Uncommon Youth, page 1
J. Paul Getty with twins Martine (left) and Jutta Zacher at the infamous “Cocaine” shoot. (AP Images)
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Photo of J. Paul Getty and friends
Cast of Characters
Photo of J. Paul Getty and Martine Zacher
About the Author
Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand.
—F. SCOTT FITZGERALD, The Great Gatsby
CAST OF CHARACTERS
J. Paul Getty III: (aka Paul, Little Paul, young Paul) Grandson to J. Paul Getty
J. Paul Getty: (aka Old Paul) The grandfather, the oil magnate
J. Paul Getty II: (aka Big Paul) Father to Little Paul, son to Old Paul
Gail Harris Getty: (aka Gail Harris Jeffries) Mother to Little Paul, first wife to Big Paul
Martine Zacher: Little Paul’s girlfriend, and later wife
Victoria Brooke: Big Paul’s mistress, and later third wife
Talitha Pol: Big Paul’s second wife and Victoria’s close friend
Gordon Getty: Big Paul’s younger brother
Sarah C. Getty: Old Paul’s mother
Balthazar Getty: Son of Little Paul and Martine
Tara Gabriel Galaxy Gramophone Getty: Son of Big Paul and Talitha
The Kidnappers: (Fifty, the Chipmunk, Piccolo, VB1, VB2)
James Fletcher Chace: (aka Chace) Troubleshooter hired by Old Paul to investigate kidnapping of Little Paul
Giovanni Iacovoni: Gail’s Roman lawyer
Nicolette Meers: Housekeeper for Big Paul in Morocco
Marcello Crisi: Little Paul’s best friend and roommate in Rome
Jutta Winkelmann: Martine Zacher’s twin sister
Byron: Getty driver in London
Jerry Cherchio: Big Paul’s friend and owner of the Luau Club in Rome
Ciambellone: The Roman coke dealer
“Cockney Pauline”: London LSD supplier
D. O. Cozzi: Writer and social anthropologist, a San Francisco expatriate who has lived in Italy for fifty years
Ed Daley: Owner of World Airways
George d’Almeida: American in Rome, friend of Gail and Big Paul
Luigi Della Ratta: (aka Lou) Gail’s boyfriend
Derek: Big Paul’s London minder
Derek: Old Paul’s manservant
Danielle Devret: Rome go-go dancer and sometimes girlfriend of Little Paul
Capt. Martino Elisco: Commander of the carabinieri (one of Italy’s two police forces), in Lagonegro
Jack Forrester: Old Paul’s best friend
George and Aileen Harris: Gail’s parents
Iovinella: squadra mobile (Rome police)
Lang Jeffries: Gail’s second husband
Fiona Lewis: Victoria’s close friend in London
Martin McInnis: Family lawyer in San Francisco
Mario: Big Paul’s Roman chauffeur and minder, suspected of using the kidnapping to extort money, but nothing was proved
Dr. Fernando Masone: Head of squadra mobile (Rome police)
Ann Rork: Big Paul and Gordon’s mother, Old Paul’s third wife
Dado Ruspoli: Big Paul’s friend
Lord Christopher Thynne: Social peer to Big Paul, Talitha, and Victoria
Jack Zajac: American sculptor in Rome, friend of Gail and Big Paul
Los Angeles, 2001
As things turned out, it was the last time we met. Soon after our visit, Paul and his mother/custodian, Gail, took their entourage and moved back to Europe, never to return. I imagine they went in Uncle Gordon’s 747.
On this, our final visit, Véro, James, and I came down from the north through Death Valley. This time of year the desert was in bloom.
Paul was living up on the hill opposite the Hollywood Bowl in a luxurious cottage hideaway, said to have been formerly occupied by a senior CIA operative. A wheelchair van like my own was parked opposite a ramp leading to the living room. John, one of Paul’s minders, came out to help unload me. He told us that Paul was out back.
We went through the living room into a garden with a swimming pool. Paul was reclined on his wheelchair in the deep shade of a magnolia, long legs stretched out before him, bedroom slippers on lolling feet, thin freckled arms secured on the armrests by black velvet ribbons about the wrists. We joined him. John invited Véro and James to go swimming and led them into the house to change, leaving the two of us side by side on our chairs.
In the buzz of the afternoon heat, a solitary bird repeated a plaintive note. Water trickled on jasmine-scented air. I looked up and watched a pale liquid fire dancing on the underside of the magnolia leaves, the sun reflected off the surface of the pool. A hummingbird hovered before a fuchsia. Through mists of steam, a clearing of crabgrass gave way to birds of paradise, frangipani, and black bamboo screening the door in the fence that led back out into the street. It was a mirage, this place.
From within the house a woman’s voice called out in Spanish. A man answered and there was laughter. They were, I supposed, preparing lunch. This was their place now. It was a good life, steady work. They would never know the nature of the man for whom they worked any more than museum curators know that of the creators of the artifacts they preserve.
I watched the steam rise off the water. He liked the water warm, I no longer enjoyed it; the paralyzed body bobs like a cork. The sensation is strange, the lack of control frightening.
