Billionaire who refused to save grandson’s life
The upcoming film All the Money in the World has been garnering lots of buzz for the scandal around it.
A month ago, the filmmakers decided to erase star Kevin Spacey - now tainted by accusations of sexual misconduct - and replace him with Christopher Plummer.
With the movie due to hit Australian theatres tomorrow, Plummer was still filming in Italy as recently as December.
But the scandal the movie is based on is just as shocking, reports the New York Post.
In 1973, John Paul Getty III - the 16-year-old grandson of oil man J. Paul Getty, then said to be the world's richest man, worth some $1.2 billion (around $9.1 billion today) - was kidnapped in Rome. His abductors demanded $17 million, which his family wouldn't pay, leading his captors to cut off his right ear.
The ordeal, coupled with terrible neglect, ruined the boy's life. At just 24, he ended up paralysed as a result of a drug overdose.
As it turns out, all the money in the world could not save him.
Born in 1892 to Minnesotan parents in the petroleum business, J. Paul Getty turned mere wealth into billions by buying oil-rich land in the Middle East.
But "Old John," as he came to be called, was a notorious tightwad. So much so that he kept a payphone at Sutton Place, his 75-acre estate in Surrey, England, so as not to get stuck paying for guests' calls.
He was equally parsimonious about showing love to his family. "Raising kids ... would have gotten in the way of his mistresses," John Pearson, author of Painfully Rich, on which the movie is based, told The Post.
Old John had five wives and as many sons. He particularly disdained his third boy, John Paul Getty Jr, and viewed him as a dope-addled hippie. "John Paul [Jr] was cultured," said Pearson. "But he was a drug addict and a layabout."
Old John did not meet his grandson, John Paul III - the oldest of four children that John Paul Jr had with first wife Gail - until the boy was 11 years old. Improbably, the old man was charmed.
When they met again four years later, however, Old John was less impressed. It was 1971 and the 15-year-old boy, known as Paul, had evolved into a bell-bottoms-wearing hippie. His father, John Paul Jr, had divorced Gail in 1966 and been living a bohemian existence with his new wife, model Talitha Pol. They bounced around Rome and Morocco, hung out with the Rolling Stones, and smoked opium.
By the age of 15, Paul had already been exposed to the likes of Andy Warhol, Jack Nicholson and Mick Jagger. According to the 2013 biography of Paul, Uncommon Youth, by Charles Fox, Gail suspected that Paul "had a 24-hour really bad trip on whatever it was that [John Paul Jr's mistress] had given him."
In the aftermath of a 1971 heroin binge, Pol fatally overdosed.
"But [Paul] idolised his father, thought he was a cool guy - even though he was dysfunctional and an emotional wreck," said Pearson.
Believing that freedom would help her son, Gail allowed Paul to quit school and live in an apartment in Rome so he could pursue a career as a painter. At 16, he was mostly known for partying and nude modelling. Local media dubbed Paul "the Golden Hippie."
THE GOLDEN HIPPIE IS KIDNAPPED
Around 3am on July 10, 1973, the Golden Hippie was drunk and strolling home along the Piazza Farnese. He stopped at a newsstand to purchase the coming day's paper and a Mickey Mouse comic book.
A car pulled up and three men jumped out, brandishing pistols. They whisked Paul into the car. As he told writer Joe Eszterhas, during a 1974 Rolling Stone interview, "I didn't know if I had f**ked somebody's chick or whether they were the cops or whatever."
Paul got chloroformed and smacked in the head with the butt of a gun before passing out.
The men - part of a ragtag group that included mafia members, a carpenter and hospital orderly - drove Paul to a cave in southern Italy where he was tied to a stake. A captor said, "Listen, kid, you're going to be here a long time. Don't do anything stupid."
A day after the abduction, his mother, Gail, received a phone call asking for a ransom of $17 million.
At first, she wondered if perhaps the police were right in their assessment that he had himself "kidnapped" to bilk his family for money.
In fact, Paul had bragged to friends about a plan for the perfect fake kidnapping. Even the Italian media headlined it a hoax.
Meanwhile, John Paul Jr, in London to escape Italian drug charges related to the death of Pol, was oblivious. "He lived on heroin and chocolate-chip cookies," said Pearson. "He was out of it and useless."
For weeks, Gail spun her wheels in trying to raise the money. Meanwhile, Old John provided a cold statement to the media: "I don't believe in paying kidnappers. I have 14 other grandchildren and if I pay one penny now, then I'll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren."
