When I was a kid growing up in Tucson, like all youngsters everywhere, I learned about Columbus discovering America. And, of course, the details of the backing given him by the King and Queen of Spain in order to make the expedition possible were well documented in all history and geography books used in schools. Little did I dream I would every get acquainted with the King of Spain on a first name basis. But it happened.
In 1964, a group of thirty golfers, under the leadership of Paul Runyon, golf pro at that time at La Jolla Country Club in Southern California, went on one of the very first People to People golf trips to Europe. The program of People to People is a national movement started during President Eisenhower's administration.
After playing golf in Ireland, Scotland, England, France and Spain, we spent almost a week at Estoril, which is about thirty miles outside of Lisbon. It is a lovely place on the Atlantic Coast, with excellent hotels, a gambling casino, a really fine golf course, and to top it all, delightful climate. The people are great also.
At each club at which we played, Runyon and the home pro would match the players on the American team with players of similar handicaps on the home team. I was matched with Don Juan de Bourbon, son of the last King of Spain before Franco, Alfonso XIII, and Pretender to the Spanish throne.
He was a pretty good golfer, carrying a handicap of twelve. Right after we teed off, I was walking down the fairway with him and said, "Your Highness, you speak beautiful English." He quickly replied, "Why the hell shouldn't I? After all, Queen Victoria of England was my great grandmother." He added the comment that I should address him as Don Juan, as everyone else at the golf club did.
He and his wife were living in exile in Portugal. He, at that time anyway, could and did visit Spain whenever he wished. The people in Estoril seemed to honor and respect him, and enjoyed his company.
We had a very pleasant round of golf and spent about three hours afterwards sitting on the porch of the clubhouse having lunch, cocktails and visiting. The American ambassador, George Anderson, played on the home club team. He told us some interesting things about the U.S.-Russia confrontation regarding the missiles in Cuba. As Admiral Anderson and military advisor to President John Kennedy, he knew things that were not reported in the press at the time and was most fascinating.
Don Juan remained with us the entire afternoon. I sat next to him and enjoyed him very much. There was a big party planned that evening to which all the golfers, their ladies and others were invited. I said that I hoped that he would attend, to which he replied, "If my old lady doesn't have something else planned, I'll be there." Just like the guy next door.
There were about 150 people who came to the reception and the dinner. Don Juan came and asked for me and joined me in the cocktail lounge where he and I "bellied up to the bar" drinking and visiting.
When I said to him that I had read in the papers just a few days before that General Franco, ruler of Spain, had made the statement that he was thinking of restoring the monarchy after he retired, and would put my friend's son, Prince Don Juan de Bourbon, on the throne, Don Juan replied in a very positive way, "There's only one thing Franco forgets, Roy. I am the King of Spain, and I'll decide who will occupy that throne!" As he said this, he was tapping me on the chest with his forefinger for emphasis.
I couldn't help but smile. I asked him if he would repeat the remark so that my friend, Paul Van Wagner from Tucson, could hear it. To which he answered, that he would be happy to repeat it. I called Paul over to join us, and again Don Juan made the comment that he was the boss man and would determine who would rule Spain after Franco was out of the picture. I told him we hoped he would someday be restored to the throne so we could return and play golf with a real, live king. He, good naturedly, joined us in drinking to the idea. Of course, Franco did just that, and Prince Don Juan assumed the throne.
We stayed at the bar a little too long, and soon realized that everyone else had gone into the ballroom and was seated. When we walked in, everyone rose in respect to Don Juan. He was seated at the head table, of course. After dinner there was dancing. Don Juan came to our table and asked my wife, Phyllis, for the first dance, which was said to be quite an honor.
He left early but the party continued on for hours. It was whispered that Don Juan had a lady friend whom he saw regularly, not an uncommon custom in many Latin countries. Don Juan de Bourbon was a first class guy in my book, and I wished him a long, healthful life, on or off the throne.
Before Howard Hughes went "underground," in the mid-fifties, Del Webb called me one day and asked if there was a nice resort hotel in Tucson where a party of five or six people could be comfortably accommodated and where there would not be too many people around. He added that while the Arizona Inn would be fine for this group under normal conditions, one of the group did not wish to stay there because his banker from the East was staying there for the winter, and he didn't wish to run into him.
I assured him that the El Conquistador Hotel was a nice spot and that I thought his friends would be comfortable and happy there. He asked me to ascertain if a large suite with three bedrooms would be available for a certain date, and to call him back. I checked with Ed Meyers, who was running the El Con, and he assured me they would be taken good care of.
When I called Del Webb to give him this information he said, "I'll tell you who these reservations are for, but you are not supposed to know, and don't tell anyone. They are for Howard Hughes, but he will use the name of Jack Thompson. He wants some special things that he will tell you about. I'm going to give him your name, and he'll be calling you in a day or so. Don't let on that you know who he is."
