Secrets of Howard Hughes' Attorney (Exclusive Book Excerpt)

Bautzer and Joan Crawford arrived at the famed nightclub Ciro’s in 1948 in a Cadillac she gave him.
Bautzer and Joan Crawford arrived at the famed nightclub Ciro’s in 1948 in a Cadillac she gave him.

Greg Bautzer, Hollywood's original power lawyer, offered Elizabeth Taylor $1 million to marry his client, helped mount a failed takeover of ABC and knew the true story behind the billionaire's lost will.

Since Hughes rarely went out and kept his distance even from the men who attended to his every need, Bautzer may have been his only friend. He wanted to be able to reach Bautzer at all times. The billionaire called Bautzer at restaurants. He called him at home. He called at all hours of the night. He had a second phone installed at Bautzer's secretary's home so that he could reach her if her boss was unavailable.

Hughes' demands often were unrelated to legal work. One Friday at 2 a.m., Bautzer's secretary Lea Sullivan awoke to hear Hughes asking her to procure a print of a film. Sullivan procured the print from a drive-in, but her job was just beginning. Hughes was not interested in watching the film; he wanted its plot and dialogue transcribed. Bautzer happened to come into the office over the weekend and was surprised to see her typing away as a projectionist screened the film.

Hughes wasn't the only client that required hand-holding. Celebrity clients called Bautzer's office for all kinds of things that had little or nothing to do with legal work. If Merle Oberon needed airplane tickets on TWA, she called Bautzer. When Jack Benny needed to take his driver's test again at the Department of Motor Vehicles, he called Bautzer to accompany him. Whenever possible, Bautzer asked his secretary to handle these day-to-day favors, but the nonstop people-pleasing was exhausting. "The stress of working in that office was tremendous," said Sullivan. "We were representing the richest, most famous people in the world, and the pressure to meet their needs was incredible."

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As early as 1955, Bautzer felt the need to get away from Hughes. "That guy is driving me crazy," said Bautzer. "I've gotta have a vacation." In July he made reservations to travel to Italy and refused to tell Hughes where he was staying, even when Hughes insisted. Sullivan remembered the private line ringing in Bautzer's office.

"Sullivan! Is that you?" Hughes asked loudly.

"Yes, it's me, Mr. Hughes."

"Oh, OK," said Hughes, his voice dropping to a normal register. "Where is Greg?"

"I don't know, Mr. Hughes."

"Do you expect him back today?"

"I don't know, Mr. Hughes. I really don't know." She told Hughes nothing. She was sworn to secrecy.

Bautzer was in Reggio, looking at Italian women and drinking wine. After a few days, he decided to drive north to Capri. On impulse he checked into an inn in a small village. It was not planned and he had told no one. He had been in his room only a few minutes when the phone rang. It was Hughes, who had sent detectives to trail him.

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Hughes and Bautzer shared a closeness that Hughes didn't have with others. After Bautzer married actress Dana Wynter, the third of his four wives, Hughes would personally fly himself to Palm Springs in a small plane, land at the tiny airstrip that was its original airport and spend the night with the couple in their home. He and Bautzer would often stay up late talking business. Hughes was totally relaxed at their home. If he arrived without toiletries, Wynter would jump in the car with him and go to a drugstore. According to Wynter, there was nothing unusual about Hughes' behavior at all, except that he required her husband to be available at all hours.

On one occasion, the Bautzers were in Acapulco. Wynter finally pulled the phone away from her husband. "Howard," she said, "if Greg says he doesn't need to go to Washington, he doesn't need to go. And if he does, it will break up our marriage. And it will be your fault!" From then on, when he asked Bautzer to travel on business, he would pause and say, "Now, I don't have to talk to Dana, do I?"

Hughes depended on Bautzer for a variety of services, some legal and some that could be euphemistically described as extra-legal. In the mid-1950s, Hughes asked Bautzer to help him date Elizabeth Taylor. "Have you asked her?" Bautzer said.

"No. I want you to ask her," replied Hughes.

"But I wouldn't know how."

"I want you to take a proposal to her mother."

"That you want to screw her daughter?" Bautzer asked.

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"No. Not in so many words. You're to say to her mother that I am prepared to pay a million dollars for Elizabeth to be my bride."

"That isn't the way it's done, Howard."

"It's the way I'd like to do it."

Bautzer wanted to placate Hughes, so he went to see Taylor's mother, Sara. "I have a very unusual proposal to make," said Bautzer. "Howard Hughes wants to marry your daughter."

"But she doesn't know Hughes," said Taylor's mother.

"There's an inducement. He's prepared to pay a million dollars for her."

Mrs. Taylor thought for a second then asked: "Tax free?" Bautzer laughed and conveyed her message to his client. Hughes moved on.

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