Reel To Real: Was ‘Aviator’ Howard Hughes Really A Player?

You could say he didn't need a star map to find many actress' homes.

The Reel Story: The Oscar race, led by big-budget epic “The Aviator” with a field-best 11 nominations, is coming down the home stretch as this year’s ceremony looms on Sunday. With director Martin Scorsese nominated for yet another trophy (believe it or not, the director of “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas” has never won), and the movie itself up for Best Picture, Oscar voters obviously think the film is worth a second look.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays American legend Howard Hughes, who, in between building empires in Hollywood and in the skies, was the quintessential eccentric playboy. DiCaprio’s Hughes is shown wooing Hollywood’s leading ladies of the day, including Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett), Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale) and Jean Harlow (Gwen Stefani).

In the first half of the film, Hughes rolls through Hollywood like a mix of Diddy and Colin Farrell, making deals and sweet-talking the ladies. Which, of course, makes you wonder: How much of this is Hollywood magic, and how much is true? Was Howard Hughes a player?

The Real Story: Yes, and then some.

High-flying Hughes turned Hollywood on its ear in his 20s, broke the world speed record at the age of 30, revolutionized the airline industry in his 40s, and went famously crazy by the time he was 60.

During his storied life, Hughes directed and produced films and eventually bought his own movie studio. Needless to say, he had a lot of pull with many leading ladies, but don’t let his power and influence overshadow his charm — by all accounts Hughes was an attractive and enigmatic genius.

“The Aviator” does take some liberties with Hughes’ personal life. The film bumped up his meeting with Ava Gardner several years, and Jane Russell — a woman whose breasts so fascinated Hughes that he created both a movie (“The Outlaw”) and a bra (a cantilever design) for them — is nowhere in sight.

Make no mistake, Hughes was a player whose romantic escapades not only included a decades-long on/off affair with Gardner and a romance with Hepburn, but also an extensive list of Tinseltown beauties including Jean Harlow, Lana Turner, Rita Hayworth, Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis and Ginger Rogers.

A rich man who aspired to greatness, later in his life Hughes was plagued by demons and madness. He died alone in his suite in the Desert Inn hotel in Las Vegas — a building he had to purchase to prevent his eviction.

Check out everything we’ve got on “The Aviator.”

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