Getty, J(ean) Paul

views updated May 21 2018

GETTY, J(ean) Paul

(b. 15 December 1892 in Minneapolis, Minnesota; d. 6 June 1976 in London, England), billionaire oil producer and founder of the Getty Oil Company who had amassed a great fortune by the 1960s.

Getty was the son of George Franklin Getty, an insurance lawyer and an oilman, and Sarah McPherson Risher. The Gettys lost their ten-year-old daughter to typhoid fever in 1890. Sarah had her second child, Getty, at the age of forty. Sarah never gave her son any physical affection. Getty's unemotional style characterized his approach to business and was the reason family members were kept at a distance his entire life. He decided early on that he needed little else than money. Getty attended the University of Southern California and the University of California, Berkeley, from 1909 to 1911. In 1913 he transferred to Oxford Universityin England, where he took a degree in political science and economics in 1914. Although he is on record for having received a diploma, there is no record that he completed the requirements.

Getty married and divorced five times. His first wife was Jeanette Dumont; they married in 1923 and had one son. In 1926 he married Allene Ashby; they divorced a year later. He then married Adolphine Helmle in 1928, which whom he had one son. In 1932 he married Ann Rourk, with whom he had two sons. His last marriage, in 1939, was to Louise Lynch; they had one son.

In 1914 Getty began a partnership with his father, buying and selling oil leases in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Getty became the president and general manager of George F. Getty, Inc., in 1930. In the largest business coup of his career, Getty acquired half the interest rights to Saudi Arabia's Neutral Zone in 1949 and hit oil in 1953, an investment of $30 million that produced more than sixteen million barrels of oil a year. He won numerical control of renamed Tidewater Oil Company in 1951 and obtained control of Mission Development Corporation and its holdings in Tidewater Oil Company and Skelly Oil in 1953. In 1956 he made Pacific Western into Getty Oil Company, the master link in the Getty holdings and world's largest personally controlled oil company. Getty entered the 1960s as one of the wealthiest men in the world, but most of his money was tied up in corporate structures and oil in the ground. Getty admitted that he seldom carried more than $25 with him.

Getty moved to Europe in 1960 to escape U.S. taxes. Sutton Place, his home and office, was a 700-acre manor outside London. He bought the estate at a bargain price, because its owner, the duke of Sutherland, was in financial trouble. Getty made worldwide headlines when he had a pay phone installed for his guests and numerous workers. "My friends will understand, and, as for spongers, well, I just don't care," he commented. He prized the large and elegant mansion for the bargain price he paid for it. He was also thrifty in other ways—for example, he washed his own socks and wore rumpled suits and sweaters worn at the elbow.

Although Getty was admired by many Americans for his great wealth, he did not give to philanthropic organizations or to individuals. He received over three thousand letters a month from individuals asking for money. Getty told the media, "I never give money to individuals because it's un-rewarding and wrong. If … I could make a real contribution toward solving the problems of world poverty, I'd give away 99.5% of all I have immediately." Getty always kept personal control of his financial empire, often working sixteen to eighteen hours a day. He told the media in 1965, "I can't remember a single day of vacation in the last 45 years that was not somehow interrupted by a cable, telegram or telephone call" related to business. In contrast to his corporate counterparts, Getty continued micromanaging his holdings during the 1960s and into the early 1970s. He lamented that none of his sons was in the oil business. "I suppose I would have liked to keep the Getty name, but the name isn't enough. You have to be qualified too. There is nobody to step into my shoes." George F. Getty II was expected to take over until he developed sharp differences with his father over the future direction of the company. Jean Ronald proved incapable, and Gordon Peter wanted to pursue a career in the opera.

Getty spent a great deal of time in the early and mid-1960s reflecting on his career and writing about it. He wrote about everything, including the history of the oil business, art collecting, and how to succeed in business. His best-known book, My Life and Fortunes, was published in 1963. How to Be Rich was published by Playboy Press in 1965. The book included a series of articles written for "young executives and college students" who read Playboy. Getty wrote about his hobby of art collecting in a book titled The Joys of Collecting (1965). He published The Golden Age in 1968 and How to Be a Successful Executive in 1971.

In a complicated rearrangement in 1967 Getty merged the Tidewater Oil Company and the Mission Development Company into the Getty Oil Company. The surviving company had assets of more than $3 billion, a figure that multiplied after oil price increases in the early 1970s. Getty was asked what satisfaction he derived from making so much money. He replied, "It is just to prove that you can keep step with the regiment," alluding to Exxon, Gulf, and Texaco, his rivals.

