J. Paul Getty

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J. Paul Getty
J Paul Getty crop.jpg
Getty in 1944
Born Jean Paul Getty
(1892-12-15)December 15, 1892
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Died June 6, 1976(1976-06-06) (aged 83)
Sutton Place near Guildford, Surrey, England
Citizenship British[1]
Occupation Businessman
Net worth US$2 billion at the time of his death (approximately $8.6 billion inflation adjusted, equivalent to 1/893rd of US GNP in 1976)[2]
  • Jeanette Demont (m. 1923; div. 1926)
  • Allene Ashby (m. 1927; div. 1928)
  • Adolphine Helmle (m. 1928; div. 1932)
  • Ann Rork (m. 1932; div. 1936)
  • Louise Dudley Lynch (m. 1939; div. 1958)

Jean Paul Getty (/ˈɡɛti/; December 15, 1892 – June 6, 1976) was an American-British industrialist.[3] He founded the Getty Oil Company, and in 1957 Fortune magazine named him the richest living American,[4] while the 1966 Guinness Book of Records named him as the world's richest private citizen, worth an estimated $1.2 billion (approximately $9.05 billion in 2017).[5] At his death, he was worth more than $6 billion (approximately $18.06 billion in 2017).[6] A book published in 1996 ranked him as the 67th richest American who ever lived, based on his wealth as a percentage of the gross national product.[7]

Despite his vast wealth, Getty was infamously frugal, notably negotiating his grandson's ransom in 1973.

Getty was an avid collector of art and antiquities; his collection formed the basis of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California, and over $661 million (approximately $2.8 billion in 2017) of his estate was left to the museum after his death.[6] He established the J. Paul Getty Trust in 1953. The trust is the world's wealthiest art institution, and operates the J. Paul Getty Museum Complexes: The Getty Center, The Getty Villa and the Getty Foundation, the Getty Research Institute, and the Getty Conservation Institute.[8]

Life and career[edit]

Getty was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Sarah Catherine McPherson (Risher) and George Getty, who was in the petroleum business.

He enrolled at the University of Southern California, then at University of California, Berkeley. In 1913, he obtained a diploma in Economics and Political Science from the University of Oxford, having enrolled as a non-collegiate student on November 28, 1912. He spent his summers between studies working on his father's oil fields in Oklahoma. Running his own oil company in Tulsa, he made his first million by June 1910. The Nancy Taylor No. 1 Oil Well Site near Haskell, Oklahoma, was crucial to his early financial success. This oil well was the first to be drilled by J. P. Getty.

In 1919, Getty returned to business in Oklahoma. During the 1920s, he added about $3 million to his already sizable estate. His succession of marriages and divorces (three during the 1920s, five throughout his life) so distressed his father, however, that J. Paul inherited a mere $500,000 of the $10 million fortune his father George had left at the time of his death. Just before he died in 1930, George Franklin Getty said that Jean Paul would ultimately destroy the family company.[citation needed]

Shrewdly investing his resources during the Great Depression, Getty acquired Pacific Western Oil Corporation, and he began the acquisition (completed in 1953) of the Mission Corporation, which included Tidewater Oil and Skelly Oil. In 1967 the billionaire merged these holdings into Getty Oil.

Beginning in 1949, Getty paid Ibn Saud $9.5 million in cash and $1 million a year for a 60-year concession to a tract of barren land near the border of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. No oil had ever been discovered there, and none appeared until four years had passed, and $30 million had been spent. From 1953 onward, Getty's gamble produced 16,000,000 barrels (2,500,000 m3) a year, which contributed greatly to the fortune responsible for making him one of the richest people in the world.

"The meek shall inherit the earth, but not its mineral rights."
— dictum attributed to Jean Paul Getty[9]

Getty increased the family wealth, learning to speak Arabic, which enabled his unparalleled expansion into the Middle East. Getty owned the controlling interest in nearly 200 businesses, including Getty Oil. Associates identified his overall wealth at between $2 billion and $4 billion. It didn't come easily, perhaps inspiring Getty's widely quoted remark—"The meek shall inherit the earth, but not its mineral rights."[10] J. Paul Getty was an owner of Getty Oil, Getty Inc., George F. Getty Inc., Pacific Western Oil Corporation, Mission Corporation, Mission Development Company, Tidewater Oil, Skelly Oil, Mexican Seaboard Oil, Petroleum Corporation of America, Spartan Aircraft Company, Spartan Cafeteria Company, Minnehoma Insurance Company, Minnehoma Financial Company, Pierre Hotel at Fifth Avenue and East 61st Street (NYC), Pierre Marques Hotel at Revolcadero Beach near Acapulco, Mexico, a 15th-century palace and nearby castle at Ladispoli on the coast northwest of Rome, a Malibu ranch home and Sutton Place, a 72-room mansion near Guildford, Surrey, 35 miles from London.[citation needed]

He moved to Britain in the 1950s and became a prominent admirer of England, its people, and its culture. He lived and worked at his 16th-century Tudor estate, Sutton Place; the traditional country house became the centre of Getty Oil and his associated companies and he used the estate to entertain his British and Arabian friends (including the British Rothschild family and numerous rulers of Middle Eastern countries). Getty lived the rest of his life in the British Isles, dying of heart failure at the age of 83 on June 6, 1976.

