The Harrowing Kidnapping That Inspired All The Money In The World

If you've heard of All the Money in the World, it's probably because of the movie's last-minute, and quite miraculous, casting change. Kevin Spacey had originally starred as the film’s leading character, real-life oil tycoon (and notorious spendthrift) J.P. Getty. Within 22 hours of hearing of Spacey's alleged sexual misconduct made headlines, director Ridley Scott had made the executive decision to remove Spacey entirely from the film, and reshoot each scene with Christopher Plummer playing Getty instead. Scott’s risky, $10 million dollar endeavor paid off — All the Money in the World is Spacey-free, and only three days behind schedule.
What might be less familiar, however, are the horrendous events that inspired All the Money in the World. The story has all the makings of a blockbuster movie: A tremendous fortune. A high-profile kidnapping. And a grandfather who wouldn't give up a penny of his billions to save his grandson's life.
Starting December 25, you can see this story come to life on screen — without having to see Kevin Spacey's face. For now, here is the true story behind the movie.
1 of 8
In 1973, when our story begins, J.P Getty was one of the richest men alive. And apparently, also one of the cheapest.

John Paul Getty made his fortune in the oil industry. By 23, he was officially a millionaire, and he continued to take his father’s oil business to new and soaring heights long after reaching that milestone. Getty even learned Arabic so his company could have direct access to the Middle East. By the time of his death, his fortune was valued at $2 billion. As well as being the Forbes' Richest Man in the World in 1957, he was a renowned art collector, and traveled the world collecting sculptures of antiquity and paintings of Rembrandt.

His fortune was famous – but so was his apprehension to spend even a penny of that fortune. After guests visiting his England estate racked up large phone bills, Getty notoriously placed dial-locks on the regular lines and installed a pay phone for visitors to use.

Here’s the worst story, though. Getty had been married five times (and had three marriages alone in the 1920s). His fifth wife, Louise "Teddy" Lynch, recalled in her memoir that Getty had scolded her for spending too much money on cancer treatment for their six-year-old son, who had already gone blind from his tumor. Their son died when he was 12. Getty did not return to the United States for the funeral.
2 of 8
(Photo by Graham Morris/Evening Standard/Getty Images)
Getty had five wives, five sons, and 14 grandchildren — but the story of All the Money in the World focuses on just one contingent of the family.

Getty wasn’t what you would call an involved father. “Raising kids...would have gotten in the way of his mistresses,” explained John Pearson, author of a book about Getty called Painfully Rich.

This story focuses on his third son, John Paul Getty Jr., who was born to J.P. Getty and his first wife, silent film actress Ann Rork, in 1932. As an adult, John Paul Getty Jr. lived in Italy, and worked at the Getty Oil Company in Rome. In his father’s eyes, he was a “dope-addled hippie.” In 1966, Getty Jr. divorced his wife, married the model Talitha Pol, and fully committed to living like a rockstar — he hung out with the Rolling Stones, and traveled around the world.

Getty Jr.’s eldest son, John Paul Getty III, was even more of a hippie than his father. John Paul III was raised in Rome, and grew up as a free-range wild child. He was expelled from seven schools, and eventually quit school at 16 to become a painter. Mostly, though, he just partied, made jewelry, and did a bit of nude modeling. The media called him “the Golden Hippie.”

Pictured: John Paul Getty III at a party of Andy Warhol's in June 1976
3 of 8
Bettmann / Contributor
On July 10, 1973, John Paul Getty III was kidnapped.

Coming home from a night of partying, the 16-year-old Getty III was snatched in Rome’s Piazza Farnese by several members of an Italian crime syndicate called the 'Ndrangheta. He was chained to a stake in a cave in the mountains of Calabria, a region in southern Italy.

Two days later, the kidnappers called Getty’s mother, Gail Harris, and demanded $17 million for his release. By that point, Harris had been divorced from Getty Jr. for nine years and no longer had access to the Getty fortune. The kidnappers’ advice? “Get it from London,” the city in which Getty did his business.

