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Howard Hughes Homage

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A No Historical Figures Were Harmed version of the famous multitalented eccentric 20th century tycoon Howard Hughes. Hughes was a complicated man whose public persona changed drastically throughout his lifetime, and characters inspired by him can take a variety of approaches depending on what aspects of his life and career they emphasize.

Howard Hughes Homages are always rich, whether or not they start out that way, and always legitimately talented in at least one area, although they can be exceedingly quirky, in ways that can range from a love of Awesome, but Impractical projects to actual mental health problems. Howard Hughes Homages are Non-Idle Rich - they can be self-made men or build on inherited wealth, but they always played an active role in making their fortunes, and the higher-functioning examples have a lot of business and non-business interests. Technological fields are a favorite, particularly military technology and aircraft, and Howard Hughes Homages often play an active role in designing their products, as well as on the business side. Common personal interests for Howard Hughes Homages include aviation, engineering, and filmmaking - all activities Hughes himself participated in. Their antics may land them Hauled Before A Senate Subcommittee, as Hughes was during an inquiry into the Troubled Production of the H-4 Hercules.

Howard Hughes Homages based on Hughes' more outgoing younger years are often dashing playboys with very active love lives. Characters based on Hughes in his old age are more reclusive and often share Hughes's mental illnesses, such as agoraphobia, germophobia, or OCD, and may display some of his odd habits like wearing tissue boxes on their feet or not cutting their fingernails. Many Howard Hughes Homages have dapper mustaches, although Hughes himself was clean-shaven as a young man.

Because of their inspiration's early-to-mid 20th century heyday and interest in technological innovation, Howard Hughes Homages are well-suited to Diesel Punk works and settings, but aren't restricted to them.

Sister Trope to Eccentric Millionaire, Rich Genius, and The Wonka, and often overlaps with Byronic Hero or Broken Ace. See also Mr. Alt Disney, another trope inspired by a real-world 20th century tycoon, which has some features in common. In fact, characters inspired by both Hughes and Disney are not rare.


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    Comic Books 
  • Billionaire-playboy-engineer-superhero Tony Stark. He even designed for the military — munitions instead of planes — and went through a major struggle with a debilitating psychological problem, although in Tony's case it was alcoholism, not OCD. In his early comics appearances, he even had the mustache. Due to Comic-Book Time, these days his father — actually named Howard — is portrayed as even more of one.
  • Marvel's Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1977) featured an aeronautical engineer named Hugh Howards, who looked just like Howard Hughes.
  • In maybe a case of circular spoof, in the French graphic novel Mystery, an Affectionate Parody of surperhero comics, Howard Hughes himself is the Iron Man Captain Ersatz of this Alternate History.
  • A 1970s Captain America story features a reclusive Las Vegas-based billionaire named Harold Howard who turns out to be the Kingpin, although there is also a real Harold Howard who gets kidnapped off-panel.
  • Another 1970s Marvel Comics example is Mal Donalbain, in the relatively obscure comic The Cat. He is a wealthy, eccentric and reclusive businessman, and even has Hughes's phobia of germs. In keeping with the comic's theme of feminism, Donalbain is also a He-Man Woman Hater, obsessed with mind controlling the women his phobia stops him from touching.
  • Astro City: Roy Virgil, a.k.a. the Astro-Naut, is an overt copy of Howard Hughes, being the Badass Bookworm millionaire owner of an aerospace company who goes on epic adventures. The only reason he won't share his inventions with the US military is the fear that The World Is Not Ready.

    Films — Animation 
  • Preston Whitmore from Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire is an unshaven, bony, and nutty old codger that welcomes Helga Sinclair and Milo Thatch into his study while barefoot and half-dressed. He persuades Milo to join his crack team of adventurers in finding the lost city of Atlantis, for which purpose Preston has custom-built an elaborate submarine.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • Jonas Cord in the Harold Robbins novel (and film adaptation) The Carpetbaggers, an aviation tycoon turned movie mogul with a tumultuous love life and concerns for his mental health.
  • At one point in Microserfs two of the characters wear tissue boxes on their feet and tell everyone "Look! We're Howard Hughes!"
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, a lot of Aerys II "The Mad" is based on Howard Hughes in his later life—though Hughes probably didn't set people on fire. After a promising start, he became paranoid and hypochondriac, and refused to trim his hair and nails. Also like Hughes, as a young man, he was very intelligent, but tended to dedicate himself to projects that were Awesome, but Impractical at best before quickly abandoning them.

     Live Action TV 
  • The Bionic Woman: "Fembots in Las Vegas" features Rod Kyler, another billionaire tycoon holed up in Vegas out of health concerns (though in his case it's justified, as he did contract an incredibly rare disease).
  • Wiseguy. Vinnie Terranova is framed for a Government Conspiracy to destabilize the Japanese economy with counterfeit yen. A reclusive billionaire with dubious intelligence connections called Prescott Wilson is supposedly behind the scheme. He lives in isolation in his mountain retreat, only communicating with visitors by having them come halfway up the mountain on a chairlift, to have Prescott meet them on another chairlift while carrying a LAAW rocket. When Vinnie is Hauled Before A Senate Subcommittee, Prescott is the Surprise Witness who appears at the eleventh hour to clear him. This was likely inspired by a fake Howard Hughes autobiography written by scammers who assumed (incorrectly) that he would never break his isolation to expose it.


    Video Games 
  • Cave Johnson in Portal 2 was an eccentric mid-twentieth-century shower curtain tycoon who used his fortune to sponsor cutting-edge scientific research (much of it well into Mad Scientist territory) and suffered a mental and physical breakdown late in life. He was also asked to testify in Senate hearings about missing test subjects.
  • Fallout: New Vegas: Robert Edwin House, former CEO of RobCo and present Autocrat of New Vegas, is clearly based upon Howard Hughes. It's possible to find a photo of House where he stands in identical pose and clothes to one of the most famous photos of Hughes. His appearance, economic views, status as a Self-Made Man and Eccentric Millionaire, and pursuit of technology for the better of mankind are based on the younger Hughes as a famous billionaire, while his obsession with Vegas and seclusion in a sterile life support pod, interacting with the world through a computer, resembles the older, shut-in Hughes.
  • While Andrew Ryan of BioShock is clearly primarily based on Ayn Rand, with the game's strong theme of Objectivism, it's not hard to see that there are some traits inspired by Howard Hughes as well. Primarily, Ryan having a background with industrialism, and his slow descent into madness and paranoia once his dream slowly begins to collapse onto him.

    Western Animation