Marriages, divorces and children[edit]

Getty was married and divorced five times. He had five sons with four of his wives:[6][11]

  1. Jeanette Demont (married 1923 – divorced 1926); one son George Franklin Getty II (1924–1973)
  2. Allene Ashby (1926–1928) no children[12]
  3. Adolphine Helmle (1928–1932); one son Jean Ronald Getty (1929–2009), whose son, Christopher Ronald Getty, married Pia Miller, sister of Marie-Chantal, Crown Princess of Greece.
  4. Ann Rork (1932–1936); two sons Eugene Paul Getty, later John Paul Getty Jr (1932–2003) and Gordon Peter Getty (born 1934)
  5. Louise Dudley "Teddy" Lynch (1939–1958); one son Timothy Ware Getty (1946–1958)

At age 99, in 2013, Getty's fifth wife, Louise—now known as Teddy Getty Gaston—published a memoir reporting how Getty had scolded her for spending money too freely in the 1950s on the treatment of their six-year-old son, Timmy, who had become blind from a brain tumor. Timmy died at age 12, and Getty, living in England apart from his wife and son back in the U.S., did not attend the funeral. Teddy divorced him that year.[13] Teddy Gaston died in April 2017 at the age of 103.[14]

Getty was quoted as saying "A lasting relationship with a woman is only possible if you are a business failure",[11] and "I hate to be a failure. I hate and regret the failure of my marriages. I would gladly give all my millions for just one lasting marital success."[15]

Coin-box telephone[edit]

Getty famously had a pay phone installed at Sutton Place, helping to seal his reputation as a miser.[16] Getty placed dial-locks on all the regular telephones, limiting their use to authorized staff, and the coin-box telephone was installed for others. In his autobiography, he described his reasons:

Now, for months after Sutton Place was purchased, great numbers of people came in and out of the house. Some were visiting businessmen. Others were artisans or workmen engaged in renovation and refurbishing. Still others were tradesmen making deliveries of merchandise. Suddenly, the Sutton Place telephone bills began to soar. The reason was obvious. Each of the regular telephones in the house has direct access to outside lines and thus to long-distance and even overseas operators. All sorts of people were making the best of a rare opportunity. They were picking up Sutton Place phones and placing calls to girlfriends in Geneva or Georgia and to aunts, uncles and third cousins twice-removed in Caracas and Cape Town. The costs of their friendly chats were, of course, charged to the Sutton Place bill.[17]

When speaking in a televised interview with Alan Whicker in February 1963,[18] Getty said that he thought guests would want to use a payphone.[19] After 18 months, Getty explained, "The in-and-out traffic flow at Sutton subsided. Management and operation of the house settled into a reasonable routine. With that, the pay-telephone [was] removed, and the dial-locks were taken off the telephones in the house."[20]

Kidnapping of grandson John Paul Getty III[edit]

On July 10, 1973, in Rome, 'Ndrangheta kidnappers abducted Getty's 16-year-old grandson, John Paul Getty III, and demanded by telephone a $17 million payment for the teenage grandson's safe return. However, "the family suspected a ploy by the rebellious teenager to extract money from his miserly grandfather."[21] John Paul Getty Jr. asked his father for the money, but was refused.[22]

In November 1973, an envelope containing a lock of hair and a human ear arrived at a daily newspaper. The second demand had been delayed three weeks by an Italian postal strike.[21] The demand threatened that Paul would be further mutilated unless the victims paid $3.2 million: "This is Paul’s ear. If we don’t get some money within 10 days, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits."[21]

When the kidnappers finally reduced their demands to $3 million, Getty senior agreed to pay no more than $2.2 million—the maximum that would be tax-deductible. He lent his son the remaining $800,000 at 4% interest. Paul III was found alive in a filling station of Lauria, in the province of Potenza, shortly after the ransom was paid.[23] After his release Paul III called his grandfather to thank him for paying the ransom but, it is claimed, Getty refused to come to the phone.[24] Nine people associated with 'Ndrangheta were later arrested for the kidnapping, but only two were convicted.[25] Paul III was permanently affected by the trauma and became a drug addict. After a stroke brought on by a cocktail of drugs and alcohol in 1981, Paul III was rendered speechless, nearly blind and partially paralyzed for the rest of his life. He died 30 years later on February 5, 2011 at the age of 54.[25]

Getty defended his initial refusal to pay the ransom on two points. First, he argued that to submit to the kidnappers' demands would immediately place his other fourteen grandchildren at the risk of copy-cat kidnappers. He added:

The second reason for my refusal was much broader-based. I contend that acceding to the demands of criminals and terrorists merely guarantees the continuing increase and spread of lawlessness, violence and such outrages as terror-bombings, "skyjackings" and the slaughter of hostages that plague our present-day world. (Getty, 1976, p. 139).


