From the Nevada Historical Quarterly
We were recently delighted to read this comprehensive review of HOWARD HUGHES: Power, Paranoia, and Palace Intrigue by Geoff Schumacher. Fascination with Hughes never ends because, well, he was a pretty fascinating guy. His impact on Las Vegas lives on today.
“The buildings and institutions of Las Vegas don’t attract nearly as much attention as the personalities who have called that city home, even briefly. Thus far, there has been no great Vegas visionary born in Las Vegas; those who have changed the city have, for the most part, come to town from elsewhere. Most of the stories, then, have the same trajectory: The genius moves to Las Vegas, does something never before seen, then reaps the fruits of his fortune, for better or worse.
Perhaps the most exhaustively written-about Las Vegan, Howard Hughes has attracted numerous biographers of all stripes. More than four-dozen books about him have been published since the 1960s. It would seem that there’s little more we can learn about his life. But a recent book places Hughes into what may be his definitive Las Vegas context. In Howard Hughes: Power, Paranoia, and Palace Intrigue, Geoff Schumacher has written a hybrid. In some regards, it’s a synthesis of the plethora of previous Hughes works. Schumacher combined through what must have been an endless array of news clippings and tomes of Hughesiana. But he also availed himself of rare and unique primary sources at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Special Collections; the Nevada State Museum and Historical Society; and the treasure troves of private collectors. His thoroughness definitely shows. I doubt there’s much about Hughes particularly his four Las Vegas years—that Schumacher doesn’t touch on.
The book starts with a quick summary of Hughes B.V. (Before Vegas), then discusses his less-known earlier stays in Las Vegas, including his 1943 Lake Mead crash and his 1953 purchase of the Green House, which is still intact on the land of KLAS-TV. Then he brings in the story of Hughes’s right hand, Bob Maheu. Maheu’s story has been well documented, but seems to gain something by being placed more clearly in the critical context of Hughes’s time in Las Vegas, as presented by Schumacher.
As the Hughes roller coaster inches higher up the initial slope, Schumacher stops to describe “what Vegas saw” with a quick chronological survey of contemporary media coverage of the Hughes Las Vegas years (1966-1970). Then he dives into detailed chapters on Hughes in Vegas. These run the gamut from profiles of significant figures such as Hank Greenspun, Paul Winn, and John Meier, to discussions of key topics: the Clifford Irving hoax biography, the palace coup that brought Maheu down, and the sometimes outlandish fight over the estate in the face of competing Hughes wills, none of which was proved authentic. Melvin Dummar’s tragicomic tale—more tragedy than comedy, it now seems—gets ample space, and probably its best analysis yet.
Schumacher then jumps tracks, switching from biographer to critic with a section called “Hughesiana” that features a mix of non-Vegas profiles (Jane Russell, Rupert Hughes, and the RKO fiasco) and extended takes on “Weird Tales” (obscure Hughes texts) and “the Fictional Hughes,” which is an up-to-date consideration of the reams of paper and reels of celluloid fantasy that Hughes has inspired.
The book’s key strength is Schumacher’s attention to detail and thoughtful use of his sources. Without an axe to grind, he is able to write a dispassionate book about the eccentric billionaire, a decided rarity. Since Hughes was far from balanced, he invites wild speculation and still, more than thirty years after his death, an almost messianic fervor. Schumacher immersed himself in his sources without becoming captured by them—a hard task, indeed, where Hughes is concerned.”
—David G. Schwartz, Nevada Historical Society Quarterly
The Nevada Historical Society is a perfect way to embrace your fascination with Nevada’s rich history. Membership fees are very modest (just $35 for an individual) and garner all sorts of advantages including a subscription to the Nevada Historical Society Quarterly, free admission to seven museums, discounts, and other benefits. For more information, go to the Nevada Culture website.
Book review reproduced with permission.