How Talitha Pol, The Dutch It-Girl Who Married Paul Getty Jr., Became An Enduring Icon Of The 1960s

Patrick Lichfield / Contributor
Trust, if you haven’t figured out by now, isn’t just about a kidnapping. It’s set to become a multi-season show about the entire Getty family, in all their craven glory. Given Trust’s sprawling ambitions, Sunday night’s episode was devoted to deepening our understanding of the important figures in Paul Getty III’s (Harris Dickinson) life. Specifically, we learned why his parents’ marriage crumbled, and why his father always looks so forlorn. Much of it has to do with Talitha Pol, the woman Paul Getty Jr., Paul Getty III's father, loved for years and lost to a heroin overdose.
Let’s set the stage. In 1958, Getty Jr. and his wife, Gail, moved to Rome so he could run Getty Oil Italiana. Instead, Getty Jr. spiraled into a decadent, unhinged lifestyle. Paul’s parents split up in 1965, when he was nine years old. Gail stayed in Rome to raise Paul and his three siblings — Mark, Aileen, and Ariadne — on a trust fund set up by Getty Jr, reserved just for the children. Gail received no money in the divorce. In August 1966, she married actor Lang Jeffries.
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By the time of their divorce, Getty Jr. was already enmeshed with Talitha Pol, a 25-year-old actress and dancer he had met at a dinner party in the summer of 1965. Until that point, Pol's life was marked by turmoil, tragedy, and a dash of glamor. Pol was born in 1940 in what is now Java, Indonesia, to a Dutch father and English mother. During WWII, she and her mother were interned in a Japanese camp. They returned to England when the war was over, each bearing scars of their imprisonment. Her parents separated, and her mother died not soon after. Pol was raised by her father and his wife, the daughter of the famous painter Augustus John, in London.
When she got older, Pol became an actress and fluttered around the London party circuit. Her life would reach its most notorious phase in 1965, when she met the man who would become her husband. Pol had originally accepted the invitation to dinner at Claus von Bülow’s London house believing she would be sitting next to Rudolph Nureyev, a famous ballet dancer who was smitten with Pol — he told a friend that he “had never felt so erotically stirred by a woman” and was intent on marrying her. But Nureyev was a no show. Instead, von Bülow sat Pol next to Paul Getty Jr. The connection was immediate. According to All the Money in the World by John Pearson, the following day, Getty Jr. showed up to Pol's London flat and brought her to meet his father.
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The couple moved to Rome and quickly started living the wild, glamorous life that would eventually render them iconic. They married in December 1966. But their pace of living — and drug use — had repercussions. Getty gave his son an ultimatum: Either get sober or lose your position as General Manager of Getty Oil Italiana. Getty Jr. chose to resign.
Let loose from the grip of his father's company, Getty Jr. and Pol were free to live on the $100,000 Getty Jr. accrued annually from his trust. After some traveling, they put down roots in Marrakech, Morocco, purchasing Le Palais Da Zahir for $10,000. Soon, the house — which they nicknamed the pleasure palace — became an essential stop for elite travelers on their tour of the East. The couple’s parties were legendary, hosting the likes of Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, and Yves St. Laurent. Vogue devoted an entire profile to Pol and her lavish parties, which often featured magicians, acrobats, and servers who would dance as they wove around the crowds with tea trays. “It was always en grande fete, always a perpetual party with fascinating and amusing people and something wonderful occurring,” a visitor recalled.
Pol and Getty Jr. would become the emblems for a very specific time and place. The designer Yves Saint Laurent memorialized the couple when he said, "I knew the youthfulness of the '60s: Talitha and Paul Getty lying on a starlit terrace in Marrakesh, beautiful and damned, and a whole generation assembled as if for eternity where the curtain of the past seemed to lift before an extraordinary future.”
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Photo: Patrick Lichfield/Condé Nast/Getty Images.
In its flickering video montages, Trust paid homage to this side of Getty Jr. and Pol. The show recreated one of the most famous photos of the couple — in fact, one of the most famous photos of the ‘60s: The couple lounging on their Moroccan rooftop.
But these idealizations mask a darker reality. The couple’s heroin use worsened soon after their son, Tara Gabriel Galaxy Gramophone Getty (yep), was born in May of 1968. After a trip to Asia to her old home, Pol returned to London to raise the child with her family, and wean herself off heroin. Getty Jr. moved back to Rome.
In 1971, Pol returned to Rome, ostensibly to reconnect with Getty Jr. While there, Pol died of a heroin overdose. She was 31. Her death fell into the same 12-month span in which other ‘60s icons died, including Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin. Getty Jr. retreated after her death, cutting himself off from his children. “After her death she became the only woman he had ever really loved,” one friend told People. “He closed himself up in his house in England. It’s as though he is in love with a ghost.”
Pol's legacy lives on in her bohemian fashion sensibility. Pol was the muse for Chloe’s 2002 spring collection. A New York Times article about the collection succinctly described Pol's style: "Talitha was known to mix an international wardrobe of Balinese wraps, Palestinian wedding dresses, and Moroccan djellabas with her YSL and Valentino." As a 2008 Elle article giving summer fashion advice shows, anyone can channel the inner Talitha: “The jeweled tunic is a great way to add a little Talitha Getty to your beach day and allows you to go directly to a dinner out.”
Like many characters seen on Trust, Pol's lavish life was the prelude to tragedy. We're watching John Paul Getty III's play out now.

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