I assured him that I would handle the matter as he suggested.
In a couple of days Jack Thompson called me and told me that he and his party would need three bedrooms and a sitting room. He asked that a private direct-line phone be installed in one of the bedrooms and arranged so that it could be placed in a drawer that could be locked.
He gave me the dates for which he would want the reservations, telling me that his party would fly to Tucson from Phoenix in a private plane and would land at a small field, the Downtown Airport, rather than the Tucson International Airport. He asked that I have a limousine there at one o'clock the next Friday afternoon to take them to the El Conquistador Hotel, where he wanted lunch set, ready to serve, in their suite. I told him I would make the arrangements as he requested.
I called Ed Meyers and had to "level" with him as to who Mr. Jack Thompson really was, because of the strange request regarding the phone and the luncheon setup. Ed said he would keep it quiet and thanked me for the business.
I happened to play golf on Friday, and just before teeing off at about 1:30, I received a call from Jack Thompson telling me that they were held up in Phoenix and wouldn't be down until Saturday. He requested that I make the same arrangements for a limousine and the luncheon for Saturday at the same time, 1 p. m. I told him I'd take care of the matter. I called my secretary and got her to make the necessary calls to cancel the deal for that day and to set it up for Saturday.
On Saturday I played golf in the morning, and, as I was making the turn, about 1:30, a golf cart was sent to the ninth green to pick me up to take a phone call. Again it was Jack Thompson. Again he said they were delayed in Phoenix, but that on Sunday they would be down, and again he asked me to make the same arrangements for the same time and place. He added that he realized that these delays were causing me and others a considerable amount of inconvenience and expense, which he would gladly take care of when he came down.
I had to hold up my foursome for a while in order to make a few calls to change signals again. Everyone involved was beginning to get a little weary of the whole affair by this time, but I assured them they would be well paid. It was all set for Sunday for Mr. Thompson and his party.
Sunday I played golf very early and was finished by 12:00 or 12:30. I was having lunch, wondering if Jack Thompson and his crew were arriving as planned, when I got another call from Jack Thompson, who by this time had become a bosom phone buddy of mine.
He said that he was awful sorry to tell me that they were canceling the idea of coming to Tucson on this trip. He again apologized for the trouble he had caused. He said to have the hotel bill him for the rooms, the phone installation, the meals that were set and not eaten, and any other expense to which they had gone in his behalf. He also asked that I have the transportation company bill him for the limousine service. I told him that they had been put to a great deal of inconvenience and that I thought that he should be generous in adding tips for the people who actually had been standing by. He assured me that he would treat everyone properly. He asked that I have the bills sent to his attention at an address he gave me, which I knew was the Beverly Hills address of the Hughes Company.
In a few days I checked with the transportation company and also with Ed Meyers of the hotel, and both told me that their bills had been paid and that a generous tip had been added for those who actually did the work. Thus endeth the tale of Jack Thompson, known better by most as Howard Hughes, who incidentally was most pleasant every time I spoke with him on the phone.
Another story about Howard Hughes. When the construction of the Beverly Hilton Hotel was completed by the Del E. Webb Company back in the fifties, Del Webb was one of the guests who sat at the head table the night of the opening ceremonies. He was seated next to Conrad Hilton, a long time friend.
During the period before the grand opening there was much publicity in the Los Angeles press about the new hostelry and some of its features, one of which was a Presidential Suite, portrayed as having the finest hotel accommodations in the nation.
During the evening Del Webb was told there was an urgent phone call for him, for which he excused himself. It was Howard Hughes, who told him he wanted to rent the Presidential Suite on a yearly basis and wanted to be assured immediately that he could do so. Webb, of course, told him he would have to speak to Conrad Hilton regarding the matter.
Hughes asked him to do so while he held the phone. Webb went back into the ballroom where the evening's festivities were occurring and told Hilton of Hughes' request. Hilton told Webb that Hughes could have the suite on a yearly basis for the price of $75,000 a year. Webb advised Hughes that the suite was available and the price. Hughes agreed to take it for a year with an option to renew for additional periods of time.
The suite was his for a year. He never set foot in it, and it was reportedly not used by any of his company officials. He just wanted it to be available in case he needed it.
In the early 1950's, Supreme Court Justice William 0. Douglas was badly injured when a horse he was riding fell and rolled over on him, crushing his ribcage, breaking numerous ribs and almost ending his life. When he recovered to the point where he could leave the hospital, he was advised to come to Tucson for the dry air.
He and his wife, Mildred, came to Tucson and were staying at a small desert resort at the eastern edge of town. Soon after he was there, some of his friends in the East decided that the lengthy stay in Tucson was going to be a very expensive thing, and that they should seek a place where he and Mrs. Douglas could stay without much expense.
I had calls from two friends in the East, and Harold Steinfeld also had a couple of calls. He called me and suggested we get together to see if we could find a place for our distinguished visitors.
