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The Story of California Pictures: Told by Preston Sturges

Director Preston Sturges gives his account of the partnership with Howard Hughes. Sturges also relates the Hughes incident described by SIMPP member William Cagney.

Excerpt from the book Preston Sturges by Preston Sturges

Chapter 51

Preston Sturges (in 1946) and "the rented horse that cost me a movie company."

"I spent the next three years horsing around with independent ventures and stock companies and various other efforts, all to the accompaniment of gentle laughter from the Collector of Internal Revenue. Chief among these was a little partnership I went into with Howard Hughes early in 1944 to form an independent film production company called California Pictures Corporation. Howard wanted someone to manage his motion picture activities while he devoted all of his time to his aviation projects. I wanted to make pictures. The deal on which we shook hands was that I would make movies for the company if I wanted to, reserving the freedom to engage in other ventures under other auspices; and that he would put up the money for the pictures if he wanted to. We also agreed that either of us could sever the partnership instantly by picking up the telephone. And early one morning in October 1946, while one hundred extras gathered on the the [sic] set of Vendetta, Howard picked up the telephone and the partnership was over.

I never really knew why. Years later, somebody over at Hughes Tool Company, which paid the bills for Cal-Pix, told me it was because of the horses.

Howard Hughes during his later years in the film industry.

We had had some horses brought in to shoot the forest-glade scenes in Vendetta, and one day I asked the man who supplied them how much it would cost for me to rent a horse to ride during lunch breaks. "For you, Mr. Sturges, . . ." he said and made a gesture indicating that the question was too foolish to necessitate a response. I rode every day thereafter, sometimes alone and sometimes with a companion or two. I thought supplying me with a horse for an hour or so a day was the gentleman's way of thanking me for the business he was getting from the company. It turned out, though, that day after day this robber had cheerfully billed Cal-Pix fifty dollars an hour for my private use of the horses. According to the fellow from the Hughes Tool Company, when somebody brought the bill to Howard's attention, it dawned on Howard that I probably intended to pauperize him. He picked up the telephone.

Bill Cagney, Jimmy's producer brother, told me another story. Long after California Pictures Corporation had been dissolved, Howard was at Bill's house one night and noticed on the wall one of the solid brass gimbal candelabra I had had manufactured at the Sturges Engineering Company. Howard reached out and tipped it. "Preston give you this?" Cagney said yes. "He gave me one, too," said Howard. "Mine cost me five million."


Sturges, Preston Sturges, pp. 304-305

See Bibliography.


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