Led by John, Véro, my wife, and James, my son, reemerged from the house laughing, cajoling. Véro and James plunged into the pool. I watched them swim, heard their laughter. When they’d had enough, they went back into the house. The ruffled water slowly slackened.
I could turn my head enough to see Paul reclined in effigy beside me, blank eyes staring fixedly ahead, nose rising up like the dorsal on a sailfish, shock of red hair cut short. He’d had no wish to conceal the swirl of scar tissue around the hole and pale patch of skin exposed by the missing ear. I watched his face for a sign of recognition, a flicker that would move us forward. There was none. When we had first met, his flame had been dazzling. The hotter he had burned, the more he had sought. He had trod where you dared not, done what made you wonder. That’s how his father had been, the late John Paul Getty II, the man who had kindled his fire and then left him to burn until all that remained was stillness and silence.
Where was Paul at this moment? In the halls of memory, waiting for the sound of a familiar voice? Was he, too, prey to clouds of claustrophobia? What to say? I couldn’t carry on the way his mother, Gail, did each morning, chattering cheerfully over the speakerphone, her optimist
There came the sound of voices. They were coming back from the house. They had changed, wet hair gleamed. Martine was with them. She was fifty now, slight, gentle, hair cut short, her pretty face become beautiful. John came to stand behind Paul, putting hands upon his shoulders. A small smile, easily mistaken for a grimace, appeared on Paul’s face.
“I was just telling Paul that we came from Zabriskie Point.” I spoke to John. “Who directed Zabriskie Point?” Before John could reply, Paul’s mouth opened and uttered a series of clicks, almost a stammer, unintelligible to me.
“What’s he saying?”
“He’s saying ‘A.’”
“Of course. A for Antonioni.”
So Paul was in there, listening. Some assume that, being diminished, I cannot think for myself. I was doing the same with him. What did he make of us, this Paul? As if to cover up the thought, I breezed on. “Not one of his better films. Pamela Jane”—at the mention of her name, Paul’s mouth spasmed into a rictus grin that seemed to draw back his head and stiffen his whole body—“she sends her love. We all miss you up north. You should come up and visit us, stay with me. The house is ramped. It would be easy.”
John was shaking his head. “Too many memories.”
Once more Paul began uttering small, indecipherable clicks. Again I looked up at John. “What’s he saying?”
John stared steadfastly at me. “He says he wants you to write his story.”
It was a shock. I’d thought all that was long behind us. John was looking down on Paul once more. Paul’s mouth had resumed its grin. There was nothing more, just the echo of those words.
Martine stooped to kiss my cheek. “Hello.” The world was moving on.
“How are you, my dear?”
Before she could reply, James announced, “Véro and I are going to shoot pool.” They went off together back toward the house.
Martine stroked Paul’s head. She turned back to me. “Paul wants me to come live here, but I have my life in Germany.” She carried on about her life there and her children, but I didn’t follow.
When she paused, John said, “It’s getting hot, let’s go in.” He turned Paul’s chair and led the way across the tiles toward the house and the ramp leading to the living room. Martine pushed me after them. I asked her, “Are you in touch with Marcello?”
From behind me I heard her say, “Marcello died. He was really sick. He needed a liver transplant or something. Strange character, Marcello. I didn’t trust him one bit.”
As we came into a patch of shade, I asked her to stop. John and Paul were disappearing into the house. I told Martine, “Paul just asked me to write his story.”
She came around to stand before me. Her smile was wistful. “What did you tell him?”
She gave me a look. “Jutta and I are very defensive about Paul; he is part of us. We don’t want to shed any bad light on him.”
“That may be rather difficult. It’s why I didn’t write the book in the first place.”
Again there was that wistful smile, almost apologetic, and a tiny shrug. “You must remember, we were coming out of the sixties, a very ecstatic time. It was a period where we went very deep into ourselves to defeat the shadow world.”
Carl Jung, G. I. Gurdjieff, Timothy Leary, Carlos Castaneda, and Oscar Ichazo were arrayed before me.
She hesitated and then said softly, “Sometimes I think he paid for all of us.”
Without saying more she went around behind me and pushed me on into the house. Odd how Paul’s words made me feel, once more confronted by a truth I’d thought best left untold. The living room was cool, reflecting Gail’s easy elegance, its walls hung with large, contemporary oils, light and luminous. The others stood about talking among themselves.
Martine turned my chair to face the nearest painting. “The artist is Paul’s favorite.”
James appeared in the living-room doorway. “I’m going to take Véro to see a friend of hers.” The cook, a cheerful woman dressed in a business suit, came out to tell us what we were having for dinner.
* * *
That night we ate around a candlelit table. Paul and Martine’s son, Balthazar, was supposed to be there, but he didn’t appear, the prerogative of a son. Our talk was inevitably about Paul or things surrounding him. It was self-conscious talk, but we were pleased to be together once more. It wasn’t easy to know what to say around Paul that would naturally include him, a silent partner in the conversation. As we did our best, Paul, through Martine, once more asked that I write his story.
