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Warren Beatty's Homage To Howard Hughes Opens In Theaters On Wednesday

Warren Beatty stars as Howard Hughes in <em>Rules Don't Apply</em> — which he says is not a biopic of the legendary moviemaker and recluse.
Francois Duhamel
Warren Beatty stars as Howard Hughes in Rules Don't Apply — which he says is not a biopic of the legendary moviemaker and recluse.

Howard Hughes was one of the towering figures of the 20th century.

He kept gossip columnists busy for decades, first, as a fabulously wealthy movie mogul and aviator who pursued many of Hollywood's great beauties. And then, as an eccentric who ended his days a strange obsessive recluse.

Now, Hughes is at the center of a new movie written, produced, directed by — and starring — Warren Beatty. It's called Rules Don't Apply.

"Don't expect a biopic of Howard Hughes," Beatty tells NPR's Renee Montagne, "because it really is not that." Instead, it's several interlocking stories of a man on the edge, trying to keep his empire together as his mind falls apart-- and a pair of young lovers, Frank and Marla. He's a driver for Hughes, and she's the "Apple Blossom Queen," one of Hughes' new contract players. They fall for each other instantly, but are held back by the repressed mores of the time, and their own religious upbringings.

Interview Highlights

On whether Frank and Marla's innocence reflects their creator's experience

Let's not go into innocence, that would be dangerous! I grew up in this Southern Baptist atmosphere; my mother and father were both, I guess you would say academics, they were both teachers. And I didn't have a rigidly enforced religious parental pressure, but I did have a few years in my mid-teens of turning to religion, and it was very meaningful to me.

On crossing paths with Hughes early in his career

I was staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and it sort of bothered me that two guys were looking out through an open door in the hallway next to my suite, where I was staying. And then I thought, I think they're with the tabloids, so I called the desk and said, "I want to tell you how disappointed I am that you allow the tabloids to be spying on me here." ... And they said, "Those people are not with the tabloids, they're with Mr. Hughes." ... "Are you telling me that Howard Hughes is in the next suite from me?" And they said, "Well, we don't know. He has seven suites."

On his interest in Hughes

He was unusual, to say the least, but what began to interest me the most was, why was I so interested? I felt the same way about Greta Garbo — what I felt was that, in both cases, the staying out of sight completely is almost equivalent to being observed all the time. It's a way to attract attention.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.