During the Golden Age of Hollywood, movie audiences fell in love with Terry Moore’s lovely smile and pert persona. But little did they know she was hiding a huge secret. Her clandestine wedding at sea to billionaire Howard Hughes came to define her life in many startling ways. But what began as a whirlwind romance quickly turned into a nightmare.
1. She Faced The Hardest Years
In January 1929, just months before Black Tuesday melted down the economy, a sweet baby girl was born in Glendale, California. Her Mormon parents named her Helen Luella Koford, which was a fine name for a nice, ordinary girl. But this little girl would be anything but ordinary. In due time she’d need a much catchier name. A very glamorous life awaited her.
2. She Worked As A Child Model
Times were tough in the 1930s. Every family worked hard to scrape by. Even young Helen helped to put food on her family’s table. You see, she was so pretty, with a wonderful smile and deep blue eyes, that she won some local modeling jobs. A natural in front of the camera, she adored having her picture taken. With Hollywood only a few miles down the road, it only made sense for her to go and try her luck in the pictures.
3. She Got Her Foot In The Door
At only 10 years old, Helen got a tiny uncredited part in Maryland, and another in The Howards of Virginia, playing a neighborhood kid. With WWII raging on, Hollywood was busy pumping out morale-boosting flicks and Helen threw herself into work.
She used a few different stage names, going by Judy Ford, Jan Ford, and January Ford before settling on the plucky, yet elegant Terry Moore in 1948. It was a huge change—but the biggest one was yet to come.
4. She Starred In Technicolor
Moore’s life changed forever when she signed a long-term contract with Columbia Pictures. It was a golden age, an era defined by classic movies and elegant stars. Her first major billing was in the lively comedy The Return of October with the renowned Glenn Ford. Moore made an unbelievable splash.
Phones at the studios started ringing over her. Executives from Columbia realized they had a hot commodity. All this newfound attention undoubtedly excited Moore—but she had yet to see the darker side of Hollywood.
5. She Worked With A Gorilla
RKO Pictures, the studio that made King Kong, was successful in negotiating an agreement with Columbia. Of all the young, pretty actresses around Hollywood, RKO was desperate to cast Moore as the lead in Mighty Joe Young. And Terry turned out to be the perfect girl to star with the huge mechanical gorilla.
The film was a hit, a corny comedy with real moments of emotion. However, behind the scenes, a real-life gorilla had Moore in his sights.
6. She Had An Admirer
As Terry went to work at RKO Pictures, the studio came under the control of tycoon Howard Hughes. For years, Hughes kicked around Hollywood, dating his share of famous starlets. But, in Terry Moore, he saw something unique and pure.
Hughes felt Moore was following in Marilyn Monroe’s footsteps, just a year away from achieving major stardom. Pretty nice compliment. But the next thing he said knocked Moore’s socks off.
7. She Got A Proposal
Still a teenager, Moore was shocked when Howard Hughes—24 years her senior—proposed marriage. In fact, he begged her. “Walk down the aisle with me,” he said. “I’ve got millions”. But Moore wasn’t a gold digger. She was raised humbly as a devout Mormon. On top of that, the famous name of Howard Hughes was meaningless to her.
If this older man wanted to dazzle Moore, he needed a much better approach.
8. She Learned To Fly
One thing Moore did love was adventure—and Hughes capitalized on that observation. A thrill-seeker himself, he had a fleet of aircraft at his disposal. After taking her on a few daredevil flights, he eventually won her over. By the time he taught her to take over the controls herself, she was madly in love with him. She was also the third woman in history to get her jet pilot’s license!
Hughes definitely brought out the daredevil in Moore—but their risky romance was only just taking off.
9. She Jumped Out Of An Airplane
After teaching Moore how to fly, Hughes presented a new challenge for her—parachuting out of an airplane. Of course, she was up for it. They traveled to North Carolina to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg and Moore got rigged up. When the moment to jump came, she didn’t hesitate. She loved every second of the incredibly thrilling experience.
Moore had taken one leap of faith—but the next one she made had chilling consequences.
