The Shocking True Crime Story Behind This Season’s Most Controversial Movie

Come Christmas weekend, audiences will likely be glued to the big screen to see the final product of All the Money in the World. The one-time (and possibly still) Oscar frontrunner made major waves when one of its stars (that would be Kevin Spaceyof course) was accused of sexual abuse. Director Ridley Scott made the groundbreaking decision to cut him out of the film entirely—a mere month away from its scheduled release date. 

When the flick hits theaters all eyes will be on Christopher Plummer, Spacey’s replacement, and the success (or not) of the re-edit will be on everyone’s minds. And while that controversy is like a car accident you can’t look away from, the real life kidnapping story that inspired the blockbuster is just as wild, crazy and fascinating. 

It all began in 1970s Italy, when J. Paul Getty (now played by Plummer), founder of Getty Oil Company, was the richest private citizen in the world. It was a period of considerable turmoil for the country, with counter-culture protests, student uprising and worker walkouts and boycotts all fighting the long-established government. There were deadly riots, bombings and thousands of murders and assassinations.

In short, it was a dangerous time to be anybody in Italy, much less a member of the wealthy aristocracy. Dozens of radical left- and right-wing groups were out to have their heads on a platter. 

John Paul Getty III (played by newcomer Charlie Plummer) was the grandson of the elder oil scion. His father, J. Paul Getty II (are you keeping track?) was divorced from his mother, who did not come from the same monied background. Despite being only 16 years old at the time, John Paul was living on his own in Rome and running a relatively hippie existence that was starkly different than the rest of his family. Legend has it that he made money by selling art and acting as an extra in movies, and he was a frequent visitor of the city’s nightclubs and its left-wing demonstrations. 

That all came to an end on July 10, 1973 when he suddenly went missing. The teenager was held for two days by a group of bandits from the town of Calabria (who are rumored to have had mob ties) before they sent a ransom letter to his mother (played by Michelle Williams). Since she was divorced from her former husband she didn’t have access to the whopping $17 million the kidnappers asked for. 

To make matters even more complicated, the police initially believed the entire kidnapping was fabricated—perhaps in an elaborate scheme by John Paul himself to pad his pockets more than his bohemian lifestyle was allowing. After Getty’s mother explained to the captors that she wouldn’t be able to pay the ransom, things escalated. She received a message warning her that the kidnappers would send one of Getty’s severed fingers as proof life and a note from her son that eerily read, “Dear Mummy, Since Monday I have fallen into the hands of kidnappers. Don’t let me be killed.”

If that isn’t straight out of a binge-watch worthy Netflix series, we don’t know what is. 

The most egregious part about the entire kidnapping plot, and the raison d’etre for the movie All the Money in the World, is that the boy’s grandfather, the original John Paul Getty, refused to pay the ransom for his grandson. He was approached to help with the $17 million sum after it was clear his son and his ex-wife wouldn’t be able to pay it, and the famously penny pinching billionaire kept his wallet shut tight, notoriously saying “If I pay one penny now, I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren,” referring to his very large family tree. 

The captors would hold John Paul for several more months and after repeated attempts to extort money out of the oil scions they Van Gogh’ed him, which is to say that they cut off his ear and sent it to his family. Photos of the boy made their way into local papers and put pressure on his exorbitantly wealthy grandfather to finally penny up. The patriarch managed to negotiate the kidnappers (yes, he bargained for the safe return of his own flesh and blood) and Getty was eventually released to an abandoned gas station. Several of the members of the gang responsible for his capture were eventually sent to jail. 

While the kidnapping tale at least comes to a mildly happy ending, the life of the third Getty would go on to take several tragic turns. To add insult to his many injuries, when he called his grandfather to thank him for paying his ransom, the old man refused to come to the phone (nice, right?). John Paul then stumbled into a quickie marriage, moved to New York, and hob-nobbed with Andy Warhol and his crew. This led to a drug addiction and eventual overdose, which was so severe it left his almost completely paralyzed and without the ability to speak. 

The third Getty passed away in 2011, but he is survived by several children, including Balthazar Getty, known most for his tenure on the ABC drama Brothers & Sisters and his extramarital affair with one Sienna Miller. The famous members of the family have yet to comment publicly on the movie that will be capturing the attention of millions, but it’s likely that there’s simply nothing more to say on the matter. We’ll all have to watch and see for ourselves. 

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