The Boy With Green Hair is an anti-war parable Howard Hughes tried his best to bury. RKO Pictures is the studio responsible for some true classics, including 1933's King Kong and The Thing From Another World, a 1951 horror film later remade as John Carpenter's The Thing. Easily one of their most iconic pictures is Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, which tells the life story of a controversial newspaper magnate.
While Citizen Kane is often voted the greatest movie of all time and is lauded as a groundbreaking piece of work, it underperformed upon release. It also drew the considerable ire of media mogul William Randolph Hearst, who partly served as inspiration for Kane. Hearst went so far as to try and buy the negative for $1 million in order to destroy it. The Boy With Green Hair is a 1948 RKO drama about a war orphan named Peter whose hair turns green due to his emotional trauma, and it also drew the anger of a powerful magnate.
The Boy With Green Hair follows Peter (Dean Stockwell, Quantum Leap) as he runs away after being bullied by his hometown due to his hair. He later encounters other war orphans who convince him to use his hair to send a message to adults that war is damaging to children. The adults eventually convince him to shave it all off so it will grow back normally, though the film ends with Peter hoping his hair grows back green so he can continue his anti-war message.
The Boy With Green Hair is a strange, but well-meaning technicolor fantasy with great performances by the young Stockwell and Robert Ryan (The Wild Bunch). Sadly, the film's pacifist message enraged Howard Hughes, the aviation mogul/movie producer who took over RKO in 1948. Hughes was a conservative who didn't want to make so-called message movies, believing cinema should only be for entertainment. To that end, he wanted The Boy With Green Hair re-edited to take out this theme but found there was little that could be done to tone down its message.
The Boy With Green Hair's screenwriter Ben Barzman once recalled Dean Stockwell being ordered into a meeting with Hughes, with the latter yelling at the young star when he refused to go along with changes to soften the movie's message. In the end, some lines were added to the final cut to dull its theme, which remained largely intact, but the movie ultimately flopped. A combination of Hughes' mismanagement and a string of expensive bombs, including the infamous The Conqueror starring John Wayne (The Alamo) as Genghis Khan, led to the eventual demise of RKO itself.