John Paul Getty III passed away in his mansion in Buckinghamshire, South East England, on Saturday, February 05, at the age of 54.
West Hollywood film director Philippe Mora gives WeHo News readers a glimpse into the man’s life.
In Los Angeles in 1978, John Paul Getty III was my assistant on a ’60s documentary I was directing. The producer David Puttnam had asked me if I could use Paul on the film.
I found the idea of hiring a Getty intrinsically amusing so I agreed. Paul, as we called him, was hip, charming, roguish and savvy. He became a friend.
His first job was taking me around in his Porsche since I didn’t drive. But his key responsibility was helping me find rare ’60s film.
Travelling around with Paul, everyone you met was famous or notorious, and doors opened that one never knew existed. We spent some time with William Burroughs but he didn’t have any film. I suggested Andy Warhol and we flew to New York to meet him. “Where shall we stay?” I asked. Paul said: “No worries, we will stay at the Pierre. I’ve made a reservation.”
We checked into the presidential suite. “Are you sure this is OK?” I asked. Paul nodded, smiling. That night we went to the nightclub Studio 54 to meet Warhol. We were ushered past heavy security and into the uber-VIP room. Warhol and Halston were sitting in front of human wallpaper that resembled a scene from ancient Rome.
Paul asked Warhol if he would give us his ’60s films. Warhol got uptight and said: “No, I’m making my own ’60s movie.”
Back at the Pierre I had an ominous message to call the manager. He politely asked how I was going to settle the bill. It was astronomical. “Didn’t Paul handle this?” I asked. ”His family owns the hotel.”
“Not any more. We have had this happen before with Mr. Getty.”
The manager allowed me to settle for far less than the bill. Paul laughed the whole thing off, saying he was going to introduce me to Timothy Leary who “might have some film”. He didn’t, but I found some shots of him declaring he was a pioneer but might be ”a charlatan”.
Paul thought this hilarious, so invited Leary to my rough cut screening. When Leary saw himself making the charlatan comment he became enraged and demanded to know why I had included it. Paul stood behind him making insulting hand signals and laughing.
“Because you said it,” I replied.
The studio stopped the film because it thought it was too controversial. “Don’t worry, I’ve got a copy,” said Paul, producing a video.
In 1981, about to inherit billions, Paul suffered a stroke. On the way to the hospital he had a heart attack. For the next 30 years he was paralyzed, unable to speak or to see properly.
He could hear and whenever I saw him and I mentioned the Pierre, Warhol or risqué matters he managed a chuckle. He was an inspiration to his close friends because he never lost his joie de vivre in a situation that would have destroyed lesser men.
Paul was still Paul, and that would make you smile.
This essay previously appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald.