THE GREAT GETTY: The Life and Loves of J. Paul Getty--The Richest Man in the World by Robert Lenzer

THE GREAT GETTY: The Life and Loves of J. Paul Getty--The Richest Man in the World

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A gossipy biography of the late oil tycoon who died leaving an estate valued, roughly, at $2.6 billion. Newspaperman Lenzner (The Economist, Boston Globe) gives us a warts-and-all biography of Getty (with an emphasis on the warts). In so doing, he goes far beyond Getty's two self. serving autobiographies, My Life and FortUnes and As I See It, which displayed Getty's facility for substituting his intentions for his actions. The real Getty does not appear as the sort of fellow one might like one's children to emulate. Reared by a father he despised and by a mother who smothered him with affection, he developed a poor respect for women, (leading him to bed hundreds of women from all social classes), a bottom-line mentality, and a frugality far beyond the bounds of thrift and prudence. His emotional immaturity led him to repeat what he saw as the mistakes of his father with his own five sons (minus his father's moral virtues). He once proudly wrote a friend of how he had just fleeced his own mother in a stock deal. Upon his death, his four remaining sons and his 14 grandchildren were at each other's throats for his fortune. Beyond the scuttlebutt, Lenzer's portrait provides little in explaining Getty's genius for turning a profit, or even much of his daily routine; the business end of his life seems to just form a backdrop interspersed between sexual liaisons and occasional art purchases. It may be, though, that it is impossible to present a full picture of Getty's business life, as here is a secretive man who never once visited his own corporate headquarters in California, choosing to conduct his affairs from the security of his English manor house. Lenzner's volume is interesting, if fleetingly, for two disclosures: the FBI file on Getty's Mideast interests and the State Department's tracking of him because of his professed admiration for Adolf Hitler. Otherwise, like kissing a lemon. . .and about as satisfying.

Pub Date: March 14th, 1986
Publisher: Crown