A Force of Nature

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Taking in a view of the George Washington Bridge. 7:20 PM. Photo: JH.

Monday, July 18, 2022. A sunny, warm weekend in New York — although on Saturday afternoon the clouds came in and darkened the day, follow by gusts and then winds and then a hurricane-like rain for about a half hour/45 minutes before it stopped. And then the winds passed and the clouds moved on and there was sunshine. A very dramatic solo by Mother Nature.

Crossing Fifth. 2:00 PM. Photo: JH.

Aside from the work of the NYSD, and seeing friends for a meal and conversation, I am a daily follower of the worlds of politics and finance; a reader trying to keep up. Their results are reflected in our daily lives as individuals and as people in groups, in the activities and behavior of the world. I am always looking to learn for my own edification, or peace of mind (or angst). It is always a great pleasure to come upon some thinking that makes sense; Common Sense.

The following is a perfect example, something I came upon reading a book review awhile ago that put my inquiring mind to rest, however briefly:

“Amid all these lusty huzzahs for the power and glory of groups, a few important facts remain.

Only individuals can think. Groups cannot and do not think. Only individuals have the power of conscience and of moral sense, of knowing right from wrong. The individual is thus of unique moral value in the world, and the individual is always the underdog and the little guy as against any group.

Even children on a playground understand that “two against one!” is fundamentally unfair. Groups are nothing more than power arrangements, and power’s first order of business is always to perpetuate itself. Groups are nothing more than instruments and have their uses, but their worth cannot be compared with that of the individual.

At the age of about two or three I concluded that, of the large animals encountered frequently, the most annoying and dangerous were the average humans. That was about 84 years ago and I have found nothing so far to conflict with that perception.

I am delighted to learn that this article confirms I am not human and that clears up something I have wondered about for years. The current state of worldwide social systems only adds to my general horror of humanity and indicates my suspicions are quite possible that I am a rather large mutant squirrel or perhaps an overgrown sparrow.”

— Julian Baggini writing a review in the Financial Times of Matthew Lieberman’s book: Social: Why Our Brans Are Wired to Connect, Crown Publishers.

Which reminds me (it’s me again) … I’m reading Growing Up Getty; The Story of America’s Most Unconventional Dynasty by James Reginato. After reading the thoroughly satisfying tome of Tina Brown’s The Palace Papers, I needed something to distract my thoughts from it.

Click to order Growing Up Getty.

I picked up Growing up Getty firstly because I know Jim’s work in Vanity Fair as well as several prominent publications, and as it happens, I know him socially. He’s one of those very nice guys, very accessible and an excellent writer who is also very smart.

I wondered about the Getty choice as a book. I was first aware of J. Paul Getty from a weekly magazine when I was a kid; and he’d bought a huge mansion in England called Sutton Place. Growing up in less than modest circumstances, private palaces were fascinating to this boy who had no idea such places existed.

The house had 27 guestrooms! It had been built in the 15th century on 700 acres. Mr. Getty bought it in 1960 from its present owner, a titled gentleman, for 60,000 pounds for what was then about three-quarters of a million dollars.

J. Paul Getty’s residence 30 miles outside of London, 16th-century Sutton Place of Guildford. Photo: Getty Images.

Mr. Getty in his pictures in the magazine and papers was a mean looking guy to this kid, and not pretty. He looked like a skinflint. There was a story that he installed a pay phone in the house for guests. This was seen as a sign of his skinflintiness. Between the amazing house and the skinflint’s scary face, I took that image of the famous billionaire oilman as “the truth.” *(from the book) it wasn’t true.

Well. I should first say that all my first impressions (as a kid, mind you), just judging the book by its cover (the face), were entirely incorrect. Not only that but the Jean Paul Getty, born of Scotch-Irish parents (first generation Americans) in Minneapolis, grew up to be a very hard working man who had five wives who bore him five sons, and was brought up in LA at the beginning of the 20th century.

Really a boy who grew up with those turn of the century values and aspirations, he was well educated, with an intellectual curiosity and a connoisseur of great art and history. A world traveler, in his 80s also liked going out dancing at night till the wee hours. He was also a guy who always worked out with weights everyday as the women whom he bedded could attest.

He was never married for long before it was over, mainly because he was working and traveling the world. However, his marriages ended agreeably. His business took him away all the time. Nevertheless, his attention and relationship with all of his five wives as well as some of his mistresses, all their lives, remained active and communicative to the end. Evidently he was also great in bed as one later wife, fifty years his junior, attested in a memoir published when she was 100.

J. Paul Getty with British socialite Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll, on December 14th, 1972. Photo: Pierre Manevy/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

He grew up with a Southern California sensibility — pioneering, enterprising, entrepreneurial — and had made his first million (in oil) in his mid-20s as a wildcatter in the Oklahoma fields, learning all the complicated technical details of the drilling.

He was an oil tycoon of the first order by the time he was in his 30s. He owned an oil company that I heard of when I was a kid and was crazy about cars: Tidewater Oil. He acquired it and eventually changed its name to Getty Oil.

He became famous to Americans and the world about the time he bought Sutton Place in 1960. He was already 68 years old. But there were sudden magazine articles in Forbes and Fortune and Time measuring the multi-million dollar fortunes of mid-20th century Americans. In one of them there was one man whose fortune was greater than all of them — even the Rockefelers, the Morgans, the Fords — and that was the master of Sutton Place, the boy from early 20th century L.A., and the first (imagined) billionaire (back when a million bucks was a LOT of money to us ordinary folk), J. Paul Getty.

Ann Getty — wife of Gordon Getty, the fourth child of J. Paul Getty — aided by footmen, by Horst for Vogue, 1977. The footman ran Sutton Place for Mr. Getty until his death. Photo: Horst P. Horst, ©Condé Nast.

Next after the founder, came the family, the family he was the head of for three generations. It’s fascinating comparing the differences between the family of the British Royals with the family/descendants of the American tycoon. The difference between them and us is, ultimately, The Money. I’m talking about where it ruled for generations. As of this writing there are three post J. Paul generations living with his acomplishments and no doubt with many of his characteristics including his intellect and his devotions.  Jim Reginato takes you on that trip; you’re in the hands of a fascinating guide.

Sabine Getty, the wife of Joseph Anselm Getty, aboard the 263-foot Talitha. Photo: Jason Schmidt/Trunk Archive
A great-grandson of J. Paul Getty, Balthazar Getty, with wife and children. Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images.
Christopher and Pia Getty. Photo: Collection of Christopher Getty
Aileen Getty, a granddaughter of J. Paul Getty, at a Fire Drill. Photo: Collection of Aileen Getty

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