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Melvin Dummar, Who Claimed Kindness Made Him A Howard Hughes Heir, Dies at 74

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Melvin Dummar died this week at the age of 74. He was briefly a household name in the mid-1970s when he contended Howard Hughes had left him one-sixteenth of his fortune after Mr. Dummar gave a lift and some pocket change to a haggard-looking man he found along a desert road in Nevada. He said that man was Howard Hughes. Melvin Dummar owned a gas station at the time, and produced a copy of the will he said Mr. Hughes had written. Courts ruled it a fraud, but Mr. Dummar had his defenders.

Jonathan Demme thought a recluse billionaire feeling gratitude for the kindness of a passing stranger in the middle of the night was a compelling story to imagine. He made the 1980 film, "Melvin And Howard." Jason Robards Jr. played Howard Hughes as scruffy, wily and lost. Paul Le Mat played Melvin Dummar as kindly, earnest and clueless, telling his wife, Honey, they didn't burn down Rome in one day. You've just got to keep plugging.

And he did. Melvin Dummar worked as a milkman, meat delivery man, frozen fish salesman. He had two wives, two children, two stepsons and quite a few grandchildren. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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