A rumor was circulating in mid-February that Howard Hughes’ loyal lieutenant, Robert Maheu, was ailing. With Maheu, all you had to do was pick up the telephone and call him.
“I just keep going and I love it,” he said, his voice a bit weaker than I recalled from earlier conversations.
I met Maheu, who died Monday in Las Vegas, about six years ago at a reception in Summerlin for French entertainment icon Line Renaud.
During one of many telephone conversations, I asked him about his most dangerous assignment.
“When I started my business, Robert Maheu Associates … I was a solving entity. I specialized in solving problems. My first client was a group of independent stockholders who wanted to change the manageship of the New York Central Railroad.
“My second client was Stavros Niarchos,” Maheu said, referring to the arch-rival of Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis.
Nirarchos “wanted to scuttle the contract that Onassis had signed with the Saudi Arabian government to ship all of the country’s oil.”
“The price of oil was $3 a barrel. Can you imagine if Onassis’ deal had prevailed, how simple it would have been to add a couple bucks a barrel that would mean a profit of $10 million a day.
“It was his (Onassis’) intent at the time to take his first year’s profit and go to Venezuela and do the same thing. He would have controlled more oil on the high seas than all the allied nations put together.
“What Saddam Hussein tried to do with an army is exactly what Onassis was trying to do, control all the oil in that part of the world. Onassis already had a leg up without shooting one gun.
“We turned the case,” said Maheu, matter of factly.
“I got the CIA to help me, but they made it very clear to me if anything went wrong I would be on my own.
“I had sent a man ahead of me, Kyle Twitchell. He was a mining engineer who had done some work for them. The old king gave him power of attorney to come back to the U.S. and get a group that evolved into Aramco (Saudi Arabia’s nationalized oil company). He was revered over there.”
Maheu met the king in 1954. Twitchell had chosen the location, “the king’s summer palace in Jedda, a big palace.”
Maheu’s contact was a young Saudi. “He would leave me, go in another room and go back and forth. Finally, he said ‘Your excellency would like you to go back to your hotel, and I will come to you at noon.’
“At noon the next day, my phone rang. I went down and here is the man. ‘Your excellency is prepared to help. Here is your visa. He would like you to go back to some country, not the U.S., and release the information you gave us last night.’
“I went from there to Rome, and no one would touch it. Finally, Niarchos called and it hit the fan. The issue was already in the World Court.”
Maheu had a high-profile role at the inaugural gala for John Kennedy in January 1961. He flew to Washington, D.C., in a plane furnished by Hughes and filled with a small army of Hollywood celebrities.
The minute the plane was airborne, “Milton Berle got on the P.A. and said, ‘Nobody’s going to sleep tonight.’ He noticed that some of the musicians did not check their instruments. He told them to break them out. Here we were with the entertainment for the inaugural gala.”
Before JFK and Jackie arrived, Maheu said the Secret Service led him to where the president and first lady would arrive by limo. Maheu was told, “How would you like to open the door when the Kennedys arrive?”
Maheu wasn’t naive about why he got the honor.
“We were contributing to both parties, and I was in charge of all political activity for the entire world.” THE SCENE AND HEARD
TMZ.com is reporting Toni Braxton will be among the challengers on “Dancing with the Stars.” Braxton left her headliner job at the Flamingo earlier this year, citing heart complications. “I’m not that great of a dancer,” she told Review-Journal entertainment critic Mike Weatherford last year. “Sometimes it’s tough to sing and dance. That’s the hardest part for me.” …
Correction: Celine Dion will not be involved in the opening ceremonies at the Beijing Summer Olympics.
Rick Faugno, who rotates in the role of Frankie Valli in the Las Vegas “Jersey Boys” production, schmoozing fans at SushiSamba, the newly opened hot spot at Palazzo. … At Christian Audigier Nightclub (Treasure Island): former “Buffy the Vampire” castmates Charisma Carpenter and Julie Benz. Carpenter, who attended Bishop Gorman High, was belatedly celebrating her 38th birthday.
THE PUNCH LINE
“Paris Hilton‘s mother is angry that John McCain put Paris in his campaign video. Isn’t that amazing? Of all the videos Paris has been in, this is the one mom’s upset about?” — Jay Leno
Norm Clarke can be reached at (702) 383-0244 or email@example.com. Find additional sightings and more online at www.normclarke.com.