In the opening scene, Howard Hughes loses control of his motorcycle and crashes in the Nevada desert. That night, he is discovered lying on the side of a stretch of U.S. Highway 95 when Melvin Dummar stops his pickup truck so he can relieve himself. The disheveled stranger, refusing to allow Melvin to take him to the hospital, asks him to instead drive him to Las Vegas, Nevada. En route, the two engage in stilted conversation until Dummar cajoles his passenger into joining him in singing a Christmas song he wrote. Hughes then suggests they sing his favorite song “Bye Bye Blackbird”, and they do. The man warms to his rescuer and he is dropped off at the Desert Inn (which Hughes owns and therein resides) without revealing his identity as the reclusive billionaire.
Most of the remainder of the film focuses on Melvin’s scattered, up-and-down life, his spendthrift, trust-in-luck nature, his rocky marital life with first wife Lynda, and his more stable relationship with second wife Bonnie. Lynda leaves him and their daughter to dance in a sleazy strip club, but eventually returns, but she remains frustrated by her husband’s futile efforts to achieve the American dream. Melvin convinces her to appear on Easy Street, a game show hybrid of The Gong Show and Let’s Make a Deal, and although her tapdancing initially is booed by the audience, she wins them over and nabs the top prize of living room furniture, a piano, and $10,000 cash.
Melvin agrees to invest in an affordable house in a new development, but while Lynda tries to keep their finances under control, he rashly buys a new car and a boat, prompting her to take their daughter and toddler son and sue for divorce. Melvin is comforted by Bonnie, the payroll clerk at the dairy where he drives a truck, and the two eventually wed and move to Utah, where they take over the operation of a service station her relatives had owned.
One day, a mysterious man in a limousine stops at the station ostensibly to buy a pack of cigarettes, but after he drives off Melvin discovers an envelope marked “Last Will and Testament of Howard Hughes” on his office desk. Afraid to open it, he takes it to Mormon headquarters and secrets it in a pile of incoming mail. It doesn’t take long for the media to descend upon him and his family, and eventually Melvin finds himself in court, admitting he once met Hughes but vigorously denying he forged the will that finally fulfills his dreams.