The Real Story Behind Danny Boyle's New Getty Kidnapping Drama Trust

At the start of the first episode of Trust, the new BBC Two drama centred around the 1973 kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, oil scion J. Paul Getty (Donald Sutherland) poses a question to his five mistresses. "Which of you loves me the most?" he asks, with an uncomfortable blend of mischief and monstrousness. He proceeds to explain that he'll reward the most loving mistress in his will with a comfortable chunk of his fortune.
Given that Getty was the richest man in the world at the time, this proposal has an undeniable allure. Getty was worth $1.2 billion dollars, which, adjusted to today's inflation, translates to $9 billion. When it came to distributing his wealth, Getty had many people to consider. At the time of his death in 1976, Getty was survived by three of his five sons, 16 grandchildren, one great-grandchild, five ex-wives, and many mistresses.
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So, did Getty leave some of his fortune to his mistresses, as he proposed at the beginning of Trust? He sure did. Getty left money and shares of Getty oil stock to 12 women who he knew from various points in his life — many of whom were lovers. Four of the women lived in California, and the other eight lived in Europe. Penelope Ann Kitson, an English interior decorator played by Anna Chancellor in the show, inherited the most: 5,000 shares of Getty oil stock worth $826,500, and $1,167 a month for life (that's $5,100 in today's terms). Kitson lived in a cottage on Sutton Place, and was his personal interior decorator. She refused to marry him.
“He loved and admired her because she was the only woman who would stand up to him. He wanted to marry her, but she told him she was not prepared to be trampled on like this other wives," Kitson's ex-husband, Patrick de Laszlo, told the Times.
Mary Teissler, the French art expert who persuaded Getty to purchase Sutton Place, received the next highest sum: $2,500 shares and $750 a month for life. Like Kitson, Teissler was Getty's lover. Also awarded were Lady Ursula d'Abo of London, Queen Elizabeth's maid of honour and Getty's longtime lover, and Rosabella Burch, a Nicaraguan widow who lived in Sutton Place at the end of Getty's life.
Of his five wives, only Louise Lynch, his fifth and final, was included in the will — she received $55,000 a year for life.
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As for Getty's 26 descendants: They spent the next long while arguing vehemently about the division of the massive family trust. After Getty's death, Gordon Getty, the fourth son, was named the sole trustee of the family fortune. That decision was overturned in 1985 following a lawsuit brought up by Gordon's nieces, who accused him of violating the trust's terms. The change allowed the branches of the family to each oversee their own share of the trust. Gordon, John Paul Jr., and the three daughters of George Getty were income beneficiaries – they could spend the money they received from the trust (about $100 million a year for Gordon and John Paul Jr., and $35 million each for the daughters). The rest of the family remained remaindermen; they had to wait until the death of the last Getty son to collect principal.
The other living son, Ronald Getty, was in a different situation than his brothers. Ronald and his third wife, Adolphine, had a terrible divorce. In response, Getty said his son would only receive $3,000 a year. Ronald sued to equalise the trust, but in 1986, a California court refused to alter Ronald's inheritance. The money that would have gone to Ronald would go to his four children, once the last Getty son died.
Trust airs Wednesdays at 9pm on BBC Two
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