Véro and I slept in the guest bedroom, beyond Paul’s. From down the corridor I could hear a woman’s voice talking softly to Paul—the night nurse who would stay with him until dawn.
We ate breakfast with Paul in the garden. Martine hadn’t stayed the night. Late that morning we said our farewells. John came with us to help load me aboard the van. We left Paul in the shade of the magnolia where we had found him.
James backed into the lane and we were on our way, charged with Paul’s request. At least I was. He wants you to write his story. What had made Paul ask again—why now? Perhaps I’d been wrong to think there was no benefit to him in telling it, that it was best to leave the skeletons in the closet. In either case, as his friend I’d had no stomach for the task.
Why had he waited so long?
From up on the hillside, the tall Spanish mansion once owned by silent-film star Pola Negri, now by Gail, stared down on us, over twin stone staircases spilling steeply through a desert garden to where tree foliage covered Little Paul’s exquisite cottage, a truffle hidden beyond the road beneath a canopy of green. Gail had not appeared. I imagined her behind the blank windows of the house up on the hill, watching. She had always watched over her son’s life. Someday, I thought to myself as we started off down the hill, the desert will reclaim this place.
We turned north on the San Diego Freeway, drifting out of the San Fernando Valley, where aging stuntmen waited beside their fiberglass stagecoaches for the Western to return. The highway climbed alongside the aqueduct into the Tehachapi Mountains. As it flattened out, stretches of a winding, narrow, crumbling abandoned road appeared on the opposite wall of the canyon. Paul’s grandfather, the original John Paul Getty, must have driven that road, on his way to his big strike in the Kettleman Hills. He always drove Cadillacs, the aristocrat of American automobiles. The Gettys of Gettysburg think of themselves as American aristocrats. Old Paul had made a fortune larger than that of any other private citizen on the planet, on the confidence of his judgment. Whatever had happened to his grandson in Rome had to do with this same confidence, the Getty hubris. That had been his undoing.
It was as we came down the north face of the Grapevine onto the floor of the San Joaquin Valley that I made up my mind to do as he asked and write his story. When we got home I would put other work aside and assemble a team of amanuenses, get out the box of transcripts that had been collecting dust all these years in one cupboard or another, and tell the story that he no longer could. Given what little time remains, there is something to be said for living those days again.
It began for me on San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill the morning of Friday, July 13, 1973. I walked down Green Street to the Chinese grocery at the corner and bought things for breakfast and a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle. Its front-page headlines brought the news that Nixon had been hospitalized with viral pneumonia, Perón was going to be reelected in Argentina, and right below that:
YOUNG GETTY VANISHES—“KIDNAP” CALL
J. Paul Getty III, 16-year-old grandson of the American oil billionaire, has been missing from home for two days and may have been kidnapped, Rome police said Friday.
The youth’s mother … said the caller did not specify any amo
It was a small story, interesting. The rich and famous sell magazines, but it was going to be too fast-moving for True (“The Man’s Magazine”), with its ninety-day lead time. True magazine was then my principal source of income as a freelance writer. It was essentially a Midwestern “book.” When you went into the Midwest and people there heard you were from True magazine, they shook your hand, even if you had long hair. It was a stretch for them, but they did it.
Five days later I was in New York to see my editor about an assignment in London and read in The New York Times:
MOTHER OF GETTY’S SON IN TOUCH WITH KIDNAPPER
The mother of J. Paul Getty III said today that her 16-year-old son had definitely been in touch with her and that “We are ready to negotiate his release … We have asked police not to interfere and we are now asking the press to help us. We want them to carry the message that the contact has been made and the family is ready.”
So the drama was settling down, as I thought. True’s editors agreed. On the flight to London I picked up a copy of Newsweek. Inside was a photograph.
Paul’s hair was cut short, long face dominated by the straight nose, eyes close, concentrated, and astute, from a well-known face, his grandfather’s face, the face of the world’s richest citizen. This boy was a Getty all right. This story was clearly gathering momentum too quickly for us at True.
After my assignment was wrapped, I drove down to the Black Mountains in Wales to see my mother. She ushered me in, put on the kettle, and as she did so, said, “I’ve been saving some clippings for you on this Getty boy business. I thought it might be an interesting story for your magazine.” She handed me three clippings—all from London’s Daily Mail, July 13, 14, and 20. On July 13 the Mail claimed that Gail, the mother, had reportedly said, “I beg on my knees that the life of my child will not be endangered.” Asked if ransom had been demanded, she said, “I can’t tell you now. It was all so peculiar.” On July 14 the Mail reported that police believe that Getty is “more likely to be in the hands of a bewitching French-woman than ransom-seeking gangsters. According to his hippy friends, Getty has fallen in love with Danielle Devret, a twenty-five-year-old ‘blond Go-Go dancer with honey-gold skin’ and … has run away with her.” Detectives were searching the chic Italian haunts of Amalfi, Positano, Gaeta, and San Felice. On July 20 the Mail reported that the police were now “going to investigate the financial situation of Mrs. Gail Getty Jeffries.”