3. Howard Hughes Caused the Deaths of Three WWI Pilots
He strove for realism in everything he made, oftentimes endangering his cast members in the process.
1930’s “Hell’s Angels” is considered by many to be his biggest, best effort, though its legacy is complicated somewhat by the fact that several pilots died performing the film’s exceedingly dangerous aerial stunts.
Hughes hired actual World War I fighter pilots to fly in his film. As the protracted, budget-inflating filming process dragged on, Hughes demanded more and more complicated stunts from his fleet.
Many pilots refused and quit the project. The ones that stayed were forced to fly in a massive airborne battle scene involving several extremely close flybys.
Three pilots and one mechanic were killed around that time. Many of his crewmembers refused to participate after that, leading to Hughes personally performing the film’s most dangerous stunt, a steep pullout after strafing the ground. He failed to pullout in time and suffered a skull fracture as a result.
The film’s tragic behind the scenes debacles were downplayed in the media and today the film is considered a forerunner to the modern blockbuster.
It was only in later years as Hughes’s eccentricities became more pronounced that the truth about the backstage tragedies came to light.