“Jean Paul Getty is priapic,” Lord Beaverbrook once warned his granddaughter, Lady Jean Campbell.
“What does that mean, Grandpapa?” she asked him.
“Ever-ready,” he replied.
As hints this extract from John Pearson’s biography of the Getty family, All The Money in the World, J. Paul Getty was something of a womaniser. Married and divorced five times, the billionaire oil baron named 12 women in his will when he died aged 83, in 1976; only one of them was among his ex-wives.
“Ever since adolescence in Los Angeles, women had been the one luxury the old miser had never denied himself,” Pearson writes. “How he had enjoyed them in his time! Young and old, fat and fashionably thin, drum-majorettes and duchesses, streetwalkers, stars and socialites.”
Starting tonight, a new 10-part series on BBC Two dramatises the 1973 kidnapping of Getty’s grandson, John Paul Getty III. Written by Simon Beaufoy and directed by Danny Boyle, Trust pivots on the character of the tight-fisted oil baron once named as the richest living American (and played here by Donald Sutherland). While the kidnapping drives the plot, Getty’s unconventional love life is also laid bare, his collection of international girlfriends being played off against each other by the unsympathetic old man.
So who were J Paul Getty’s women, those “Lolita-style nymphets” described by Pearson whose names, it’s been said, the American industrialist meticulously recorded in a small black address book?
Although women had been a favourite extracurricular pursuit of his for many years beforehand, Getty was 30 before he proposed to his first wife in 1923. Jeanette Dumont was 17 years old when he wed her in a secret ceremony in Mexico. Only afterwards did he tell his parents.
But the marriage, like all those that followed it, was ill-fated. After she had borne him a son, George Franklin Getty II, he is said to have neglected her then left her, their marriage having lasted three years.
His next wife, Allene Ashby, fared no better. After enjoying a fling with the 17-year-old daughter of a Texas rancher while he was studying Spanish and overseeing family business matters in Mexico, Getty rushed into a marriage with her in 1926, before the ink on his divorce papers was dry. It lasted only two years.
In his 1976 autobiography, As I See It, he writes of their short-lived relationship: “Our flashfire romance developed after we began horseback riding together. She being young and inexperienced and I being much too enchanted by her, neither of us recognised an essentially summer romance for what it was.”
The marriage he describes as “impulsive and, as we both realised within only a few weeks, a serious mistake.” They discovered, too late, that they had “almost nothing in common.”
Undeterred by past experience however, Getty ploughed on, marrying his third wife in 1928, the same year he divorced his second. Adolphine Helmle was also 17 when the 36-year-old Getty first spotted her as she dined with her parents in a Vienna hotel while he was travelling in Europe.
“I couldn’t take my eyes off her,” he writes. “Five-feet-ten, she was not only beautiful, but her lively face and every movement radiated vitality and vivacity.” They married against her parents’ wishes and he took her back to California.
He attributed the break up of this marriage to the pressure Helmle’s parents put her under. In 1932 they were divorced, but not before she had borne him a son, Jean Ronald Getty, during the Wall Street Crash.
Once again he lost no time in leaping straight back into matrimony, as little as it seemed to suit him, and Ann Rork became his fourth wife the same year. They married in Mexico when he was 40 and she 20. The daughter of a Hollywood producer called Sam Rork, Ann gave birth to Getty’s third son, Eugene Paul (who later changed his name to Paul Getty Jnr) and fourth son, Gordon. The marriage lasted four years.
According to Getty, his relationship with Rork deteriorated after she began complaining he was away from home too much. She reportedly put it differently herself, alleging abuse and neglect when she sued for divorce.
Louise Dudley Lynch was Getty’s fifth wife, described by Tatler as “an ex-convent society chanteuse”. They married in Rome in 1939, the union lasting until 1958. She bore him his fifth and last child Timothy Ware, whose death at the age of 12 broke Getty’s heart and left, in his words, “a void that has never been - and can never be - filled in my life.” He and Lynch, known as Teddy, divorced shortly afterwards.
Getty’s five wives were greatly outnumbered by the other women with whom he had relationships of one kind or another in his life. Even in his eighties, it is said he was taking sex drugs, and in his later years would keep several mistresses at once.
“...he boasted of having five different women in a single day when he was 60—and he had many girlfriends all over Europe,” wrote Russell Miller in his 1985 biography, The House of Getty.
By Getty’s own admission, he was anything but the ideal husband. Many accounts go far further, casting him as someone with as great a hunger for sex as for money. Not that the two were entirely separate, in his view.
“As he put it once,” writes Pearson, “‘Business success generates a sexual drive, and sexual drive pushes business.’”
Getty, it is clear, had both in abundance.