At Sutton Place, Getty began collecting important artwork. In 1969 he began construction of the Getty Museum, a replica of an ancient Roman villa, on his Malibu, California, property. He made art purchases to avoid paying taxes and sheltered the largest part of his income by donating art objects to museums, especially his own. The museum began as a small collection of Greek and Roman antiquities, eighteenth-century French furniture, and European paintings. Later it included works by Tintoretto, Titian, Thomas Gainsborough, George Romney, Peter Paul Rubens, Jean Renoir, Edgar Degas, and Claude Monet. By the time the museum opened in 1974, Getty's empire consisted of two hundred companies, twelve thousand employees, and annual profits of $142 million. The museum building cost $17 million to construct and housed a collection with an estimated worth of $200 million. In addition to a large endowment, Getty made a promise (later fulfilled) to leave the major part of his holdings to the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Aside from his tremendous wealth and frugality, Getty was most famous in the 1960s for his shortcomings as a family man. All his wives were eighteen or younger at the time he married them. Getty was twice a bigamist in the 1930s and clearly lacked the ability to maintain relationships with his wives or his children. In 1962 his son Gordon asked for an increase in the payments he received from the Sarah Getty Trust, and in 1966 filed a lawsuit against his father, claiming $7.4 million in unpaid dividends from the trust. Getty had resisted making payments, in large part to avoid tax penalties. In 1973 Getty's grandson, J. Paul Getty III, was kidnapped, and the ransom demanded was $16 million. Getty refused to pay. After part of an ear was sent to a newspaper in Rome and was confirmed as his grandson's, Getty reluctantly agreed to loan Eugene Paul, his son, $850,000 at interest to complete a reduced ransom offer, which the kidnappers accepted.

Getty died at Sutton Place of heart failure. He is buried on his Malibu estate. His fortune remains a phenomenon to observers worldwide. He took such risks as buying oil stock during the depression and succeeded, thus making his name known. His wealth influenced government, politics, and Wall Street. Getty was an oil producer who defined the way the oil business operates. He credited his fortune to his father's foresight, his strong work ethic, and his own luck and ingenuity. The Getty Oil Company became one of the largest oil producers and distributors in the world.

Getty's autobiographies are My Life and Fortunes (1963), How to Be Rich (1965), and As I See It: The Autobiography of J. Paul Getty (1976). Biographies include Ralph Hewins, The Richest American (1960); Russell Miller, The House of Gett y (1985); Robert Lenzner, The Great Getty: The Life and Loves of J. Paul Getty, The Richest Man in the World (1986); and John Pearson, Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortune and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty (1995).

Reed B. Markham

Jean Paul Getty

views updated May 14 2018

Jean Paul Getty

Jean Paul Getty (1892-1976) was a billionaire independent oil producer who founded and controlled the Getty Oil Company and over 200 affiliated companies.

Jean Paul Getty was born on December 15, 1892, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His father, George Franklin Getty, was a lawyer, but in 1904 he moved his wife, Sarah Risher Getty, and his son to the Oklahoma territory to begin a successful career as an independent oilman. Two years later the family moved to Los Angeles, California, where young Getty attended private school before graduating from Polytechnic High School in 1909. After a European tour he attended the University of Southern California and the University of California at Berkeley; he spent his summers working on his father's oil rigs as a "roustabout." In 1912 Getty enrolled in Oxford University in England, from which he received a degree in economics and political science in 1914.

In 1914 Getty arrived in Tulsa, Oklahoma, determined to strike it rich as a wildcat oil producer. Although he operated independently of his father's Minnehoma Oil Company, his father's loans and financial backing enabled him to begin buying and selling oil leases in the red-bed area of Oklahoma. Getty saw himself as a modern oil man, relying on geological data and not simply on the instinct of the experienced veterans, but he also thrived on the excitement, gamble, risks, and high stakes of the oil business. Getty's own first successful well came in in 1916, and by the fall of that year he had made his first million dollars as a wildcatter and lease broker.

For the next two years Getty "retired" to the life of a wealthy playboy in Los Angeles, but he returned to the oil business in 1919. During the 1920s he and his father continued to be enormously successful both in drilling their own wells and in buying and selling oil leases, and Getty became more active in California than in Oklahoma. He amassed a personal fortune of over three million dollars and acquired a third interest in what was to become the Getty Oil Company.

