Thursday, February 19, 2009

La Cañada Valley Sun: Around Town: Howard Hughes’ ‘first accident’

I was ensconced in the newspaper offices on a rainy midnight. My companion was Miss Audrey Hepburn, our black Lab. Before me? A box of old Los Angeles Times clippings about a 1936 incident involving Howard Hughes:

July 12th: Sportsman arrested in traffic death: The police are frustrated because Hughes’ female companion immediately fled the scene, she jumps on the nearest streetcar. Hughes refuses to identify her. The police determine that Hughes had been drinking but was “not intoxicated.” He is booked for negligent homicide.

July 13th: “‘This is my first accident,’ he declared. ‘Why, I’ve never even hit a cat or dog with my automobile since I was 12.’”

The victim is not a cat or a dog. He is a pedestrian named Gabe Lowenthal.

The victim’s nephew, attorney Paul Lowenthal, refuses to comment. “‘We must wait until after the inquest ’ said Lowenthal.”

With nothing else to report, the reporters produce this:

“Hughes has become known in recent years for his aerial exploits. He holds the world’s land-plane speed record of slightly more than 352 miles per hour, the transcontinental, Chicago-Los Angeles and New York-Miami records. Several years ago his name figured large in motion picture circles when he produced the $4,000,000 air spectacle, ‘Hell’s Angeles.’”

July 14th: The Hughes legal team pops the witness. Under the headline “Debutante with Hughes, Flintridge-Santa Barbara Girl to Appear Today at Crash Death Inquest” we learn her identity.

“Miss Nancy Belle Bayly, 21-year-old Flintridge and Santa Barbara debutante who was the companion of Howard Hughes, millionaire film producer and speed pilot, when his car struck and killed a pedestrian Saturday night at the inquest today, Attorney Harold Judson said last night Miss Bayly, adept in tennis, swimming and golf, is a good friend of Hughes, friends revealed. She is an aviation enthusiast and hopes to learn to fly.”

Flintridge? School for scandal?

“She is the daughter of Roy D. Bayly, wealthy Los Angeles broker now living at Balboa, and Mrs. Ada Belle Bayly, who were divorced last November after extended litigation involving possession of their $100,000 Flintridge mansion.”

Suddenly, I discovered an exquisite example of the lost art of hyphenation:

“According to police reports, Hughes’s car struck and almost instantly killed Gabe S. Meyer, 59-year-old department-store salesman Judson said Miss Bayly is the University of California at Los Angeles co-ed who danced at the Ambassador earlier in the evening with Hughes. At the time of the crash she left on a street car, agreeing to appear when called.”

Go Bruins? Agreeing to appear when called?

There are other witnesses as well, all secured by the defense:

“Judson said both she and others will testify that Hughes skimmed a safety-zone button to avoid crashing another automobile passing on his right and that Meyer barely escaped being hit by the other car before Hughes struck him twenty feet west of the safety zone. Miss Bayly returned yesterday from the Edgecliff Beach Club, exclusive Montecito rendezvous for vacationers on the ocean near Santa Barbara.”

Ah! I said to Miss Hepburn. Lots of witnesses. No wonder they needed so many investigators!

Suddenly, I noticed another clipping

To be continued.


ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. E-mail her at Thursday, February 19, 2009 4:10 AM PSTLa Cañada Valley Sun: La Cañada Flintridge, California

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