating grasp of his mother was working and he was greatly pleased.

 


Sherman Day Thacher

There are so many what –ifs in history and if Howard jr.never left Thacher school after his mother died, he might have been a better man. Unfortunately, Howard Sr.’s obstinacy and selfishness made all his efforts in providing a good, solid educational foundation for his son go to a complete waste when he pulled him out of this school.

In September, 1921, Howard Sr. enrolled his son at Thacher School in Ojai Valley, California. It was not an easy admission for the school was filled to capacity. Somehow Howard Sr. wangled his son’s way into the school and money might have changed hands because Howard jr. finally became the 61st student in a school that boasted no more than 60 students per quarter. But it was well worth the effort. The school was founded by the eminent Sherman Day Thacher, a rugged footballer from Yale who transformed his 168 acre of sagebrush into an academy geared for disciplining rich boys. This was the main reason Howard Sr.chose it. Thacher also had an unwritten agreement with Howard Sr: Howard jr. was to finally stand on his own two feet .There would be no more special treatment, no more health alerts ,no more scholastic dispensations.

The prescription was working. But soon as Allene Hughes heard that his son had an insignificant boil and minor scratch from his horseback riding, she sent no less than Dr.H.T. Chickering of the Rockefeller Institute to examine Howard jr.’s condition.

Dr. Chickering’s diagnosis ,” I found Howard quite well and happy. He was not in the least ill.” On March 22, 1922, the bond between mother and son was forever broken when Allen entered the hospital for an operation to remove her tubular pregnancy . It was a relatively simple operation but she didn’t survive and died at the age of only 39. Howard Sr. was devastated. After Howard jr. attended the wake and funeral of his mother he went back to Thacher School . But his father was so lonely (and probably guilt ridden) that he wrote Thacher, “ I am terribly lonely without him (Howard jr.).I can’t get a grip of myself.”

Though sympathetic, Thacher was firm. “I feel it would be the very worst thing for this young man”, was his reply to Howard Sr.

Privately, Thacher who was an expert in redeeming spoiled young boys for 2 decades, believed that the academy was Howard jr.’s last chance to become a socially well-integrated young man.

In the months following Allene’s death, Howard jr. appeared to recover rapidly from his sorrows. His professors noted that, “his mother’s death seemed to have freed him from a great emotional burden”. One even noticed that his shyness began to abate.

Thacher fought Howard Sr. to keep his son in school through the end of the school year.

Thacher held a meeting with the teachers closest to Howard jr. and after listening to their counsel, he wrote Howard Sr. that his son “needs more than most boys the contact with other fellows such as he gets here.”

He added that, “I think your desire to indulge him in every way would probably be very hard for him to resist.”

Six Thacher professors signed a petition in an attempt to rescue Howard jr. It concluded that “This boy really needs to remain in school.”

In the poignant words of authors Peter Harry Brown and Pat H.Broeske (Howard Hughes” The Untold Story),”Thacher was trying to throw this emotionally churning student a life raft, but Howard Sr. was either too selfish or distraught to respond. He removed his son from Thacher anyway (on Christmas day, 1922).”

Had Howard jr. stayed on in Thacher, things might have been different. He would have been more equipped in handling problems and commitments. He would not have been the “avoider” that he was. But that one act of loneliness on Howard Sr.’s part , his obstinacy in getting his son out of school even before he was supposed to, his seemingly selfish desires to quell his sadness ,forever doomed his son into a troubled life of madness In the end it was Howard jr.who suffered through it all,dying of neclect like a beggar on the streets despite his billions. He would never be able to find love, though he courted and bedded so many beautiful women. His failures would haunt him and eclipse his triumphs.

Sherman Day Thacher was a man of vision and he was the first to really see the future for Howard Hughes jr. Unluckily for Howard jr., Sherman Day Thacher’s predictions all came true.

 


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