After his father's death in 1930 Paul Getty became the president of the George Getty Oil Company (successor to Minnehoma Oil), but his mother inherited the controlling interest, as his father had been upset with his son's profligate personal life. During the 1930s Getty followed several paths to both short-term and long-term success. His wells continued to produce, and profits poured in. He also bought a controlling interest in the Pacific Western Oil Corporation, one of the ten largest oil companies in California. After a series of agreements with his mother he obtained the controlling interest in the George Getty Oil Company, and he began real estate dealings, including the purchase of the Hotel Pierre in New York City.

The Getty Oil Company

Getty's ambition was to build up an independent, self-contained oil business involving refining, transporting, and selling oil as well as exploration and drilling. To that end he began in the 1930s to gain control of the Tidewater Oil Company. Getty pursued that goal in a series of complicated maneuvers, which involved tilting with the giant Standard Oil of New Jersey, until in the 1950s he had control of Tidewater, Skelly Oil, and the Mission Corporation. In 1967 these companies merged into the Getty Oil Company, the foundation of Getty's fortune. Getty had a majority or controlling interest in Getty Oil and its nearly 200 affiliated and subsidiary firms, and he remained its president until his death in 1976.

At the outbreak of World War II, Getty, a yachtsman, volunteered for service in the Navy, but his offer was rejected. At the request of Naval officers, however, he took over personal management of Spartan Aircraft, a Skelly and Getty subsidiary. The corporation manufactured trainers and airplane parts, and it later converted to the profitable production of mobile homes.

After the war Getty took a lucrative gamble on oil rights in the Middle East. In 1949 he secured the oil rights in Saudi Arabia's half of the Neutral Zone, a barren tract between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. He made major concessions to King Saud, which shocked the large oil companies, but after three years and a $30 million investment, Getty found the huge oil deposits which helped make him a billionaire.

In his business career, Getty continued to invest and reinvest; his fortune consisted not of cash, but stocks, corporate assets, and real estate. A loner, he saw himself as a solitary knight in fierce battle with the giant "Seven Sisters" oil firms, and that competitive urge fueled his desire to build a larger and larger fortune.

A "Public" Personal Life

In 1957 Fortune magazine published a list of the richest men in America. Getty's name headed the list, and the resultant publicity turned the reclusive Getty into an object of public fascination and legend. Getty complained about the fame, the requests for money, and the assumption that he would pick up every restaurant check, but he also furthered his own legends: he wrote articles on such topics as "How To Be Rich" and pretended to poverty by wearing rumpled suits and threadbare sweaters. The public was fascinated by Getty's wealth and extravagance and also by his reputed stinginess. After 1959 he stopped living out of hotel rooms and established his home and offices at Sutton Place, a 16th-century, 700-acre manor outside London. The huge estate, with its gardens, pools, trout stream, and priceless furnishings, was also a near garrison, with elaborate security arrangements. Giant Alsatian dogs had the run of the estate, and there were also two caged lions, Nero and Teresa. Numerous stories circulated about Getty's penny-pitching; the most famous incident was the installation of a pay telephone on the Sutton Place grounds. Getty offered various explanations, but the public preferred to see the phone booth as a symbol of his stinginess.

The public also seemed to like to read into Getty's life the lesson that money does not buy happiness. Getty was married five times: to Jeannette Dumont (1923), Allene Ashby (1925), Adolphine Helmle (1928), Ann Rork (1932), and Louisa Lynch (1939); each marriage ended in divorce. He had five sons, two of whom predeceased him, and his relationship with each of them was difficult. His grandson, J. Paul Getty III, was kidnapped in Italy in 1973. Although he was returned for a ransom, part of his ear had been cut off. Getty was a celebrity, and public interest, fueled by envy and admiration, focused on Getty's tragedies as well as his billions.

Besides oil, Getty's major interest was art. He began serious collecting in the 1930s—European paintings, furniture, Greek and Roman sculptures, 18th-century tapestries, silver, and fine Persian carpets, including the 16th-century Ardabil carpet from Tabriz. He housed his collection at Sutton Place and at his ranch house at Malibu, California, one wing of which he opened as the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1954. In 1969 construction began on a new Getty Museum, also on his Malibu property. The huge building is a replica of an ancient Roman villa found near the ruins of Pompeii, and the extensive Getty collection was moved thereafter his death.

Jean Paul Getty died at Sutton Place on June 6, 1976; he is buried on his Malibu estate.

