Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Pop History Moment: Howard Hughes Crashed And Burned

On this day in 1946 eccentric industrialist and zillionaire Howard Hughes nearly died when the XF-11 spy plane prototype he was piloting plummeted into a Beverly Hills neighborhood shortly after 7:20 in the evening; having developed a technical difficulty during the flight, Hughes had been aiming the doomed plane for the golf course at the Los Angeles Country Club to minimize damage to both the aircraft and surrounding properties, but fell about three hundred yards short, crashing into three nearby homes.

The first of these - at 802 North Linden Drive, belonging to Dr. Jules Zimmerman, the 'dentist to the stars' - had its red-tiled roof sheared off; the second, belonging to film star Rosemary DeCamp and her husband Municipal Justice John Astin Shidler, sustained damage to its master bedroom and lost both its garage and a row of poplar trees. The third home - at 808 North Whittier, belonging to Lt. Col. Charles A. Meyer, known for his role in the Nuremberg Trials - was destroyed by a subsequent fire (caused by the explosion of the plane's fuel tank). Amazingly, no one was killed in the accident.

It was actor Dennis O'Keefe who summoned the police and fire department to the scene, although no one had to summon the crowds of eager on-lookers who themselves came from miles around to survey the devastation. Hughes was rescued from the wreckage by Master Sergeant William L. Durkin, of the US Marine Corps, and later taken to Good Samaritan Hospital where although he survived his grievous injuries his life definitely took a turn for the worse; friends and family later cited this event as to blame for his morphine addiction and well-documented freakiness later in life.

The entire scene was re-enacted in Martin Scorsese's 2004 biopic The Aviator, in which Hughes was of course played by Leonardo DiCaprio.
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