Following World War II, during a time when countless Americans were poor and struggling worse than ever before, oil was a viable industry and the few men benefitting from it were booming.
Taking after his father in the oil business was Minnesota man J. Paul Getty, who shrewdly invested his resources during the Great Depression and grew to be an oil giant magnate and one of the world’s first billionaires. However, this tycoon will always be remembered for his penny-pinching and one scandal that tore apart his family forever…
J. Paul Getty founded Getty Oil Company in the 1940s and became extremely wealthy over the next two decades. In fact, he came from humble beginnings to grow to be one of the richest men in the world. However, when it came to his own flesh and blood, he was a true disappointment.
The oil magnate went to business school and there’s no doubt he worked hard for his money. Getty even learned Arabic in order to perform business and create an unparalleled status in the Middle East. He made his fortune by acquiring multiple oil companies and creating the conglomerate known today as Getty Oil…
However, it wasn’t all about the oil. J. Paul Getty was also responsible for projects such as the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and Getty Images. During the 1970s, he was estimated to be worth millions of dollars and earned the title of the richest man in the world… and all of history!
Getty had all the money in the world and he wanted it all for himself. He was very particular about how his wealth was distributed among his children and grandchildren. In fact, he was known to be so cheap that his fifth wife, Teddy Getty Gaston, revealed in her old age that her ex-husband became furious that so much money was being spent on their six-year-old son, Timmy…
Poor Timmy was blind and stricken with an inoperable brain tumor and yet his billionaire father didn’t want to spend any of his fortune to try and save his life. Timmy passed away at just 12 years old and his father even refused to attend the boy’s funeral. When it came to his other sons, however, he wasn’t much more generous.
Poor Rich Kids
Born Eugene Getty, “John Paul Getty Jr.” was Getty’s fourth son, who had four boys of his own with wife Gail Harris. In 1956, their son J. Paul Getty III, known as Paul, was born, but despite his famous last name, home life was difficult and his parents divorced when he was eight. His father then took off to Rome and married a young Dutch actress named Talitha Pol, who loved to party…
Getty Jr. and Pol became addicted to a lavish lifestyle that included heavy drug use and tragedy struck again in 1972 when Pol overdosed on heroin. Police suspected John Paul Getty, Jr. was partially responsible for his wife’s deadly overdose, but were never able to charge him with anything. To be closer to his father, who was in charge of the Italian part of the family business, Getty Oil Italiana, Paul moved to Rome, but trouble would soon follow him.
After he was expelled from private school as a young teenager, Paul moved out on his own and lived the life of a hard-partying teen with no responsibilities. Long before, his grandfather J. Paul Getty, had cut off his father and mother from any access to family money, so Paul made money by selling jewelry and paintings, and working as an extra on film sets…
Paul Getty seemed to live a carefree life, until the night of July 10, 1973, when he suddenly vanished. The 16-year-old was reportedly hanging out in the Piazza Navona with a Belgian go-go dancer when the Italian mafia apparently kidnapped him, threw him in the back of a truck and drove 300 miles south to Calabria, an area completely surrounded by mountains and highly undetectable.
In Italy in the 1970s, kidnappings were actually not all that uncommon but from the first indication anything was wrong, there was some doubt that Paul had actually been taken hostage. “Paul was living more or less on the Spanish Steps together with other kids shooting up when it happened,” said Getty family friend Claüs von Bülow. “When he disappeared they just assumed he was on a binge somewhere. Let’s just say he did not disappear out of his childhood bedroom.” Paul was known to make jokes about faking his own kidnapping to get money from his grandfather. So when it actually happened, the police and Paul’s friends didn’t take him seriously…
This was especially true after the kidnappers demanded $17 million – an exorbitant amount of money that J. Paul Getty Jr. could never afford. Since J. Paul Getty was so notoriously tight with his money, Getty Jr. and his ex-wife Harris were forced to plead with the billionaire for help, but he refused, saying it could put his other grandchildren in danger. The miserly patriarch “was a genius at business,” biographer Robert Lenzner once told PEOPLE, “but an illiterate with respect to intimacy and family.”
“If I pay one penny now, I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren,” he told the media. Then on July 30, 1973, TIME published a letter Paul wrote to his mother, pleading for help: “Dear Mother: I have fallen into the hands of kidnapers. Don’t let me be killed! Make sure that the police do not interfere. You must absolutely not take this as a joke…Don’t give publicity to my kidnaping.”
Gail Harris was enraged by her former father-in-law’s refusal to help his grandson and went on a campaign smearing him to the media. After about four months in captivity, Paul’s kidnappers became restless and came up with an evil plan to get the famous family to cooperate. In November 1973, a Roman newspaper received a package with a severed body part and locks of hair.
“This is Paul’s first ear. If within 10 days the family still believes that this is a joke mounted by him, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits.” The kidnappers also demanded $3.2 million from the family patriarch, who finally gave in and decided to help. J. Paul Getty negotiated a ransom of $2.9 million and paid $2.2 million, the tax-deductible amount, leaving his son to pay for the rest by borrowing money, with interest, from him. Paul was finally set free on December 15, 1973, after five long months in captivity…
Paul was picked up by a truck driver in Italy and explained who he was. The teen was starving and emotionally shaken by the ordeal when police arrived. Yet although he was in ok physical health, besides his missing ear, the mental and emotional scars would prove difficult to overcome. However, Paul enrolled in one semester of college and tried to get his life together.
At 18, he married a 24-year-old German photographer named Gisela Zacher, and became step-father to her daughter. The couple also had a son, Balthazar Getty, who went on to become a famous actor. Unfortunately, Paul was seriously struggling and started heavily abusing drugs and alcohol after moving his family to New York and partying hard with the likes of Andy Warhol and other artists…
J. Paul Getty died in 1976, leaving his son John Paul Jr. just $500 and his grandson Paul, nothing. Getty donated much of his fortune to charities and nonprofit organizations, like his Getty Museum and stiffed most of his male family members. A few years after the patriarch’s death, in 1981, Paul overdosed on a combination of Valium, methadone and alcohol when he was in his 20’s. He survived but suffered from a stroke and became a quadriplegic. He also couldn’t speak and was partially blind.
Taking care of him became another struggle for the Getty family. Once again in desperate financial straits, Paul Getty sued his father for $28,000 a month to help pay for his medical care. He passed away at 54 years old in 2011. “Large amounts of money are very toxic,” Getty’s granddaughter Aileen, a recovering addict turned philanthropist, told PEOPLE in 1992. “It’s a very unfortunate substance to have,” she said of her family’s famous fortune.
Always a Scandal
On Christmas Day, 2017, the film All The Money In The World, based off of John Pearson’s 1995 book, Painfully Rich, about the infamous scandal hit U.S. theaters. In the weeks leading up to its release, scandal followed once again, when actor Kevin Spacey had to be replaced after sexual assault allegations and Christopher Plummer took over as J. Paul Getty.
All The Money
Following the movie’s release, Michael Mammoliti, the nephew of one of Paul’s kidnappers, spoke out against the film, claiming it was inaccurate by depicting the teen solely as a victim. He told Variety that Paul was in on it the whole time: “The kid planned his own kidnapping. It started off with great intentions. It was a quick way to make a buck on both sides. It turned into a mess because of the grandpa not wanting to pay.” Now some people are outraged that the film’s version of events will become the accepted one. While the truth about what really happened to J. Paul Getty III may never truly come to light, one thing is certain: all the money in the world can’t make any person truly happy.