10. She Married At Sea
According to Moore, she and Hughes married in 1949. The wedding took place on a yacht in international waters off the coast of Mexico. The ship’s captain performed the ceremony. The actress was eager to share the happy news back in town—but her excitement was soon dampened by the cold water Hughes threw on it.
11. She Lived A Secret Life
Howard Hughes was a peculiar character and often made odd decisions (and his quirks only got stranger as time went on). He enjoyed sharing his know-how with Moore. One of the things he taught her was to “never put anything in writing”. Perhaps that’s why he tore up the ship’s log—the only paper evidence of their marriage. And, once back in Hollywood, the jilted Moore was forbidden to tell a soul.
Of course, Hughes wasn’t the only one who wanted to bury these scandalous nuptials.
12. She Was Under The System
Back in those days, Hollywood stars like Terry Moore worked in the studio system. Being under contract meant the studio controlled all aspects of a film’s production—including the star’s personal life. Moore’s marriage to Hughes would certainly have attracted the public’s attention. But the studio didn’t want her innocent, good girl image tarnished in the gossip magazines…Not just yet, anyway.
13. She Had A Scare
When Moore wasn’t working on a film, she lived in a cottage on Hughes’ Tule Springs Ranch property outside of Las Vegas. Their bond was one of a shared love of adventure. “Howard was always like a little boy,” she said.
Although they enjoyed fun times together, she often felt like a mother to him. Even Moore’s mother provided emotional support to Hughes. But the arrival of an unexpected surprise shook Moore to the core.
14. She Had A Big Dilemma
Terry Moore had a huge problem on her hands: She discovered she was expecting. Because nobody knew about her marriage to Hughes, she had no way to legitimate the pregnancy. She knew the studio would end her career in a heartbeat before allowing the public to view her as a single mother. Remember, this was the 1950s.
On the set of Beneath the 12-Mile Reef, a terrified and emotional Moore couldn’t hold it together anymore and broke down. The resulting ripple effect had consequences she couldn’t imagine.
15. She Told Her Secret
Teary-eyed Moore revealed her news to co-star Robert Wagner, as well as a few trusted friends on set. While there was nothing Wagner could do to help, he tried his best to calm Moore down so filming could continue. Soon enough, however, the studio caught wind of the problematic news and full-on panic ensued.
To get ahead of the scandal an unwed pregnant movie star would cause, the studio did something which shocked and infuriated everyone.
16. She Caused A Panic
Without consulting Moore or Wagner, the studio released a fake story to the press that the co-stars were engaged. That’s just how the old studio system fixed its problems back then. Of course, Wagner was fully expected to go along with it and marry his pregnant co-star. The actor was livid.
Not only was he not the father, but the story caused a huge rift with his girlfriend. He refused to bow to the pressure, leaving Moore completely on her own. Sadly, things were about to get a lot worse.
17. She Suffered A Tragedy
Moore managed to finish filming Beneath the 12-Mile Reef, not knowing what her future had in store. After the shooting wrapped, Hughes whisked her away to Germany, getting her out of the public eye. She spent months in isolation as her pregnancy progressed. It was a very lonely time for Moore—but her anxiety was about to turn into heartbreak.
Tragically, her baby was born prematurely and passed shortly after. Her career was safe—but she returned to Hollywood, broken by the loss.
18. She Met A New Man
The studio worked constantly to promote their stars, both on and off-screen. After the Robert Wagner story dried up, they wanted a fresh romance story for Terry Moore in the papers. A date with football player Glenn Davis was arranged. He was a West Point football star and the newest member of the Los Angeles Rams team.
They looked great together and the studio—always after that publicity—more than encouraged the relationship. While the public was thrilled with the new couple’s quickie engagement, Moore was privately freaking out.
19. She Was Trapped
Moore couldn’t believe the predicament she found herself in. She was engaged to Davis while still married to Howard Hughes. Once again, her secrets caused her great distress. As wedding planning went full steam ahead, a scary fact nagged at her.
Marriage to two men was illegal. It was bigamy. Moore nervously walked down the aisle in her white gown, pretending to be happy—completely unprepared for the slap in the face that awaited her.
