Melvin Dummar has a personal philosophy about life: "If you don't like how things are, change it. You don't ever have to be like you are today. Only by choice."
That is part of a song that Dummar wrote back in 1967 and he says he sang to Howard Hughes on their way to Las Vegas:A dream can become a reality . . .
And this is all you do . . .
Work hard, have faith, and courage . . .
And they will come true . . .
You can rise from a beggar into a king . . .
With hard work, faith and courage . . ..
You can conquer anything. . . .
Dummar said his life changed that winter of 1967, when he says he picked up a man lying face down in the Nevada desert and agreed to drive him to Las Vegas. He said the beat-up-looking man claimed to be millionaire Howard Hughes.
"He told me he was Howard Hughes, but I didn't believe him," said Dummar. "I didn't care. I was just happy to help someone in need.
"I thought he was a prospector or a wino. That's what he looked like. I knew he was in trouble," continued Dummar. "I just sang songs to him all the way to Vegas. For the most part, he just stared at me. He thought I was weird."
Recounting the story for the umpteenth time, Dummar said he dropped the old man off outside a Las Vegas motel and handed him some change. Then nine years later, while he was working at his gas station in Willard, he said a man came by and handed Dummar an envelope. The envelope contained what purported to be Hughes' will, bequeathing a substantial sum to Dummar.
Then the court battle started. Judges in Nevada, California and Texas declared the will a fake and said the document had been forged.
Dummar walked away without a cent - but not until he received a lot of national publicity and signed the rights to his story over to a movie production company.
The movie "Melvin and Howard" was released in 1979, and Dummar had a bit part. The movie won an Oscar at the 1980 Academy Awards ceremony.
Some 15 years after the will was handed over to him by a stranger, Dummar is somewhat reluctant to grant interviews because he says he mistrusts reporters. But he is warm and still smiles and chuckles when recalling his earlier adventures in life.
Now 46, Dummar said life would have been a lot simpler if he hadn't stopped to help the old man out in the desert. Back then, he said, he was making money in real estate and if the "will" had not surfaced, he would have stayed with that career and probably would have had enough money to retire now.
Dummar said he had to sell everything to go to court and fight for his right to some of Hughes' estate. He said $90,000 from his movie rights lined attorneys' pockets and went to pay court costs and expert witnesses.
He said that to this day, he believes the will was valid.
"There was enough evidence in court to prove the will was valid, overwhelming evidence," he said. "The only thing I know is that I didn't write it."
Dummar believes that negative publicity surrounding him and the will had a negative impact on the trial. "I ultimately lost everything I owned."
He said that when he first read the will, he was shocked and thought someone was playing a joke on him. Then he was confused, so he resealed the envelope and dropped it off at the LDS Church Office Building in Salt Lake City.
Right before the trial, Dummar said, he started receiving threatening letters and telephone calls. Some people threatened to kill him if he testified. "It was a little scary," he said.
Looking back, Dummar said he has had to struggle to get back on his feet financially.
"It's been a heck of an education. It's made me a lot more cautious of people."
He said potential employers looked at him as a loser or with mistrust when they learned who he was, so he had a hard time finding a job.
But now Dummar has two jobs. One is as a soliciting supervisor for a local dairy company. In the other, he recruits and trains people to be self-employed selling products such as soap and shampoo for an Idaho Falls company.
He even wrote his own training and self-motivation manual for recruits who want to gain financial independence. In the manual is a song entitled "A Dream Can Become a Reality," the same song he said he sang to Howard Hughes on that cold December morning.
Dummar also said he and his wife of 17 years, Bonnie, are thinking about writing a book about his experiences with Hughes and the will. "I think it would make an interesting story," he said.
But on the other hand, Dummar said, he is enjoying his privacy and if he wrote a book, his life would once again be open for public scrutiny.