The story of John Paul Getty III’s kidnapping in 1973 is all the rage in Hollywood right now.
After the success of the film All the Money in the World — which was a great film but got most of its publicity for the decision to replace Kevin Spacey after most of the filming had already been completed — FX is now gearing up to release its own take on the story. The 10-part FX miniseries, set to premiere on Sunday, stars Hilary Swank and Donald Sutherland and is being brought to life by Danny Boyle, the director of Slumdog Millionaire and 27 Hours.
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There’s already been some serious controversy around the TV show, even before it airs. The Getty family has come forward and is reportedly threatening to sue because they are so upset over the portrayal of the events around the kidnapping, which they claim is inaccurate.
So, what really happened back in 1973? Here are the facts. How Trust interprets them, however, remains to be seen.
1. Yes, Getty was free-spirited
According to Time, Getty was living in Rome, running the Italian side of the family’s oil business. He was reportedly hitting on a go-go dancer in the Piazza Navona when he went missing on July 10, 1973.
2. He sent a letter to his mother the following day
The ransom letter was published by Time in 1973 and read, “Dear Mother: I have fallen into the hands of kidnapers. Don’t let me be killed! Make sure that the police do not interfere. You must absolutely not take this as a joke… Don’t give publicity to my kidnaping.”
3. At first, no one believed Getty had actually been kidnapped
“There was an awful lot of kidnapping in Italy at the time. Little Paul was not an exception,” Getty’s friend and former chief executive Claus von Bülow said. “Paul was living more or less on the Spanish Steps together with other kids shooting up when it happened. When he disappeared they just assumed he was on a binge somewhere. Let’s just say he did not disappear out of his childhood bedroom.”
The kidnappers were asking for $17 million.
4. John Paul Getty refused to pay the ransom
John Paul Getty, Paul’s grandfather, had a reputation as a cheapskate, despite being the richest man in the world at the time.
When he found out about the ransom request, he reportedly responded, “I have 14 other grandchildren. If I pay one penny, I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.”
5. The kidnappers cut off his ear
After his grandfather repeatedly refused to pay the ransom, the kidnappers cut off Paul’s ear and mailed it with a lock of hair to a newspaper in Rome.
John Paul eventually agreed to pay the kidnappers, but at a reduced rate of about $3 million, which his accountant said would be tax-deductible, according to the 1995 book by John Pearson. Paul’s father paid the rest with a loan from John Paul, which was to be paid back at 4 percent interest.
6. Paul was held for five months
He was found at an abandoned gas station in December 1973.
Nine people were arrested in connection with the kidnapping, and most of them were reportedly connected to the Italian mafia. Only two were convicted, and the money was never recovered.
7. The kidnapping affected the rest of Paul’s life
Craig Copetas, a journalist and Paul’s friend, said of him, “He was a very nice, confused kid from an exceptionally dysfunctional family. Paul had emerged from the kidnapping in a bad way. Which was completely understandable, sadly. What was my first impression of Paul? That he wanted to be a superstar, basking in 15 minutes of Warholian fame and trying to figure out how to keep the lights turned on. I felt sorry for him.”
He added, “Paul was more angry about them taking off his ear than he was psychologically traumatized by the kidnapping. His hair was long enough to cover [the wound], though.”
In 1981, when he was 25, Paul had a massive stroke caused by an overdose. Afterward, he was paralyzed, nearly blind and had limited speech. He died in 2011 at age 54.