Growing Up Getty: The Story of America's Most Unconventional Dynasty

Image of Growing Up Getty: The Story of America's Most Unconventional Dynasty
Release Date: 
July 5, 2022
Gallery Books
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Growing Up Getty: The Story of America’s Most Unconventional Dynasty is a riveting biographical work of the life and legacy of America’s greatest wildcatter, J.Paul Getty, who discovered the first oil in Saudi Arabia, making the American oil strikes pale in comparison. The fact that this man with such messianic zeal for wealth and power, lived out of a suitcase for most of his life speaks to his five marriages and a plethora of heirs. That the world’s wealthiest man eventually chose to live in an English Manor House, Sutton Place, with pet lions, speaks to his idiosyncrasies.

Though the Getty trail of drug addiction, divorce, and untimely deaths is certainly sad, it is still difficult to feel sorry for the clan. Suicide, depression, numerous family separations—all are the price to pay for fame and fortune. At least they could afford treatment—and seemingly the money never runs out.

With the notable exceptions of Aileen Getty, who participated in Jane Fonda’s weekly environmental wake-up call “Fire Drill Fridays,” and subsequent arrests in the nation’s capital, many of the other heirs specialize in ridiculously expensive home decorating, party planning for the upper crust, and fashion. Not exactly world-changing vocations. Notably, Aileen is also founder of Gettlove and funder of “unpopular causes,” with a particular emphasis on environmental issues.

Gordon Getty to his credit, did compose music for opera as well as classical pieces—commendable—also subjecting himself to critical review. Bravo for his pursuit of the higher arts.

Ann Getty, wife of Gordon, was another remarkable Getty woman, who came from a middle-class background and eloped to Las Vegas, thus avoiding the royal proportions of the Getty marriages. Ann devoted her post-childrearing life to Wheatland Foundation, which sponsored conferences on literature and music. But the most loveable thing about Ann was when she skipped the dinners she planned for artists or the intelligentsia, opting for her version of sweatpants and a sweater, opining, “I can’t stand these dinners.” And that is as close to the Queen of England as this country will ever get.

As for the intelligentsia’s criticism of the Getty Museum design in Los Angeles, the public attendance has stood the test of time for decades. The parklike setting only adds to the allure; and patrons can enjoy the incredible collection at a relaxed pace.

The most compelling reason to avail yourself of this book is the insiders’ view on the oil industry and politics. The nuggets on Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Governor of California Gavin Newsom, and Vice President Kamala Harris are worth the purchase. The revelations about the richest of the rich in San Francisco, able to close entire streets for their parties, is nauseating.

Reginato provides a thorough reveal of the most public characters in the Getty clan, but perhaps those who seek to avoid the spotlight are more compelling. J. Paul Getty III, kidnapped in Rome as a teenager, is one example of a recluse in a family that frequently appears in the society pages.

An enormous amount of text is devoted to descriptions of gowns and party themes, which is extremely vapid. The references to Town & Country magazine, which are replete throughout the book, seem dated: Picture polo shirts and Topsiders for the country club set. The Gettys are billionaires, and some even have class: “The windows in the library stretched ten feet high and the curtains were made of wood. Inspired by the pelmets that Thomas Chippendale carved in the eighteenth century for the 1st Baron Harewood at Harewood House in Yorkshire.”

It is refreshing that Paul Getty and Gavin Newsom founded their own winery with affordable, sustainably packaged, and quality wines under the PlumpJack label.

If you are in the hunt for creative names for offspring, it is difficult to compete with some of the Getty names: Balthazar, or Tara Gabriel Galaxy Gramophone Getty, to name two.  

An interesting read, full of gossip and factoids that celebrity biography readers will enjoy.