Paul Getty and the Seventies
Text Francesco Musolino
It was the year 1973. It was a hot day in July when John Paul Getty III was being kidnapped in Rome. For his deliverance, the ‘ndrangheta (Calabrian mafia organziaziton) asks for seventeen million dollars and he was finally freed on 17th December of the same year, on the Salerno-Reggio Calabria motorway after five months of imprisonment in the hands of ‘ndrine (the basic units of the ‘ndragheta of Calabria). The ransom jumped to one billion and seven hundred million liras. A record amount that took the fantasy about the Getty empire, around which the screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (The Millionaire; Full Monty) has created the TV series Trust – the Getty kidnapping – first season of 10 episodes broadcasted by Sky Atlantic – directed by the Oscar winner director Danny Boyle with a cast composed by Donald Sutherland, Hilary Swank, Luca Marinelli and Giuseppe Battiston.
The Seventies were a dark decade, started with the massacre of piazza Fontana on 12th December 1969 in Milan and the bomb of ill-fame that killed sixteen persons and injured eighty-eight. A decade of protests and difficulties that ended up with the kidnapping and killing of Aldo Moro – President of the Christian Democracy – at the hands of Brigate Rosse. And John Paul Getty III, in those years of social protest and rage outbursting within universities and factories, was the perfect definition of the hippie of the last decade. He had long hair, a rebel soul and yet a peaceful temper, he had been expelled from eight schools, he usually made use of drugs and in the early Seventies he lived in Rome between Campo de’ Fiori, Santa Maria in Trastevere and piazza Navona, selling small paintings and necklaces made by him. And yet he was the nephew of John Paul Getty, entrepreneur and philanthropist naturalized English, the founder of Getty Oil Company, the oil extraction company that made him the richest man in the world.
The magnate (interpreted by Donald Sutherland) lived in a sumptuous residence outside London amidst works of art and archaeological finds of great value. His property was estimated at more than one billion dollars and he lived with beautiful women with whom he had endorsed a sort of property agreement, thus warding off danger they could lay claims on his considerable property. With great aesthetic taste – his collection of paintings by Flemish painters is renown – he was a very mean and cynic man; the TV series underlies the fact he had a token phone at home for his guests. After a first opening towards the kidnappers, John Paul Getty declared to the press that – since he had fourteen nephews and he was afraid of a series of similar acts– he would have never paid the ransom. The young John Paul Getty III paid the consequences of such declaration, a piece of his ear was cut off and delivered to the editorial office of Il Messaggero. He was submitted to a very hard imprisonment and in the end, thanks to his mother’s pressure (interpreted by Hilary Swank), the only one who really took the matter to heart, he decided to pay nearly two billion liras. But he ordered his nephew to return him by instalments the whole amount at a 4% yearly interest rate. This is how his sad history ended up, but according to many analysts, Italy has never reckoned with the bloodsheds that tormented the Seventies amidst kidnappings, attacks and international crisis.