Growing Up Getty: The Story of America’s Unconventional Dynasty
Author: james reginato
Editor: Gallery Books
How cheap was oil tycoon J Paul Getty, once known as the richest man in the world?
So cheap that his mistress had to eat canned sardines for dinner while living in New York during the Depression hoping to become his fourth wife, even while receiving invitations to Condé Nast penthouse parties. So cheap that in the early 1960s, Getty installed a pay phone in the cloakroom of his newly acquired mansion outside London for the “convenience” of his guests. So cheap that, most notoriously, he refused to pay the ransom when his eldest grandson, John Paul Getty III, was kidnapped by members of an Italian crime syndicate in 1973, saying in a statement: “I have 14 other grandchildren, and if I pay a ransom penny, I will have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.”
Well, yes, no, and not exactly, writes James Reginato, in Growing UpGettya spirited and comprehensive chronicle of man and his many descendants.
That phone booth, ripped up after 18 months, was actually the idea of Getty’s attorney, Robina Lund, Lund told Reginato, after news correspondents racked up long-distance bills to Los Angeles for $40,000 in today’s money. while they covered their opening party, which was attended by 1,000 people. An antique sugar sifter valued at $11,200 (in yesterday’s money) was also stolen from the party, The New York Times reported then—soon found, of all places, a public phone booth nearby. He way to reward hospitality.
A distant father but a “loving grandfather”, according to Reginato, Paul I was deeply distressed by the kidnapping of Paul III and, in collusion with journalists, projected a public image of disinterest in influencing the perpetrators. “I shudder at the danger of the child,” Getty wrote in his diary after the kidnappers mailed the victim’s severed ear to a newspaper in Rome.
For context, weeks before this ordeal began, Getty’s son George, the first of five children from as many marriages, had died after taking a combination of alcohol, stimulants and tranquilizers and stabbing himself in the abdomen with a knife. barbecue. “Tragic! Shattered,” the patriarch noted in the diary. And two years earlier, Talitha Pol, the beautiful Dutch actress and fashion designer muse who was married to John Paul Jr., had died of a heroin overdose at age 30 (“Shocked and Sad”).
Although a series of dramatic calamities have befallen the perhaps overextended Getty clan (Paul I’s fourth son, Gordon, a composer who recently wrote an opera based on Goodbye Mr. Chipshid an entire second family for years), Mr. Reginato dismisses the idea that, as has been suggested of the Kennedys, they are cursed, or even particularly dysfunctional among their kind.
The author, a general writer for vanity fair and a contributor to Sotheby’s magazine, he has spent significant hours in the salons of the American aristocracy, and some of his pages have the feel of an auction catalogue. But he wants to shake the dust off Getty’s name: to show that most are not drug-addicted spendthrifts but productive citizens. One innovated a screw-top Cabernet that earned a rare score of 100 from wine eminence Robert Parker. One is DJ; at least two designer clothes (one brand is called Strike Oil); everyone tends to put on an amazing wedding. Others have been quietly or ostentatiously contributing to important philanthropic causes like feminist art, LGBTQ rights and saving the whales.
Gordon’s main wife, Ann, once a California farmer and general dynamo, not only started a decorating business (her own bathroom had a Degas), but for a time owned the Grove Press, publishing the memoirs of Arthur Miller. and the only Harold Pinter novel.
His father-in-law, the oil tycoon who exploited the Neutral Zone between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, is captured here in innocent Richie Rich moments: Screaming as he invited Lund to jump with him on an antique couch; kneeling late at night with visitors to display his oriental rugs; afraid to fly until the end of his days. “Almost a bit hippie,” says a grandson. But also deeply aware of the media, noticing an episode of i love lucy, for example, when the program invoked its name. And, according to his fifth wife, Teddy, who published a memoir three years before she died at 103, excellent in the bag.
These days, the surname’s association with oil has faded; many only know of the monumental art museum that Getty built in Los Angeles (where he is buried along with George and his fifth son, Timmy, who died at age 12 after cosmetic surgery to heal scars following the removal of a tumor cerebral). It may not have quite fit that the giant stock photography service Getty Images, which supplies The times and others with images, was founded by the brother of Pablo III, Marcos.
At various points, readers may yearn for a grid with color-coded pegs to keep track of all the names and relationships. Certainly some Gettys are square pegs. But there they are, bobbing up and down with the rest of us on Twitter and Instagram, where one mariculturist posted that he loved kelp so much he’d sometimes “munch on a good-looking frond while waiting for the next wave.”
The rich may be different, according to Reginato, but they are not indifferent. Or as Paul I once declared: “The meek will inherit the earth, but not its mineral rights.”
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