Getty III was also instructed to write letters to his family members. To his grandfather, he wrote: “I know that we haven’t been very close but I hope you know that I love you. Please do whatever you can to get me out of here. This is serious. Love, Paul.”

But since Getty III had joked so often about faking his own kidnapping to get money from his grandfather, the authorities and members of the Getty family doubted whether the kidnapping was real. As the days went on, eventually, his father believed the rumor – only he didn’t have the ransom money either. The only person who did was J.P. Getty himself.
4 of 8
Bettmann / Contributor
Until Getty III’s ear was cut off and sent to his family members, his grandfather refused to pay the ransom.

Getty Jr. asked for ransom money to rescue his son from the Calabrian mountains, where he was being tortured — and his father refused. In a public statement, J.P. Getty wrote, “Although I see my grandson infrequently and I am not particularly close to him, I love him nonetheless. However, I don’t believe in paying kidnappers. I have 14 grandchildren and if I pay a penny of ransom, I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.”

Four months into the arduous ordeal, the kidnappers cut off Getty III’s right ear and sent in the mail to a popular Italian newspaper, along with a threatening note: “This is Paul’s ear. If we don’t get some money within 10 days, the other ear will arrive. In other words he will arrive in little pieces.”

After seeing his grandson’s molded ear, Getty was finally willing to negotiate. Only he refused to give the full $17 million. Instead, he negotiated with the kidnappers and settled on paying $3 million. Getty would pay $2.2 million, the maximum tax-deductible sum — and his son, Getty Jr., would owe him the remaining $800,000.
5 of 8
Hulton Archive / Stringer
John Paul III never recovered from the kidnapping.

When he was 18, Getty III married Martine Zacher, German actress who was already five months pregnant. Considering his marriage unwise and premature, J.P. Getty disinherited his grandson. Zacher and Getty III had two children together, one of whom is the actor Balthazar Getty.

Though Getty III pursued an acting career (and a degree in Chinese History at Pepperdine University), he never recovered from his psychological wounds. He coped through drugs and alcohol, and continued to drink the cognac his kidnappers given him in the cave.

Pictured: Martine Zacher and John Paul Getty III with their children, Anna and Bathazar.
6 of 8
At the age of 25, Getty III was incapacitated by a stroke.

In 1981, John Paul Getty III suffered a stroke triggered by a combination of drugs. He became paralyzed in all four limbs, incapable of speech, and almost completely blind, save for some peripheral vision. John Paul Jr., his father, only assented to pay his son’s expensive monthly health bills after he was taken to court by Gail Harris.

Getty III died in February 2011, at the age of 54.

Pictured: Getty III in 2003
7 of 8
Catch the whole story in All the Money in the World, out December 25.

In the movie, J.P. Getty will be played by Christopher Plummer. He'll be joined by Mark Wahlberg as John Paul Jr., Michelle Williams as Gail Harris, and Charlie Plummer as John Paul III. Charlie has no relation to Christopher – though what a story that would be.
8 of 8
Like this post? There's more. Get tons of celebrity news, fun takes on pop culture, and trending stories on the Refinery29 Entertainment Facebook page. Like us on Facebook — we'll see you there!

More from Movies


R29 Original Series

Watch Now
Five love stories behind diverse, multicultural marriages.
Watch Now
Life experiments, 5 days at a time.
Watch Now
The style of subculture.
Watch Now
Viral trends, tried and tested.
Watch Now
From vibrators to lipstick, learn how your favorite products are made.
Watch Now
Extraordinary, one-of-a-kind individuals
Watch Now
The latest stories to watch.
Watch Now
Inside the homes of millennial women — & what they paid for them
Watch Now
Let's talk about sex, baby.
Watch Now
Female artisans around the world
Watch Now
Made by and for smart, opinionated women.
Watch Now
We helped 12 female directors claim their power.