The kidnappers kept Paul drunk on cheap cognac in the cave and rural huts. They gave him a radio and a pet bird. Each day he was unchained for an hour of walking and smoking. He tracked days by making small scratches on a rock. After 50 days passed with no action, the kidnappers became increasingly agitated.
'I PISSED MYSELF ALL THE TIME'
Early one October morning, around three months into his ordeal, Paul received a haircut from his kidnappers. The next morning he was fed a meal of five steaks and pressed to eat as much as he could. Afterwards, the teen was blindfolded and a handkerchief was placed in his mouth. He bit hard as the men secured his arms, legs and head.
Then, they sliced off his right ear with the single sweep of a razor-sharp blade.
"I was vomiting," Paul told Eszterhas, recalling how the wound became badly infected and the penicillin he was given poisoned him. "I didn't even move for about 10 days. I pissed myself all the time."
His ear was wrapped in a bag, along with strands of his hair and a note that said unless the ransom was paid within 10 days, "we shall send you the other ear."
It was sent to Il Messaggero newspaper in Rome. But a national postal strike meant the gruesome parcel took three weeks to reach its destination.
Upon its arrival, Gail and lawyer Giovanni Jacovoni raced to the paper's office. She took one look at the ear, recognised the freckles, and said that it belonged to her son.
After Polaroids of Paul, showing his emaciated body and missing ear, were left for Il Messaggero reporters to retrieve from the side of a highway, the family negotiated the ransom down to $2.9 million.
Grudgingly, Old John put up $2.2 million - the maximum that could be tax deducted - and loaned the remaining $700,000 to his son, providing that the sum be paid back at 4 per cent interest. Pearson suspects that the debt was never repaid.
On December 12, five months after Paul was nabbed, money changed hands at a rendezvous in the Italian countryside. Three days later, he was released. He began walking and was soon picked up by the police and his mother.
At the main police station in Rome, a mob of reporters awaited the teen's arrival. Paul described the homecoming as "absolute insanity." A week or so later, back in Rome, he was as famous as a Rolling Stone, complete with screaming girls and fan mail: "All the letters," Paul told Eszterhas, "basically said, 'Give me your c**k.'"
He called his grandfather to thank him for putting up the money. But Old John would not take the call. Through an intermediary, his final words to Paul were, "Good luck."
Soon after Paul's release, he met with Eszterhas in Berlin and Rome. Reportedly, Paul demanded $500 for the interview and $2000 for a photo session. "I heard that he was doing cocaine, lots of cocaine," said Eszterhas. "He carried himself like a rock star, but he needed money. I had to put cash down on the table when we started the interview and more when we finished it."
Eventually, nine men associated with the 'Ndrangheta organised crime group were arrested for the kidnapping, with two ultimately convicted. Only $85,000 of the $2.9 million was recovered.
A year later, in 1974, at age 18, Paul married photographer Martine Zacher, 24. His grandfather disinherited him, not liking that Zacher was older - and five months pregnant. The couple's son, Balthazar, now 42, went on to become a successful actor in films such as Lord of the Flies and the US ABC TV series Brothers and Sisters. (They also had a daughter, Anna.)
Fatherhood did little to mellow Paul. His family lived in a house behind the Whisky a Go Go on Hollywood's Sunset Strip. Author Fox wrote of him being jumpy and doing speedballs (a mix of heroin and cocaine). By this point, Paul had no money himself, but various family members covered all the checks he could bounce.
In 1981, after a night of methadone, valium and alcohol, Paul, 25, suffered a stroke that left him a quadriplegic. Nevertheless, Eszterhas recalled hearing about him being rolled into Carlos and Charlies nightclub in his wheelchair.
Paul and Gail sued John Paul Jr. for $28,000 per month to cover Paul's care. Ultimately, after a long period of poor health, Paul died in 2011 at 54. By then his father and grandfather had both passed on.
Although the Getty name endures on gas station signs across the United States - as well as through Los Angeles' J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Villa, both ranking among the world's finest art museums - the family oil business was sold for $10.1 billion to Texaco in 1984. In 2015, Forbes magazine estimated the Getty fortune to be a diminishing $5.4 billion. That made them the 56th wealthiest family in America - rich but a far cry from Old John's former top-of-the-heap status.
Pearson thinks Old John would not have been pleased by Hollywood making money off his name.
"The old man would have had the script rewritten for his own ends; he would have tried to shift blame from himself," said Pearson. "I also think Getty would want to get whatever money he could out of it. That was his nature."