20. She Was A Bigamist
Right up until the very last moment, Moore prayed for Hughes to rescue her. With all her heart, she believed there was no way Hughes would allow the woman he loved to marry another man. A romantic moment it would certainly be. But it didn’t happen. Terry Moore tied the knot with Glenn Davis with a knot in her chest. Hughes let her down again and turned her into a bigamist.
21. She Lived In Fear
A host of private emotions gripped Moore during her marriage to Glenn Davis. Even though no proof of her nuptials to Hughes existed, she feared the legal consequences of committing bigamy. She was also aware of Hughes’ unfaithfulness which caused her plenty of anguish.
Moore tried to extinguish her worries by focusing on her new husband, but her half-hearted efforts went flat after only three months. They limped along a little while longer until divorcing a year later. However, her uncanny habit of landing herself in hot water didn’t end there.
22. She Created A Stir
During the Korean War, Moore traveled abroad with Bob Hope to perform in a USO show for the troops. She caused hearts to race when she went onstage in a fur bikini, booties, and a fur hat. The homesick servicemen went insane. Moore thought the costume was “cute and glamorous”. The USO, however, wasn’t pleased.
They sent her home, worried her presence distracted the boys a little too much from their military tasks.
23. She Shot An Iconic Cover
At just 24, Terry Moore attained pop icon status as “Hollywood’s sexy tomboy” in July of 1953, with the cover of Life Magazine. Wearing red lipstick, she smiled on a wet sand beach, her short hair and casual clothes soaked from the surf. This marked a turning point. She pivoted from the childlike girl-with-the-animals roles into more mature, provocative ones.
Moore’s career was mapped out by the studio, including her big date with an up-and-coming legend.
24. She Had A Best Friend
Moore met Marilyn Monroe at an acting class arranged by Columbia Studios. Close in age, they became fast friends. While impressed with Monroe’s acting skills, she had some concerns about her pal.
Unlike her own upbringing, Monroe didn’t have a supportive family. She worried about how lonely and unconfident Monroe was. To cheer her up, dinners at Moore’s parents’ house became a regular thing. Little did she know—more heartbreak was on the way.
25. She Walked Away
Her adoring fans never knew the anguish Moore endured in the mid-1950s. Although she continued to work in movies and TV series, her love life imploded in a shocking way. Howard Hughes refused to publicly acknowledge her, yet their relationship continued.
While she adored him and found him irresistibly romantic, swallowing his lies about seeing other women became impossible. Things hit an absolute breaking point for Moore in 1956. She called it quits with Hughes once and for all…well, sort of.
26. She Tried To Move On
Desperate to forget about Howard Hughes and move on with her life, Moore jumped into her second marriage. She married her new hubby, insurance broker Eugene McGrath, on New Year’s Day in Las Vegas. He was tall and handsome with dark hair he wore slicked back.
The honeymooners jetted off to Caracas, Venezuela for some fun in the sun before moving in together. They were often photographed at movie premieres and fancy parties. But behind this seeming bliss, trouble began brewing.
27. She Was Uneasy
Domestic bliss with Eugene was difficult. He traveled too much, and they spent many nights apart. Once again Moore struggled with a familiar anxiety. She feared trouble arising from her bigamy. She was now a two-time bigamist! This wasn’t exactly an easy problem for her to fix.
Since she had no marriage certificate, how could she legally divorce Hughes? The guilt tormented her. Things soon fizzled and she divorced Eugene. But not before some very upsetting news broke.
28. She Was A Woman Spurned
Terry Moore felt an awful sting when she picked up the newspaper one day. The headlines boldly announced the engagement of Howard Hughes and actress Jean Peters. It was a devastating shock for Moore as she wondered what special quality Jean Peters possessed that she didn’t.
The only satisfaction she could muster was the fact that the union to Peters wouldn’t be legitimate since Moore was still Hughes’ legal wife. But the hard blow seemed to give her some new resolve. She decided to get her life together because she had some big goals in mind and time was running out.
29. She Was On A Mission
As Moore approached the age of 30, she knew she wanted children. In fact, it was all she cared about. With two failed marriages (three, if you count Hughes, but not really since they never divorced), she couldn’t afford any more relationship debacles. Luckily, she met Stuart Cramer III, a wealthy man in the highway construction business, and they began dating.
