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.

July 15 was the deadline for ABC shareholders to respond to Hughes' offer. By that date, Hughes had received 1.6 million shares of ABC stock. He was still 400,000 short. He had two choices. He could raise his offering price and extend the tender offer. Or he could keep the stock and sell it later. In either case he would have to abide by the outcome of proposed FCC hearings.

The scene at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas, where Hughes, 61, was living, was bizarre. Raymond Holliday, Hughes' adviser, and Robert Maheu, his chief aide, were talking to him from phones in adjoining suites, trying to reason with him. Holliday had not seen Hughes in years. Maheu had never seen him. On July 16, at 5:15 a.m., Hughes sent Bautzer a message.

I am in a real predicament. I don't really want a buyer. What I mainly want is somebody with whom I could trustee this stock in one way or another, just until we could have a few meetings with Justice and the FCC. In other words, I just don't want to have the stock transferred directly to me or Hughes Tool Company for fear this will be the signal for the Justice Department to light on us like a swarm of bees.

On July 16, 1968, the New York Stock Exchange halted trading on ABC stock, waiting for Hughes to declare his intentions. At noon, he announced that he was abandoning the ABC takeover. Hughes blamed his retreat on the "inordinate opposition" of ABC's management. It was more likely the mandates of the FCC that he feared. If hearings were held, he would be forced to attend. This was impossible. For a year Hughes had been secluded in his bedroom. He was not fit, either physically or mentally, to testify in court. He could, however, transmit orders and spend money. This he continued to do.

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On April 5, 1976, Bautzer was driving through Bel-Air when a news bulletin interrupted the music playing on the radio that Hughes, 70, had died. Bautzer made his chauffeur Tucker pull the car to the side of the road. According to Tucker, Bautzer wept like a child for 10 minutes.

Following the billionaire's death from kidney failure, there was wild speculation as to the whereabouts of his last will and testament. "Over a period of time Mr. Hughes talked to me about various forms of bequests," Bautzer told The Los Angeles Times, "but he never asked me to draw up a will." Bautzer said that Hughes was a brilliant man who had most likely left a holographic will --that is, one written by hand. In his 1972 press conference Hughes had said that he planned to leave his money to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Miami. A large-scale investigation was launched to search for the will. Special Administrator Richard C. Gano Jr. prepared a 274-page search report for the court claiming that two of Bautzer's former employees had seen a document that appeared to be a Hughes will. Bautzer testified in Los Angeles Superior Court that he had not prepared a will for Hughes. Nevertheless, the court ordered that Bautzer search his files. Bautzer looked for someone he trusted to perform the task. Bautzer's longtime secretary Sullivan had left him 11 years earlier when her second child was born, but Bautzer pressed her back into service.

While Sullivan agrees that Bautzer may not have drawn up a will for Hughes, she believes that one existed. He first sent her to a warehouse to look through all his old files. The building was very cold, so Bautzer hired movers to transport vast numbers of file cabinets to her home on Hutton Drive in Beverly Hills. Television reporters huddled outside her house as she pored over files going back to the 1930s. She could not walk out the front door without having a microphone shoved at her. The search for Hughes' will was intense, yet it turned up nothing more than a 1939 codicil, so Hughes' money went to medical research.

Years after Hughes' death and before his own in 1987, Bautzer would reminisce with friends about the man. He had been asked several times to write a Hughes biography, but he refused. Publishers only wanted him to write bad things, not good. Bautzer's friend Richard S. Harris also recalls their closeness. "I sat in Greg's office many times when he would buzz his secretary and say, 'Get Howard for me.' Thirty seconds later there would be a buzz on the intercom and Howard Hughes would be on the phone. Knowing the peculiarity of the man and his reluctance to talk to anyone, I thought their relationship was remarkable."

Excerpted from The Man Who Seduced Hollywood: The Life and Loves of Greg Bautzer, Tinseltown’s Most Powerful Lawyer published by Chicago Review Press and copyright B. James Gladstone.

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