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The True Story Of The Billionaire Who Refused To Pay Grandson’s Abductors $17m

J. Paul Getty, the oil tycoon who gained notoriety by refusing to pay his teen grandson’s ransom, has been thrust back into the spotlight by an upcoming film about his life.

Directed by Ridley Scott, All the Money in the World chronicles the 1973 kidnapping and subsequent ransom demands of John Paul Getty III. It originally starred Kevin Spacey as the famous billionaire but, after recent allegations of sexual misconduct, he was replaced by Christopher Plummer. The scenes originally shot with Spacey were reshot with Plummer and edited into the movie, and the production team has been rushing to get it out for the original December 22nd release date.

The story itself is almost as dramatic. In 1973, John Paul Getty III (who went by “Paul”) was living in Rome after being expelled from private school at the age of 16. He was part of the leftist counterculture, working as a painter and a nude model, and frequenting protests and nightclubs. On July 10th, he was buying a comic book from a newsstand when he was kidnapped by three men with a gun. They drove the teen to southern Italy, where they kept him in caves and huts. Paul later recalled a captor saying. “Listen, kid, you’re going to be here a long time. Don’t do anything stupid.”

They then sent a ransom note to his mother Gail, demanding $17 million in cash and telling her to get it from Getty. Initially, both the police and the family thought it was a hoax Paul had concocted to get money out of his grandfather. Getty, a notorious miser who had a payphone in his house so he wouldn’t have to pay for guests’ calls, told the media that he wasn’t going to pay the ransom: “I have 14 other grandchildren and if I pay one penny now, then I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.”

After three months without contact, the Mafia-affiliated kidnappers cut off his ear with a razor and mailed it to a newspaper in Rome. Recognizing the ear, Gail started raising funds to pay the ransom and was eventually able to negotiate the ransom down to $2.2 million. Getty put up the maximum tax-deductible amount, then loaned the rest of the money to the boy’s father at 4 percent interest. On December 15th, three days after the money had been handed over, Paul was found outside of an abandoned service station. When Paul called his grandfather to thank him, he refused to come to the phone.

Getty continued to defend his choice, even after trauma from the incident led to Paul overdosing nine years later. He maintained that paying the boy’s ransom would have left his other grandchildren open to kidnapping and that he believed that “acceding to the demands of criminals and terrorists merely guarantees the continuing increase and spread of lawlessness.”

John Pearson, the author of the book on which All the Money in the World was based, believes that if Getty was still alive, he would be displeased about the movie. “The old man would have had the script rewritten for his own ends; he would have tried to shift blame from himself,” Pearson told the NY Post. “I also think Getty would want to get whatever money he could out of it. That was his nature.”

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