Moore was so focused on her goal of starting a family that she completely ignored who Cramer’s ex-wife was—none other than the dreaded Jean Peters.
30. She Had Déjà Vue
Nine months after they met, More and Stuart Cramer III married in a Mormon ceremony. After getting showered with rice and well-wishes at their 1959 reception, the couple took their honeymoon—a cruise off California on Cramer’s yacht. For Moore, it was quite a familiar scene.
Big boat, Pacific Ocean, romance. No doubt, she had vivid flashbacks of her hush-hush wedding to Howard Hughes a decade earlier.
31. Her Fears Were Put To Ease
By 1961, Moore was finally able to let go of her worries about bigamy. She was simply too busy as a new mom to care anymore. In quick succession, she had two healthy baby boys, Stuart (named after his dad) and Grant. She continued to work, mainly doing TV shows since they allowed her to have a lighter schedule. She even got to play the bad girl for once.
32. She Played A Villain
Maybe she did it to delight her young children, but Moore had great fun when she played a scoundrel on the classic TV series Batman. Her character was Joker’s girlfriend, Venus. Over a three-part storyline, she wore big 1960s-style hairdos and colorful costumes while plotting and scheming with Joker, Penguin, and, of course, Batman and Robin.
On the surface, Moore had it all, a life of luxury and roles on hit series like Bonanza. But, behind the scenes, it was all coming apart.
33. She Had A Mid-Life Crisis
As Moore approached 40, her extravagant lifestyle of servants, lavish vacations, and high society came to a crashing halt. Her marriage to wealthy Stuart Cramer was over. Now she was responsible for making her own way and paying her own bills—with two young boys in tow.
But, while she was busy feeling sorry for herself, she wasn’t exactly living in a cardboard box under the freeway.
34. She Worried About Money
Even though Moore lived in the Brentwood mansion that she bought with cash, she considered herself flat broke. Without the staff to keep it up, the place, she said, was “a crackerbox to what it used to be”. Even with two million dollars in the bank, Moore was frantic. The cash was locked up in trusts and out of her reach. She believed she’d soon be a destitute bag lady.
35. She Struggled Through A Dark Period
After her divorce, Moore faced some harsh realities—the ticking clock being one of them. When she looked in the mirror, a cute, pert girl wasn’t peering back anymore, only a rapidly aging woman. She made the decision to fight against wrinkles and eye bags. She refused to lose her figure to the middle-aged spread. But, above all else, there was one thing that she truly wanted.
Determined, she worked hard to get it.
36. Her Star Was Fading
While raising her children, Moore put her career in slow motion mode, taking the odd role if her schedule allowed. Now she wanted it all back. Unfortunately, the Golden Age of Hollywood was over. Times had changed. There were new, younger actresses to compete with. But none of that would stop her.
Even though nobody took her seriously, she was resolute to find a way back into the spotlight—that is, until some astonishing news horrified her.
37. She Mourned A Loss
Despite their strange relationship marked by heartbreak and secrecy, Moore always considered Howard Hughes the love of her life. That’s why she was stunned to learn of his passing in 1976. The news reports of how Hughes lived as an obsessive recluse during his final years upset her greatly. This wasn’t the Howard she knew, and she chose not to believe the sensational stories.
But, while she mourned his loss, Terry Moore knew that her moment of reckoning had finally come.
38. She Called A Press Conference
Holding a red rose and wearing an eye-catching pink suit, Moore held a press conference at the Beverly Hills Hotel. She was ready to reveal her secret to the world—she was the legal wife of the late billionaire. Her name made instant headlines in papers all over the globe. Everyone was talking about her.
But, if she wanted a piece of Hughes’ massive fortune, she was in line with 600 alleged wives, children, and others claiming ties to the magnate.
39. She Fought For The Truth
A Texas court had the monumental task of sorting out Hughes’ estate. For seven grueling weeks, a jury sat through the testimonies of people who had crawled out of the woodwork to claim a piece of the fortune. Moore made her case too, as Hughes’ widow. But they didn’t buy a word of it.
The jury rejected her claim based on her marriage to Stuart Cramer. Over and done with. Moore was crestfallen.
