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J. Paul Getty

As I See It, J. Paul Getty Autobiography
Born December 15, 1892(1892-12-15)
Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.
Died June 6, 1976 (aged 83)
near London, England
Occupation Business
Spouse(s) Jeanette Demont, Allene Ashby, Adolphine Helmle, Ann Rork, Louise Dudley Lynch
Children George Franklin Getty II, Jean Ronald Getty, Eugene Paul Getty, later Jean Paul Getty Jr, Gordon Peter Getty, Timothy Ware Getty
Parents George Franklin Getty and Sarah Catherine McPherson Risher
J. Paul Getty, circa 1944

Jean Paul Getty (December 15, 1892 – June 6, 1976) was an American industrialist who lived his last 24 years in the United Kingdom.[1] He founded the Getty Oil Company, and in 1957 Fortune magazine named him the richest living American.[2] At his death, he was worth more than $2 billion.[3] 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.[4]

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 death.[3]



Born into George Getty's family in the petroleum business in Minneapolis, Minnesota, he was one of the first people in the world with a fortune estimated at over one billion U.S. dollars.

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 in Oklahoma. 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 in 1930.

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 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." [5]

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.


Marriages, divorces, and children

Getty was married and divorced five times. He had six sons with four of his wives[3][6]:

  1. Jeanette Demont (married 1923 - divorced 1927); one son George Franklin Getty II (1924-1973)
  2. Allene Ashby (1926-1928?, that is, bigamous 1926-1927 and its exact resolution is unknown)
  3. Adolphine Helmle (1928-1932); one son Jean Ronald Getty (born 1929)
  4. Ann Rork (1932-1936); two sons Eugene Paul Getty, later Jean Paul Getty Jr (1932-2003) and Gordon Peter Getty (born 1933)
  5. Louise Dudley 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"[6].

Views on his own success

Getty wrote a very successful book entitled How to Be Rich. His oil business was handed to him by his father, who started the business.

Getty acknowledges this in his autobiography:

I enjoyed the advantage of being born into an already-wealthy family, and when I began my business career I was subsidized by my father. While I did make money—and quite a bit of it—on my own, I doubt if there would be a 'Getty Empire' today if I had not taken over my father's thriving oil business after his death. (Getty, 1976, pg.336).

His claims to a family connection with the town of Gettysburg are easily disproved. (It was named after a French barkeeper called Gettys.)

Getty had a Formula for success:

1.- Rise early

2.- Work hard

3.- Strike oil

Coin-box telephone

Getty had a pay phone installed at Sutton Place. In Getty's own autobiography (Getty, 1976, pg.319), he explained:

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.

Getty placed dial-locks on all the regular telephones, limiting their use to authorised 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.

Grandson's kidnapping

On July 10, 1973 in Rome, 16 year old John Paul Getty III was 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."[7] John Paul Getty II asked his father for the money, but was refused.[8]

A second demand was delayed by an Italian postal strike.[7] 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 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." 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.[7]

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.[9] 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:

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, pg.139).

Published works

  • Getty, J. Paul. The history of the oil business of George 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 013049593X


  1. ^ Whitman, Alden. J. Paul Getty dead at 83; amassed billions from oil. New York Times, June 6, 1976. Retrieved September 6, 2008.
  2. ^ List of 76 said to hold above 75 millions. New York Times, October 28, 1957.
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ Klepper, Michael M., and 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 0806518006.  
  5. ^ "Thoughts On The Business Of Life" at Forbes magazine
  6. ^ a b Vallely, Paul. Don't keep it in the family. The Independent (London), July 19, 2007. Retrieved September 6, 2008.
  7. ^ a b c Sir Paul Getty (obituary). Telegraph, April 17, 2003.
  8. ^ Profile: Sir John Paul Getty II. BBC News, June 13, 2001.
  9. ^ Billionaire Getty oil dynasty buys Irish. The Examiner - News From Ireland, January 10, 1999.

Further reading

  • Hewins, Ralph. The richest American: J. Paul Getty. New York: Dutton, 1960.
  • Lund, Robina. The Getty I knew. Kansas City: Sheed Andrews and McMeel, 1977. ISBN 0836266013.
  • Miller, Russell. The house of Getty. New York: Henry Holt, 1985. ISBN 0-8050-0023-2.
  • De Chair, Somerset Struben. Getty on Getty: a man in a billion. London: Cassell, 1989. ISBN 0304318078.
  • Pearson, John. Painfully rich: J. Paul Getty and his heirs. London: Macmillan, 1995. ISBN 0-333-59033-3.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Jean Paul Getty (December 15, 1892June 6, 1976) was an American industrialist and founder of the Getty Oil Company.


  • My formula for success is rise early, work late, and strike oil.
    Without advertising today I was a millionaire. (says the billionaire)
  • If you owe the bank $100 dollars, that's your problem; if you owe the bank $100 million, that's the bank's problem.
  • The meek shall inherit the earth, but not the mineral rights.
  • If you can count your money, you don't have a billion dollars.

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