May 31, 2014

Fall 1973: Junior High Fantasies of Paul Getty Junior

During the summer of 1973, just after 7th grade at Washington Junior High, I started reading newspaper articles about Paul Getty Jr., the 16-year old grandson of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, who had mysteriously disappeared from his apartment in Rome.

Soon I discovered that it wasn't a paranormal disappearance: he had been kidnapped, with a ransom demand of $18 million.  His father and grandfather refused to pay, believing that he had somehow arranged the kidnapping himself.

The articles didn't say anything else about Paul, but the photos showed a cute, long haired guy with a slim build and dainty, feminine hands.

He obviously liked boys, not girls.  I imagined flying to Italy to mount a daring rescue, and getting a "my hero" hug and kiss.

Was he tied up with his shirt off?  Or naked? Was he struggling against the bonds, his chest heaving, his slim biceps straining?

On November 10th, a week before my 13th birthday, the kidnappers sent Paul's mother a package containing his severed ear, and warned that they would start returning him "by bits."  What body part would they cut off next, I wondered.  A finger -- or maybe his penis.

How big was his penis, anyway?

When I stormed into the dungeon where he was tied up naked, I would find out.  Then we would...

It never occurred to me to feel guilty over using Paul's ordeal as the subject of my junior high fantasies.

The elder Getty finally negotiated a deal, and delivered $2.9 million.  On December 13th, Paul was released.

He dropped out of the news, and I heard nothing more about him; I didn't even realize that Balthazar Getty, a noted actor of the 1980s, was his son.  But recently I began to wonder about the object of my junior high fantasies, and looked him up.

Apparently Paul was not as innocent as I imagined: living with a girlfriend, hanging out with criminals and mafiosi, using and selling massive quantities of drugs.

But he was bisexual: his biography notes experiences with both men and women.

After the kidnapping, he continued his jetsetting, bon vivant life.  He was married from 1975 to 1991, but pursued many friendships with gay men.  He partied with gay celebs like Elton John and Andy Warhol, who managed to talk him into nude photos.

It didn't take much talking.  Friends describe him as amiable, uninhibited, and eager to explore the risque.

And his tastes in clothing veered toward the Quentin Crisp style.

Paul was interested in show business, and starred in two movies, The Territory (1981) and The State of Things (1982).

But he continued to use massive quantities of drugs.  In 1981, at the age of 24, he drank a nearly-lethal mixture of alcohol, valium, and methadone, and suffered a massive stroke that left him paralyzed and nearly blind.

The tragedy did not destroy his spirit.  Friends say that he remained positive, amiable, and charming up to his death thirty years later.

See also: The Gay Anthropologist and the Cannibal; and The Disappearance of Sean Flynn.