40. She Married A Criminal
The long court battle took an emotional toll on Moore, leaving her vulnerable. Her business manager at the time, Richard Carey, saw the opportunity and swooped in. He convinced the lonely actress to marry him (despite being wed to another woman himself). Impulsively, they hopped across the border to Tijuana, Mexico for a speedy ceremony.
Almost immediately, Moore realized what a colossal mistake she had just made. But, by then, it was too late.
41. She Testified In Court
Richard Carey turned out to be a career crook. While their marriage only lasted three days, Moore had a fiasco on her hands that dragged on for months. Not only had the con man stolen $200,000 of her money, but there was a string of other victims. Moore went back to court to testify against her former husband.
She was certainly at a very low point—but, little did she know, just around the corner, she had an amazing reversal in fortune coming.
42. She Was Vindicated
Just when all seemed lost, Terry Moore received a wonderful surprise. The Estate of Howard Hughes suddenly awarded her a large cash settlement. Some speculate it was $300,000, others say $10 million. But, for Moore, the dollar amount wasn’t important. She was thrilled to be finally acknowledged as a spouse of Hughes.
And, on top of all that, she had a loyal new ally in her corner.
43. She Staged A Comeback
Under the direction of her gregarious new manager, Jerry Rivers, Moore’s “career renewal plan” was underway. Rivers’ ideas and enthusiasm gave her the boost she desperately needed. It started with her writing a tell-all book, The Beauty and the Billionaire, spilling all the juicy details of her life with Howard Hughes. And it was only the tip of the iceberg.
44. She Posed For Playboy
At age 55, Moore did a spread for Playboy magazine. After years of feeling insecure about aging, she had a brash reason for baring it all. “I did it as a revenge thing toward those who think a woman is washed up at 30”. It was such a hit, the magazine begged her to pose again at age 65. But Moore declined, satisfied to make her point once. The cherry on top?
On the cover, her name appeared as Terry Moore Hughes.
45. She Looks Great For Her Age
Moore continued to work hard on her appearance, not wanting to lose her famous looks. She started to notice people asking her, “How do you stay so young”? That’s when she got the idea to write a book of that very same title. While she learned lots of make-up tricks during her years in Hollywood, she could thank her strict religion for her youthful skin.
Mormons don’t drink or smoke. But Moore’s biggest beauty secret is perhaps her most disturbing.
46. She Had Support
Even into her later years, Terry Moore is very proud of her figure, saying, “I am as firm as I was at 18”. And who can take credit for her most prized beauty advice? None other than Howard Hughes. When they were together, Hughes insisted that Moore wear heavy-duty bras while exercising and sleeping to preserve her feminine firmness.
It’s a habit she was happy to continue throughout the rest of her life.
47. She Helped A Fellow Actor
When Leonardo DiCaprio was cast to play Howard Hughes in The Aviator, he went straight to Moore for help. Delighted, it was her pleasure to assist him with the character. “He called me and I was so surprised”. Moore played him some private recordings of Hughes, and Leo was able to imitate his voice perfectly.
Leo even read Moore’s book The Beauty and the Billionaire on the set and her story touched him to the point of tears.
48. She Longs For Old Hollywood Glamor
Moore aches for the yesteryears of Hollywood. “Cool today is nothing compared to what cool was then,” she says. Today’s movies, she feels, lack talent. While she likes some of today’s actresses, she thinks we’ll never see actresses as beautiful, charming, and glamorous as the stars of the classic era. Today, she is one of the last surviving actresses of that golden generation.
49. She Loves Netflix
Besides being a movie star, Moore is a lifelong movie fan. Back in the day, she regularly attended classic movie screenings at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion. These days, she catches the latest releases on Netflix. But, being old school, she refuses to watch them on the small screen—her phone or computer. It’s the big screen or nothing for Moore.
50. She Played The Lady In Black
In 2017, at the age of 90, Terry Moore took on a demanding role in the period drama Silent Life. Not only was she required to memorize 60 pages of dialogue, but she also filmed during a summer heat wave. She played the fabled Lady in Black, a mysterious veiled woman who left red roses at silent screen legend Valentino’s grave site.
Moore is proud of her work in the film, saying it was one of her very best roles.