I suggested that perhaps the William Becker Studios, about twenty miles from town, might be suitable. I thought that Bill Becker, a photographer, wouldn't mind allowing them to stay there for a couple of months since it was at a time when he would not be photographing in Tucson. I called Bill, and he said it would be okay with him.
Harold suggested that I call the Justice and arrange to take him out and show him the place to see if he would like it. I made an appointment, and, when I arrived, I introduced myself and was told that they were ready to go and would follow me.
He was driving a four-door passenger car, and Mrs. Douglas was driving a station wagon, both loaded with clothing, suitcases and other paraphernalia. They had already decided that they would like the place and were ready to move in.
When we arrived at the Becker place, which consisted of four buildings around a swimming pool area and a caretaker's home a little distance away, I told them I would go to the caretaker's and try to find a key. It was a Thursday, the caretaker's day off. I did not get a key, and when I returned to the pool area, Justice Douglas had "jimmied" one of the windows and was in the act of climbing through the window into the building. I couldn't believe my eyes: a member of the Supreme Court "breaking and entering," and in the broad daylight!
I helped the Douglases move their things into the two bedroom building and waited for the caretakers, to make the introductions and to advise them that they were going to have guests for a while. Mildred Douglas remained only a few days.
Justice Douglas, with whom I quickly got acquainted, insisted on my calling him "Bill." He had a continuous string of visitors while he was in Tucson. I met most of them and enjoyed the opportunity. Justice Hugo Black was with him for about a week and I enjoyed several evenings with the two Supreme Court Justices and other federal judges who visited Bill on many occasions.
Bill Douglas was still recovering from his near fatal injury and had to retire early many evenings while the conversations and imbibing were still in full swing. The late Sol Haas, owner of radio stations in the state of Washington and a television station in Seattle, spent about ten days with Bill Douglas and proved to be a most pleasant and intelligent man. One night about 11:30 he said, "Let's go wake up Bill. I've got something to tell him." I tried to talk him out of bothering Bill in the middle of the night, but to no avail.
We went over to Bill's bedroom where Sol walked in ahead of me. He said, "Bill, wake up. There's a couple of drunks here who want to see you."
Bill rolled over, sat up and asked, Who are they?"
Sol replied, "Me and Roy, and we want to know how you're feeling and find out if you want a little drink." Bill shook his head, laughed, and said he didn't want a drink. He suggested we let him go back to sleep, which we reluctantly did.
Bill Douglas had just finished writing his first book on the great outdoors, Of Men and Mountains. He received the galley proofs while in Tucson, and we helped proofread for him a couple of times. However, he had a secretary from Hollywood come over to do the bulk of the work. She was a wonderful lady, one of the nicest women I ever met, and we all enjoyed her company very much.
Bill Douglas was at Becker's for about ten weeks, and few days went by that I didn't see him. He was without a doubt one of the most interesting and friendly men I have ever known. He seldom got involved in serious conversations, but on the occasions that he did, it became quite apparent that he had a marvelous mind. His sense of humor was also monumental.
He told us of a little trick he had played on one of his colleagues on the Court. There had been a case involving a house of prostitution, which I will call "Cozy Rooms," in a small town in Wyoming that, because of some quirk in the case, was appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Court ruled in favor of the owner of the "house." A few weeks later Bill was driving from Washington to his home in the state of Washington. He drove out of his way to go through the Wyoming town involved in the case. He got some stationery from Cozy Rooms and wrote a letter to Associate Justice Frank Murphy, a prominent attorney and politician from Michigan, and a life-long bachelor.
The letter, signed by the proprietor of the Cozy Rooms, went on to thank Justice Murphy for his role in handing down a favorable decision. "She" said that she felt all along she could count on his support since he was a bachelor and would understand the need for the kind of services she and her business provided in her community. Bill said that Justice Murphy never said a word about receiving the letter although he knew that he did receive it.
Bill could have been President of the United States, as has been public knowledge for many years. When Roosevelt decided not to have Wallace run with him as his vice presidential candidate in 1944, he asked Bill Douglas to run with him. Bill declined and Harry Truman was selected, as a second choice, but a good one it turned out.
Sol Haas one evening told me about how he "had arranged to have Bill Douglas appointed to the Supreme Court." He said that he and a group of Bill's friends decided that Bill should serve on that august body. He went to Washington, called on Bill and told him that he was going to get him appointed.
He asked Bill for a drink, which he said was produced from a bottle in a desk drawer. He then told Bill he would be using his phone for a day or two while he was in Washington. Bill Douglas at that time was chairman of Securities Exchange Commission and told Sol he would play no part in Sol's campaign. Sol said he called President Roosevelt and asked for an appointment which he was granted. Then he started calling senators, congressmen and other prominent people to build a cadre of support for Bill. To make a long story short, he got the job done.