Getty (December 15, 1892 Ė June 6, 1976) was an American industrialist who lived
his last 24 years in the United Kingdom. He founded the Getty Oil Company, and
in 1957 Fortune magazine named him the richest living American. At his death,
he was worth more than $2 billion. 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. 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 of his estate was left to the museum after his
Getty's family in thepetroleumbusiness
he was one of the first people in the world with a fortune estimated at over one
He enrolled at the University of Southern
California, then at University of California, Berkeley before graduating in 1914
from Magdalen College, Oxford with degrees in economics and political science.
He spent his summers between studies working on his father's oil fields
inOklahoma. Running his own oil company in Tulsa, he made his first million by
1916. However, in 1917, he announced that he was retiring to become a Los
Angeles-based playboy. Although he eventually returned to business, Getty had
lost his father's respect. Just before George Franklin Getty died in 1930, he
believed that Jean Paul would destroy the family company, and told him so.
After taking a few years off from the
money-making grind to enjoy spending his earnings on women, Getty returned to
Oklahoma in 1919. 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 the senior Getty left at his death
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
Oil. In 1967 the billionaire merged these holdings into Getty Oil.
Beginning in 1949, Getty paidIbn
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 and $30 million had been spent. From 1953 onward,
Getty's gamble produced 16 million barrels a year, which contributed greatly to
the fortune which made him one of the richest people in the world.
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 the mineral rights."
He moved to England in the 1950s and became a
prominent Anglophile. He lived and worked at his
16th-century Tudor estate, Sutton Place near Guildford; 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). As a
dedicated Anglophile, he lived the rest of his life in the British Isles, dying
of heart failure at the age of 83 on June 6, 1976.
divorces, and children
Getty was married and divorced five times. He had
six sons with four of his wives
Demont (married 1923 - divorced 1926); one son George Franklin Getty II
(1926-1928?, that is, bigamous 1926-1927 and its exact resolution is unknown)
Helmle (1928-1932); one son Jean Ronald Getty (born 1929)
(1932-1936); two sonsEugene Paul
Getty, later Jean Paul Getty Jr (1932-2003) andGordon
Peter Getty(born 1933)
Lynch (1939-1958); one son Timothy Ware Getty (1946-1958)
He was quoted as saying "A lasting relationship
with a woman is only possible if you are a business failure"
on his own success
Getty wrote a very successful book entitledHow
to Be Rich.
Getty had a Formula for success:
1.- Rise early
2.- Work hard
3.- Strike oil
Getty had a pay phone installed at Sutton Place. In Getty's own
autobiography (Getty, 1976, pg.319), he explained:
for months afterSutton Placewas
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.
Getty placed dial-locks on all the regular telephones, limiting their use to
authorized staff, and the coin-box telephone was installed for others.
However, when speaking in a televised interview with Alan Whicker, Getty simply
said that he thought guests would want to use a payphone.
On July 10, 1973 in Rome, 16 year oldJohn
Paul Getty IIIwas kidnapped and a
ransom of $17 million was demanded over the phone for his safe return. However,
"the family suspected a ploy by the rebellious teenager to extract money from
his miserly grandfather."
John Paul Getty IIasked his father
for the money, but was refused.
A second demand was delayed by an Italian postal strike.In November 1973 an
envelope containing a lock of hair and a human ear was delivered to a daily
newspaper, with a threat of further mutilation unless $3.2 million was paid:
"This is Paulís ear. If we donít get some money within 10 days, then the other
ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits." At this point
J. Paul Getty agreed to pay a ransom, subject to him negotiating the fee, and
Paul II repaying the sum at 4% interest.
Still reluctant to part with the ransom, Getty senior negotiated a deal and got
his grandson back for about $2 million. Paul III was found alive in southern
Italy shortly after the ransom was paid. His kidnappers were never caught.Paul
III was permanently affected by the trauma and became a drug addict. In 1981,
Paul III was rendered speechless, blind and paralyzed for the rest of his life
by a cocktail of drugs and alcohol.
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:
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, pg.139).
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