Hollywood Flashback: When Howard Hughes Dislocated Ava Gardner's Jaw

Howard Hughes and Ava Gardner - Bettmann Archive - One -Time Use - P 2016
Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Hughes — who will be portrayed by Warren Beatty in 'Rules Don't Apply,' hitting theaters Nov. 23 — had a torrid affair with the actress, who knocked him out with an ashtray in a bloody fight and later declined his marriage proposal.

Warren Beatty first met Howard Hughes in 1973 at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where the aviation tycoon and movie mogul had taken out six rooms and four bungalows for his various mistresses. Beatty, no slouch himself in the bed-hopping department, was so impressed, he spent the next 40 years trying to play the eccentric billionaire on the screen.

Finally, at age 79, Beatty gets his chance with Rules Don't Apply, out Nov. 23. Beatty, who co-wrote and directed, set the action in 1958, the year he arrived in L.A. ("I was staying at the Montecito hotel on Franklin," he recalled at the film's Nov. 10 AFI Fest premiere. "You had to pull the bed out of the wall.") In Rules, he plays a 52-year-old Hughes, who forbids a budding romance between one of his contracted RKO ingenues (Lily Collins) and her driver (future Han Solo Alden Ehrenreich). The real Hughes placed no such constraints on himself: He romanced dozens of starlets over the years, including a torrid affair with Ava Gardner through much of the '40s. After one argument, Hughes, then 41, dislocated the 24-year-old actress' jaw with a punch.

She then smashed an ashtray over his head, knocking him out. "There was blood on the walls, on the furniture," she later recalled. Thinking she'd killed him, she called MGM boss Louis B. Mayer in a panic. But Hughes recovered — and proposed marriage. She declined.

This story first appeared in the Nov. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.