Further Reading

Getty wrote two autobiographies, My Life and Fortunes (1963) and As I See It (1976). He wrote about his art collection in The Joys of Collecting (1965) and published such advice books as How To Be Rich (1965) and How To Be A Successful Executive (1971). A biography written with Getty's cooperation is Ralph Hewins, The Richest American: J. Paul Getty (1960); the New York Times obituary of June 6, 1976, also provides useful information. In The Seven Sisters: The Great Oil Companies and the World They Shaped (1975) Anthony Sampson discusses Getty's role as an independent oil producer. Two biographies in 1986 added little new information: The House of Getty by Russell Miller and The Great Getty: The Life and Loves of J. Paul Getty—Richest Man in the World by Robert Lenzner. □

Getty, J(ean) Paul

views updated May 17 2018


In 1957 J. Paul Getty (18921976), an American expatriate living in England, was named the richest man in America by Fortune magazine. His net worth at the time was said to be between $700 million and $1 billion. Getty made his fortune by purchasing oil leases cheaply, then drilling and watching his oil wells yield huge profits. He is also remembered for his disastrous family life; his eccentric habits, which included forcing guests to use a pay phone at his baronial English country estate; and his coterie of mistresses.

Born in 1892, Getty began his career as a wildcatter in Oklahoma in 1914, with a stake from his oilman father, George F. Getty. The young Getty bought leases at giveaway prices on land believed to be barren of oil. His wells struck rich oil beds, however, and Getty made his first million by the time he was 23. During the 1920s, constantly on the hunt for bargains, he bought leases and drilled for oil in the rich fields opening up along the California coast. By the time his father died in 1930, Getty was worth $3 milliona remarkable fortune in the first year of the Great Depression (19291939).

Throughout the Depression, with many businesses desperate for cash, Getty realized that he could buy shares in oil companies for a fraction of what the oil in the ground was worth. He staked everything he owned or could borrow on his determination to acquire oil company stocks. He even persuaded his mother to give him control of her trust fund. (According to biographer Robert Lenzner, he then boasted to an acquaintance, "I just fleeced my mother.")

In the early 1930s Getty bought the Pacific Western Oil Corporation, a holding company with large oil reserves. In 1932 he began to buy stock in Tide Water Associated Oil, then one of America's best-known oil companies, which owned more than 1,200 service stations. Within 20 years, he had voting control of the company.

Following World War II (19391945), on the basis of good geological information, Getty became interested in the potential of oil fields in the Middle East. In 1949 he obtained a concession to drill for oil in an area then called the neutral zone, between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Drillers struck oil in 1953, vaulting Getty into the ranks of the world's richest oil barons. His Getty Oil Company, which concentrated on oil exploration and production, remained hugely profitable for the rest of his life. In the last full year of his life, Getty made $25.8 million in company dividends.

In his biography of Getty, Robert Lenzner reports that the oil mogul was a poor company manager whose autocratic and eccentric style attracted only those mediocre managers who could stomach the boss's mean and vindictive ways. Getty's personal life was no better: He had five wives and five sons, and was said to have treated them all very badly. He changed his will 21 times, using each revision as a means to punish various family members. He was too busy to attend the funeral of one son who died at age 12; he allegedly drove another to suicide. After his death, the infighting among the remaining three sons left the company, which Getty had worked so hard to build, vulnerable to a successful takeover by Texaco.

At least partly to escape paying U.S. taxes, Getty moved to Europe permanently in 1952, settling in 1960 on Sutton Place, a historic country estate 23 miles outside of London. Typically, he prized the large and elegant mansion for the bargain price he had paid for it. There, he amassed an important art collection, the cornerstone of what is now the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The museum grew from a small collection of Greek and Roman antiquities, eighteenth-century French furniture, and European paintings that Getty had established at his home in Malibu, California, in 1953. At the same time, he founded a charitable trust to maintain the collection. Following his death in 1976, the trust received $1.2 billion, which endows the much-expanded museum and funds many other activities that support the arts.

See also: Petroluem Industry, Robber Barons


Glassman, James K. "Billionaire and Bore." The New Republic, March 31, 1986.

Lenzner, Robert. The Great Getty: The Lives and Loves of J. Paul Getty, the Richest Man in the World. New York: Crown Publishers, 1986.

Lubar, Robert. "The Great Getty: The Lives and Loves of J. Paul Getty, the Richest Man in the World" (book review). Fortune, March 17, 1986.

Miller, Russell. The House of Getty. New York: Henry Holt, 1985.

Pearson, John. Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortune and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.

i just fleeced my mother.

j. paul getty, alleged comment to an acquaintance, quoted in the great getty, 1986

Getty, Jean Paul

views updated May 29 2018

Getty, Jean Paul (1892–1976) US businessman and art collector. In 1930, he became president of his father's oil business. After 1959 he lived in England. He was one of the world's richest men, with a fortune estimated at more than $1000 million. He founded the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, California.

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