Q _ Why did you choose to write this book? Why this family?
A _ Over the years, i had interviewed a few gettys. I found them fascinating—and all quite different. I began to learn how sprawling the family is, With four distinct branches. They have all gone in wildly different directions, not just geographically. Writing his book was an opportunity to connect the dots and learn how a contemporary dynasty survives and even thrives.
What was the most surprising thing you learned about the family?
They have often been depicted as totally dysfunctional and tragic; in fact, they have proven to be surprisingly durable. there was also a lot of misinformation out there on the family, particularly on J. Paul Getty. He’s been painted as being so coldhearted and mean. In fact, i learned that his grandchildren adored him. And while none of his five marriages lasted, he and his ex-wives (as well as his many mistresses) maintained truly warm relations until the end of their days—a feat. People who knew him really liked him.
Is the Getty curse real?
IF you ASKED that question CIRCA 1980, There would have been ample reason to say yes. There had been two tragic drug-related deaths, then the sensational kidnapping of paul iii, after which he became a drug addict and a paraplegic. His sister aileen battled drugs, too, and contracted aids. There was a lot of trauma and sorrow. During this time, the press also played up disagreements and legal action between some family members over the sale of getty oil and the management of their trust. When there are this many zeros involved, however, it’s rare when there isn’t litigation. this family eventually came to an agreement. Several Gettys Won Their Battles With Addiction. Today, living on four continents, they’re a close-knit and strong group.
Gavin Newsom and Billy were business partners and Gavin was best man at Billy’s wedding, but then their friendship ruptured. What do you think caused the rift?
The rift began just after Billy married Vanessa. She was not a fan of Gavin. It was Vanessa, too, who brought Kamala Harris into the fold, where Gavin had always been considered The One. Vanessa threw her support behind up-and-comer Kamala. In November 2020, it appeared like Vanessa had picked the winner. But the story continues to unfold.
Nancy Pelosi was criticized for officiating an oil heiress’s (Ivy Getty) wedding. Harris and Newsom were wedding attendees as well. How have the family friendships influenced political positions and vice versa?
For Pelosi to, in her own words, “hightail it,” from Washington to San Francisco to officiate at the wedding was a testament to her 50-year friendship with Gordon and his late wife Ann, who had largely raised Ivy. When Ann died suddenly the year before, Ivy was devastated. It meant the world to her to have her grandmother’s close friend there.
Newsom and Harris are both likely 2024 presidential contenders if Biden doesn’t run. How will the Getty connections and donations affect the next democratic presidential nominee?
If Newsom and Harris should both be candidates in the primary, I imagine each would get contributions from various Gettys. Choosing one over the over would present a tough choice, but money would flow to either or both.
Are the Getty, Newsom, Pelosi and Harris families all still close? How are the Gettys involved in their political careers?
The first three will be close till the end. They’re like family to each other, united by real bonds of affection, over decades. While the Gettys have made big campaign contributions, they aren’t pushing for policies; these are not transactional relationships. Gordon, a composer of classical music, generally has his head in the clouds. He’s not a political animal. Kamala Harris came into the picture much later. They don’t have the same history with her, but they certainly remain supportive of her.
What do you think is J. Paul Getty’s most important legacy?
Getty left the bulk of his personal fortune to his namesake museum in Malibu because he believed that art was a civilizing force. The Getty has become one of the world’s greatest cultural centers. Among the millions of people who have visited—admission-free— many of them have doubtless found some delight and even enlightenment.
When Gordon dies, the Getty trust will be distributed. Do you think the Getty dynasty will continue to be as powerful a public presence? In what ways?
When the capital gets divided among the grandchildren, they and their children will be in positions to do quite ambitious things. So, I would assume we’ll hear a lot more from many of them. But most Gettys are extremely private; they detest seeing their names in the press.
“J. Paul Getty’s been painted as being so coldhearted and mean. In fact, his grandchildren adored him. ”
His fight against city hall led to his first political position, on the Parking and Traffic Commission.
Friends Like Family
At Billy’s 1999 wedding to Vanessa Jarman, held on a ranch in Napa Valley, Judge Newsom officiated, and Gavin served as best man. Among the 165 guests was a new assistant district attorney in town, a 34-year-old up-and-comer named Kamala Harris, Vanessa’s new friend. Two years later, Harris threw the shower before the birth of the couple’s first son. When their daughter was born, Kamala was asked to be the godmother.
Political siblings, Gavin and Kamala came up together, though his rise, after becoming mayor of San Francisco in 2004, was meteoric. One day he would make a strong run for the White House, it was commonly assumed around San Francisco.
In 2001, when Gavin married Kimberly Guilfoyle, a prosecutor in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, Ann lent the bride her Edwardian diamond trembleuse (trembling) tiara and threw a lavish banquet for some 500 guests at the Getty’s mansion in Pacific Heights.
Over the years, Newsom political opponents have tried to weaponize his connections to the Gettys, portraying him as a child of privilege. But while the Gettys contributed generously to his campaigns, other San Francisco families gave as much, if not more.
Through the tragedies and scandals that beset the Gettys, including the death in 2015 of Gordon and Ann’s son, Andrew, and the bombshell news, in 1999, that Gordon had been keeping a secret second family in Los Angeles—a mistress with whom he had three daughters—it was Bill Newsom who often provided wise advice and emotional comfort for members of the family. Hours after he died in 2018, at age 84, a distraught Kendalle Getty, one of Gordon’s daughters, let her feelings pour out on Instagram: “Today, my father…lost his very best friend in the world…. I loved Bill, and I still do. Today hurts so badly….”
In the election cycle of 2020, some airtime was devoted to pondering Kimberly Guilfoyle’s path from Gavin to fiancé Donald Trump Jr. “Life’s interesting,” Newsom said diplomatically, when Buzzfeed brought up the topic with him.
At the Democratic National Convention, when Harris accepted her historic nomination for vice president, she acknowledged the people she considered family, including her goddaughter.
Amid the pandemic, the Gettys were shaken by back-to-back tragedies. Ann, the matriarch, died of a heart attack, and son John, 52, was found dead in a San Antonio hotel room. According to the medical examiner’s report, he died of “cardiomyopathy and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD], complicated by fentanyl toxicity.”
On the first anniversary of Ann’s death, the grandees of San Francisco emerged from their COVID-19 isolation and assembled at the Conservatory of Music to memorialize her. It was what was left of San Francisco society, anyway. “Old, old,” said one attendee of the crowd.
But there was one bright face among them. On the day that only weeks earlier some prognosticators predicted might be his political funeral—the California gubernatorial recall election—gavin Newsom was beaming. At 11 a.m., as the service began, he was clearly confident of the resounding victory he would have that night, which renewed talk of a presidential run, and an old rivalry. (“Are Newsom and Harris on a Collision Course?” asked a Los Angeles Times headline.)
Two months later, when 27-yearold Ivy Getty—john’s only child—was married, she was still mourning the loss of her father as well as her beloved grandmother, who had largely raised her. One of Ann’s oldest friends stepped up to preside over the ceremony. When the service began at 6 p.m. on Saturday, November 6, under the dome of San Francisco City Hall, there was Nancy Pelosi, the officiant. Just before midnight the previous evening, the Speaker of the House, under the rotunda of the Capitol, had signed the historic $1.8 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework. “I hightailed it out of there for Ivy, who I’ve known since she was a baby,” Pelosi told guests.
Excerpt from growing up getty by James Reginato. Published by Gallery Books. Copyright © 2022.
“I hightailed it out of [Washington] for Ivy, who I’ve known since she was a baby,” Pelosi told [wedding] guests.