Jason Robards was nominated for the Best Actor in a Supporting Role Oscar for playing Howard Hughes in this movie. It was the third time in five years that Robards had been nominated in this category at the Academy Awards. The first two times, in 1977 and 1978, Robards had achieved the extraordinary feat of winning back-to-back Oscars. The films Robards won consecutive Academy Awards for were Julia (1977) and All the President's Men (1976).
In real life, Melvin E. Dummar did not receive the $156 million. According to Wikipedia, "While working at a service station in Willard, Utah, Dummar claimed to have discovered a disheveled and lost man lying on the side of a stretch of U.S. Highway 95 about 150 miles (240 km) north of Las Vegas, Nevada, near Lida Junction. Hughes asked Dummar to take him to the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. Dummar claimed that only in the final minutes of their encounter did Hughes reveal his identity". The will was "was eventually rejected by the Nevada court in June 1978 as a forgery. The court declared that Hughes had died intestate" and "Dummar was largely discounted by the public as a phony and an opportunist". Moreover, "Dummar's claims [have] resulted in a series of court battles which have all ruled against Dummar".
The text of the real life "Mormon Will" read: "Last Will and Testament I, Howard R. Hughes, being of sound mind and disposing mind and memory, not acting under duress, fraud or the undue influence of any person whomever, and being a resident of Las Vegas, Nevada, declare that this is to be my last will and revolt [sic] all other wills previously made by me - After my death, my estate is to be devided [sic] as follows - First: one-forth [sic] of all my assets to go to Hughes Medical Institute of Miami - Second: one-eight [sic] of assets to be devided [sic] among the University of Texas - Rice Institute of Technology of Houston - the University of Nevada - and the University of Calif. Third: one-sixteenth to Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - David O. McKay - Pre. Forth [sic]: one-sixteenth to establish a home for Orphan Children [sic] - Fifth: one-sixteenth of assets to go to Boy Scouts of America. Sixth: one-sixteenth to be devided [sic] among Jean Peters of Los Angeles and Ella Rice of Houston - Seventh: one-sixteenth of assets to William R. Lommis [sic] of Houston, Texas - Eighth: one-sixteenth to go to Melvin DuMar [sic] of Gabbs, Nevada - Ninth: one-sixteenth to be devided [sic] among my personal aids [sic] at the time of my death - Tenth: one-sixteenth to be used as school scholarship fund for entire country - the spruce goose is to be given to the City of Long Beach, Calif. The remainder of my estate is to be devided [sic] among the key men of the company's [sic] I own at the time of my death. I appoint Noah Dietrich as the executer [sic] of this will - Signed the 19 [sic] day of March 1968 Howard R. Hughes".
Actress Mary Steenburgen won several Best Supporting Actress Awards for this movie. These included the Academy Award (Oscar), the Golden Globe Award, the New York Film Critics Circle Award, the National Society of Film Critics Award and the Boston Society of Film Critics Award.
At the beginning of the film, Melvin Dummar sings a song that he has penned, "Santa's Souped Up Sleigh." He tells Howard Hughes that he sent the words - along with a sum of money - to the Hollywood Music Company, an outfit that puts its customers' song lyrics to music for a fee. Although Melvin doesn't realize it, the tune that the company used is not an original one: they paired his lyrics with the melody of "Wabash Cannonball."
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
The film's closing epilogue states, "Howard Hughes died in April, 1976. The 'Mormon Will' was thrown out of Clark County Superior Court in June, 1978. Lynda is a housewife and lives with her husband Bob in Golden Grove, California. Melvin and Bonnie live in Willard, Utah where Nelvin drives a delivery truck for Coors Beer. A will acceptable to the courts has yet to be found".