Getty died June 6, 1976, Sutton Place near Guildford, Surrey, England.[3] He was buried in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles County, California at the Getty Villa. The gravesite is not open to the public.[26]

Media portrayals[edit]

The 2017 film All the Money in the World - directed by Ridley Scott and adapted from the book Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty by John Pearson - is a dramatisation of the abduction of Getty's grandson in which Getty is portrayed by Christopher Plummer. Plummer was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance.

The kidnapping will also be dramatized in the upcoming series Trust, directed by Danny Boyle, in which Donald Sutherland will play Getty.

Published works[edit]

  • Getty, J. Paul. The history of the bigger oil business of George F.S. F. and J. Paul Getty from 1903 to 1939. Los Angeles?, 1941.
  • Getty, J. Paul. Europe in the Eighteenth Century. [Santa Monica, Calif.]: privately printed, 1949.
  • Le Vane, Ethel, and J. Paul Getty. Collector's Choice: The Chronicle of an Artistic Odyssey through Europe. London: W.H. Allen, 1955.
  • Getty, J. Paul. My Life and Fortunes. New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1963.
  • Getty, J. Paul. The Joys of Collecting. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1965.
  • Getty, J. Paul. How to be Rich. Chicago: Playboy Press, 1965.
  • Getty, J. Paul. The Golden Age. New York: Trident Press, 1968.
  • Getty, J. Paul. How to be a Successful Executive. Chicago: Playboy Press, 1971.
  • Getty, J. Paul. As I See It: The Autobiography of J. Paul Getty. Englewood Cliffs, N.J. : Prentice-Hall, 1976. ISBN 0-13-049593-X.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://www.tatler.com/gallery/meet-the-getty-family-andrew-getty-history-fortune-getty-images
  2. ^ Klepper, Michael; Gunther, Michael (1996), The Wealthy 100: From Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates—A Ranking of the Richest Americans, Past and Present, Secaucus, New Jersey: Carol Publishing Group, p. xiii, ISBN 978-0-8065-1800-8, OCLC 33818143 
  3. ^ a b Whitman, Alden (6 June 1976). "J. Paul Getty Dead at 83; Amassed Billions From Oil". On This Day. The New York Times. Archived from the original on 21 December 2016. 
  4. ^ List of 76 said to hold above 75 millions. The New York Times, October 28, 1957.
  5. ^ Norris & Ross McWhirter, Guinness Book of Records, London, 1966, p. 229
  6. ^ a b c Lenzner, Robert. The great Getty: the life and loves of J. Paul Getty, richest man in the world. New York: Crown Publishers, 1985. ISBN 0-517-56222-7
  7. ^ Klepper, Michael M.; Robert E. Gunther. (1996). The wealthy 100: from Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates: a ranking of the richest Americans, past and present. Secaucus, N.J.: Carol Publishing Group. ISBN 0-8065-1800-6. 
  8. ^ Edward Wyatt, "Getty Fees and Budget Reassessed," The New York TImes, April 30, 2009, p. C1.
  9. ^ Manser, Martin H. (April 2007). The Facts on File dictionary of proverbs. Infobase Publishing. p. 186. ISBN 978-0-8160-6673-5. Retrieved May 26, 2011. 
  10. ^ "Thoughts On The Business Of Life" at Forbes
  11. ^ a b Vallely, Paul. Don't keep it in the family. Archived December 26, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. The Independent (London), July 19, 2007. Retrieved September 6, 2008.
  12. ^ Getty, Jean Paul (1976). As I see it: the autobiography of J. Paul Getty. Getty Publications. p. 91. Retrieved September 13, 2011. 
  13. ^ Newman, Judith (August 30, 2013). "His Favorite Wife: 'Alone Together,' by Teddy Getty Gaston". The New York Times. Retrieved August 31, 2013. 
  14. ^ "J. Paul Getty's Ex-Wife Teddy Getty Gaston Dies at 103". people.com. April 10, 2017. 
  15. ^ "The Price of Success". Psychology Today. 
  16. ^ Woo, Elaine (February 8, 2011). "J. Paul Getty III oil Scion.". The Desert Sun. p. B4. 
  17. ^ Getty, 1976, pg.319
  18. ^ "The Solitary Billionaire J. Paul Getty". Talk at the BBC. BBC. Retrieved April 6, 2012. 
  19. ^ Talk at the BBC, BBC Four, April 5, 2012
  20. ^ Getty, 1976, p. 320
  21. ^ a b c Sir Paul Getty (obituary). Daily Telegraph, April 17, 2003.
  22. ^ Profile: Sir John Paul Getty II. BBC News, June 13, 2001.
  23. ^ "Il rapimento di Paul Getty". Il Post (in Italian). July 10, 2013. 
  24. ^ Weber, Bruce (February 7, 2011). "J. Paul Getty III, 54, Dies; Had Ear Cut Off by Captors". The New York Times. 
  25. ^ a b J. Paul Getty III, 54, Dies; Had Ear Cut Off by Captors The New York Times, February 7, 2011.
  26. ^ "J. Paul Getty (1892 - 1976)". Find a Grave. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]