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Biography: Howard Hughes

Adisappointingly routine account of the life and achievements of Howard Hughes does little to enlighten viewers but does elicit anecdotes from Ginger Rogers, Terry Moore and Jane Russell about the billionaire aviator-producer-inventor. Marred by errors and omissions, docu skims over the life of a legend.

With:
Host-narrator: Peter Graves.

Adisappointingly routine account of the life and achievements of Howard Hughes does little to enlighten viewers but does elicit anecdotes from Ginger Rogers, Terry Moore and Jane Russell about the billionaire aviator-producer-inventor. Marred by errors and omissions, docu skims over the life of a legend.

An after-the-facts psychologist and two Hughes co-biographers offer surmises such as the cause of Hughes’s latter-day fear of germs — docu lays it on the Houston-born Hughes’ frail mother — with no mention of Hughes’ ardently bacillophobic Missouri grandparents.

Though there are attempts to explain away the central figure’s adult breakdown, the coincidences of his illnesses at approximate ages of his parents’ deaths go unremarked.

His father had interests in L.A. and young Howard was schooled at Thatcher, where he shone, and tutored at Caltech; his real instructors were his own inventiveness and experience. Program notes that he inherited Hughes Tool Co. in Houston before he was 21 and married a Houston socialite, who divorced him a few years later.

The biospec lists the silent “Everybody’s Acting” as his first film project, but the first was actually the unreleased “Swell Hogan’s,” made by the unmentioned Caddo Film Co., Hughes Tool subsid. Subsequent pix–particularly “Hell’s Angels,” reshot from silent to sound, and “The Outlaw”–are somewhat explored.

Docu states that 1940’s “The Philadelphia Story” made Katharine Hepburn a star, though she was already an Oscar winner for the far earlier “Morning Glory” and had a string of films through the ’30s, including “Little Women,””Stage Door” (with Rogers) and “Bringing Up Baby,” under her belt.

There are good newsreel clips and a fascinating publicity-film account of Hughes’ flying a troupe of celebs across the country to publicize his new TWA Constellation; also offered is a glimpse of Hughes taking on Maine’s Sen. Owen (called “Ralph” in the profile) Brewster over TWA rights.

And program does mention many of his feats — the record-breaking flights, among them an around-the-world race against time, the extraordinary Spruce Goose–and brings up his marriage to Jean Peters and the firing of his chief adviser, Noah Dietrich, but doesn’t delve.

Concerning his control of RKO and Vegas, the accounts are necessarily truncated thanks to time limitations, but the hour dwells, with colored drawings , on the ailing, aging Hughes, including a tasteless, unnecessary mention of needles.

As for Hughes’ genius, his industry and his triumphs, they remain to be explored in more detail than one hour can provide. The whole Romaine Street headquarters experience, the part played over the years by his private (and unremarked) secretary-confidante Nadine Henley (who wrote out his will), the countless stories revealing aspects of the man need more space, time, interviews and accurate research than this venture offers.

His distinguished uncle, author-screenwriter Rupert Hughes, observed at one point, “To me, he is a the poet and the artist, and poets and artists succeed by working like hell.” His nephew, an authentic American hero, deserves far more than the superficial account given here.

Biography: Howard Hughes

(Tues. (2), 9-10 p.m., A&E)

Production: Taped by CEL Communications Inc. in association with A&E. Exec producers, Martin L. Waldman, Linda Waldman; producer-director, Vincent Kralyevich; writer, Laurence Sheehan.

Cast: Host-narrator: Peter Graves.

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