Who Was E. Howard Hunt, The 'Guy With Big Ears' From 'The Irishman' And Was He Connected To Both Bay Of Pigs And Watergate?

In "The Irishman," Robert De Niro's character is instructed to deliver a truck full of weapons to a guy with distinctive ears named Hunt.

By Gina Tron
Digital Series
Five Things To Know About Frank Sheeran And Jimmy Hoffa

There’s a whole lot of characters in Martin Scorsese's latest mob movie “The Irishman,” a film that stretches out for three and a half hours.

But among those hours, the character based on E. Howard Hunt sticks out. 

Maybe it’s because of all the comments regarding his ears, which, don’t really stick out despite what one character says in the film. But, apparently they once did – as did his role in two major presidential scandals that shook the core of American government. 

While the legitimacy of the most dramatic and pivotal elements of “The Irishman” have been questioned — particularly about if Hoffa was actually killed by a labor union leader named Frank Sheeran who claimed to have worked for years as a mob hitman, there are plenty of characters and plotlines based on solid, provable facts.

During one of these plotlines, hitman Frank Sheeran (played by Robert De Niro) drives a truck full of weapons to a group of men as a favor for the mob so they can use them in the Bay of Pigs attack. The man he’s supposed to meet at the drop off point is “a guy with big ears, named Hunt.” 

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However, when Sheeran gets there he gets a bit confused when Hunt’s ears are less than prominent. Hunt senses that his ears are being looked at so he flatly tells Sheeran that he got an operation to fix his ears.

Later in the movie, Sheeran recognizes the same Hunt on television during the Watergate hearings – the scandal that resulted in the end of President Richard Nixon's political career.

It is only then it is clear that the character is based upon E. Howard Hunt, an author and former Central Intelligence Agency officer who had something to do with Watergate in real life. Hunt played a central role in the break-in at Watergate that ultimately led to the downfall of the Nixon Administration.

He was a member of a secret team put together by the president to stop government leaksNixon's infamous "plumbers." Hunt was one of the men behind the break-in and bugging of the Democratic Party's headquarters in the Watergate office building, according to the Washington Post. His phone number in an address book of one of the arrested Watergate burglars was actually was one of the main factors that pinned the scandal back to the White House.

Hunt was also responsible for other operations against Nixon's so-called enemies.

After Nixon ordered a smear campaign against whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg in the early 1970s, Hunt recruited three people to break into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist's office in Beverly Hills so that they could destroy his reputation, according to the Washington Post.

Hunt actually did testify during the Watergate hearings as depicted in "The Irishman," although in real life his ears still seemed prominent, and he was convicted of burglary, conspiracy and wiretapping. He ended up serving 33 months in prison for it.

By the time he was involved in Watergate in 1972, Hunt had already stepped down from his role as a CIA officer. He left the CIA in 1970, only to work as a security consultant for Nixon in 1971, according to his New York Times obituary. 

When he worked for the CIA, he helped mastermind the removal of an elected leftist president in Guatemala and assisted in deceitful efforts that led to Che Guevara’s murder, according to Rolling Stone. He also, like “The Irishman” suggests, played a big role in the Bay of Pigs, which was a failed attempt by the CIA-sponsored Cuban exiles to reverse Fidel Castro's revolution. In the movie, the weapons truck scene pre-empted this attack. Sheeran's character later watched the invasion on television. 

Hunt has been referred to as the former CIA liaison to the Cuban “government in exile,” according to the Washington Post. At least one book claims he was assigned to the second Bay of Pigs invasion, known as Operation Mongoose, an operation in which the goal was to assassinate Fidel Castro, according to an archived 1973 newspaper clipping.

The Bay of Pigs incident actually destroyed his CIA career, according to Rolling Stone. 

Following the end of his political operative career, Hunt made a name for himself as a prolific novelist. He authored a whopping 73 books. Some were spot novels, others memoirs including a tell-all book about his work in the CIA.

He died in 2007 of pneumonia at age 88.

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