On this Day in Movie History, May 15, 1948: Howard Hughes Buys RKO Studios

On this day, May 15, 1948, Howard Hughes, the legendary aviator, entrepreneur and international playboy, bought himself one of the “Big Five” studios–RKO. Hughes gained control of the company, beating out British film magnate J. Arthur Rank.

An independent film producer since 1926 with success in films like the aerial extravaganza Hell’s Angels (1930) and the movie that launched his great discovery, Jane Russell, The Outlaw (1943) – both of which, coincidentally, he also directed–Hughes hastened along the demise of RKO with his mismanagement.

Hollywood was already at the time entering a transitional period as it faced increasing competition from television and the anti-trust suit against the studios, the Paramount Case, which brought an end to Hollywood’s infrastructure. But Hughes involvement with RKO hastened its demise.

Acting erratically, a behavior some attributed to sustained partial brain damage from several plane crashes and problems with his hearing, Hughes’ bizarre behavior and his very public anti-Communist stance during the McCarthy witch hunts resulted in talent leaving RKO and the company going into serious decline.

Production chief Schary quit almost immediately due to his new boss’s interference and Rathvon soon followed. Within weeks of taking over, Hughes had dismissed three-fourths of the work force; production was virtually shut down for six months as the conservative Hughes shelved or canceled several of the “message pictures” that Schary had backed.

Once shooting picked up again, Hughes quickly became notorious for meddling in minute production matters, particularly the presentation of actresses he favored. He would contract women he would fancy with the studio who seldom if ever made it onscreen. His motives became transparent and RKO quickly came to be seen as his bordello.

In 1955, after seven years at the helm, Hughes rid himself of the studio. He sold it to the General Tire and Rubber Company, who were solely interested in the studio’s library. Two years later, RKO was sold to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s television production company, Desilu Production, signaling a shift of power towards the small screen.

1905 – Joseph (Cheshire) Cotten (actor: Citizen Kane, The Third Man, Duel in the Sun, Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte, Tora Tora Tora, The Philadelphia Story, Once More with Feeling; died Feb 6, 1994)

1909 – James (Neville) Mason (actor: A Star is Born, Georgy Girl, The Verdict, The Boys from Brazil, Charade, The Desert Fox, Island in the Sun, Jesus of Nazareth, North by Northwest, Lolita; died July 27, 1984)

1940 – Lainie Kazan (Actress: Expecting Mary, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, Beau Jest, Bratz, Red Riding Hood, Whiskey School, Gigli, A Good Night to Diem, My Big Fat Greek Life (TV series). Eight Crazy Nights, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, The Crew)

1952 – Chazz Palminteri (actor:

1955 – Lee Horsley (actor: Unlawful Passage, French Silk, Danielle Steele’s Palomino, Sword & the Sorcerer, Nero Wolfe, Hawkeye, Paradise, North and South, Book II, Bodies of Evidence)

1963 – Grant Heslov (

1966 – Greg Wise (

1971 – Sam Trammell (

1978 – David Krumholtz (

1978 – Caroline Dhavernas (

1981 – Jamie-Lynn Sigler (


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