Uncommon Youth: The Gilded Life and Tragic Times of J. Paul Getty III

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Overview

The glamorous life, gilded family, and tragic times of J. Paul Getty III, whose kidnapping made headlines in 1973

J. Paul (“Little Paul”) Getty III,  the grandson of Getty Oil founder J. Paul Getty, may have been cursed by money and privilege from the moment he was born.  Falling in with the wrong people and practically abandoned by his famous family, Getty was a child of his international jet set era, moving from Marrakesh to Rome, nightclubs to well-appointed drug ...

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Uncommon Youth: The Gilded Life and Tragic Times of J. Paul Getty III

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Overview

The glamorous life, gilded family, and tragic times of J. Paul Getty III, whose kidnapping made headlines in 1973

J. Paul (“Little Paul”) Getty III,  the grandson of Getty Oil founder J. Paul Getty, may have been cursed by money and privilege from the moment he was born.  Falling in with the wrong people and practically abandoned by his famous family, Getty was a child of his international jet set era, moving from Marrakesh to Rome, nightclubs to well-appointed drug dens.  His high-profile kidnapping defined the decade—and was permanently memorable for the ear that was mailed to his mother as evidence of the kidnappers’ intentions.

Uncommon Youth is richly reported, and includes many interviews with Getty himself conducted from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, that raise new angles about the case. How much did Getty acquiesce to the kidnappers? Why wouldn’t his rich-as-Croesus grandfather pay the ransom, which began at the equivalent of $550,000 in lire and bulged to 3.6 million as the months dragged on?  Charles Fox began following and researching this story since the days shortly after Getty’s disappearance. Fox’s writing captures the voices of models and maids, mistresses and mothers, carabinieri and club-owners, drug dealers and drivers, alongside the Getty family members themselves to paint an evocative portrait of an era and one of its most misunderstood participants.

 

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Getty Oil founder J. Paul Getty was one of the richest people in the world, yet he was a legendary miser. In 1973, his 16-year-old grandson and namesake, J. Paul Getty III (1956–2011), was kidnapped in Rome and held for ransom. Hesitant to cough up the money for fear that doing so would encourage the abduction of his other grandchildren, “Old Paul” held out even after the arrival of the severed ear of “Little Paul.” The late Fox (he died in 2012), one of the original reporters on the case, skillfully interweaves the background of the moneyed Getty clan with a blow-by-blow account of the kidnapping and negotiations, complete with transcripts of news articles, letters from the frightened teen, and extensive interviews with the key players, including Little Paul, a club-hopping, dope-smoking rebel at the time of his abduction. Fox’s explication of the sad machinations of one of the world’s most commanding families as it struggles to rescue one of its wayward own serves as a sobering counterpoint to the perceived excess and decadence of the fabulously wealthy. Little Paul’s endorsement of Fox’s manuscript—”That’s how it was”—ensures this will be the definitive take on the tragedy that shaped his life. 8-page b&w photo insert. Agent: Doug Grad, Doug Grad Literary Agency. (May 7)
Kirkus Reviews
Magazine writer Fox, who died last year, looks back at the sensational kidnapping saga that he started exploring four decades ago. John Paul Getty III, 16 in 1973, vanished without warning while residing in Rome. The grandson of oil billionaire J. Paul Getty, the teenager was not attending school regularly but was following a dissolute path paved with alcohol, narcotics, women, sycophants and underworld types interested in the wealth he would inherit. From the moment of his disappearance, reports of a serious crime involving ransom demands alternated with rumors of a hoax, a setup plan by the alleged victim, perhaps with the complicity of his mother, Gail Harris Jeffries, the divorced wife of Getty II. Somehow, Fox won the trust of various players in the investigation. When Italian authorities received a severed ear that matched the ear of Getty III, the investigation heated up. The author lets the saga unfold slowly, with the disappearance not occurring until 130 pages in and the release of the young man back into society after five months of apparent captivity 100 pages later. The narrative is a mixture of Fox's voice and extended oral-history passages from Gail, a private sleuth hired by the senior Getty, and Getty III's former wife, among other characters who appear, disappear from the pages, then reappear. Fox writes that he gathered much of the material from conversations with Getty III, who wanted a collaborator for an autobiography. With the main subject and the author now dead, trying to sort among sheer fiction, unalloyed fact and the gray areas in between will be tough for many readers. A difficult book to read, partly due to its shifting perspectives, partly as a result of its strong odor of wasted lives.
Library Journal
The late journalist Fox began writing about the kidnapping of J. Paul Getty III as a True magazine reporter in 1973. A few years later, Getty (who was all of 18 years old) and his wife approached Fox about writing Getty's life story. Fox became more than a biographer—he became a friend—and his book shines a light on the downside of extreme wealth: the paranoia of Getty's grandfather, the excesses of his father, and the freewheeling lifestyle that Getty embraced well before he had a chance to grow up. While Getty may have naively joked about staging a kidnapping to extract money from his family, surely he never imagined being abducted by the infamous Calabrian Mafia, the 'Ndrangheta, much less having his ear cut off. Fox had full access to several family members, which allows for a more complete account of Getty's life and kidnapping. Fox also includes a very helpful "Cast of Characters," a necessary tool just to keep the Pauls straight. VERDICT A sensational story about a famous family, this should be a popular book. Recommended.—Karen S. Silverman, Dresden, ME
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781250018212
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 5/7/2013
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 308,465
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

CHARLES FOX began reporting on the Getty kidnapping in 1973 and was contacted by J. Paul Getty III himself in the early 1990s to work on his autobiography, leading to much of the reporting in Uncommon Youth.  Fox’s award-winning journalism has been published in a variety of publications, including Esquire, Harper’s, and Playboy.  He has also written two novels. He lived in California until his death in 2012.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2013

    Amazing Book

    I read this book in two days, i could not put it down. I was so sad to read of the authors relatively recent death. The book is very well written!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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