Theordora Getty Gaston, age 100, has lived a courageous, outrageous life. But her spirit, her sense of the absurd, is missing in her new book, “Alone Together: My Life with J. Paul Getty.” She did not need biographer Digby Diehl to cover her breathe with Saran Wrap. “Alone Together” is an example of literary smothering. Pretentious overwriting. Destruction of the subject’s voice.
In 2011, I interviewed Teddy for the Huffington Post. I found her way of telling stories to be delightful. She had a fresh approach to recounting the past. Now, with Diehl sugar-coating her syntax, grammar and structure, the charm and romance to which J.Paul Getty was is nowhere in evidence, covered up with a formula of how to make a bestseller:
Get a top agent, i.e. Mort Janklow; get a celebrity biographer, Diehl; get a top PR firm, Shreve Williams — and one is sure to attract a big publisher. Voila! Harper Collins Ecco Press. But what happened to the voice of our subject who was fraught with fear that her book might not make the top of Amazon’s rich and famous list.
Oh, there are stories about her, and it was all well-written, but where was that joie de vivre that captured J. Paul Getty’s heart? Where were the secrets? What about the Getty III’s ear being cut off?
“Honey, he was drug addict,” Teddy told me in 2011, recalling the recent death of Getty’s, grandson. “He killed himself with drugs. We tried everything. His father, Paul Getty II, was knighted by the queen of England. He had been a good man. It is a mistake to give drug addicts money.” The boy’s grandfather gave the criminals $2 million,” she paused.
“Everybody has tried to make all the Gettys look cheap, but the boy’s grandfather did what he could. He gave his money to his son, who was on dope and whose wife Talitha was the first to die from drugs. Though J. Paul Getty Sr. gave $2 million to the criminals, he wanted his son to pay him back. He did not like the idea that any of his children were on dope and did not want to fund their addictions. J. Paul Getty Sr. only had one drink before dinner. He was not a drinker or an addict, though his children were.”
Diehl did not ask Teddy about the above ear saga. We all know Getty was outrageously cheap — it is public knowledge that when Getty paid the ransom for that famous ear that he paid only $2.2 million that he had bargained down from $17 million because this was the exact amount that would be tax-deductible — but why did his fifth wife feel the need to protect him?
We know that Teddy lived well and had a lavish lifestyle in spite of his cheapness. He was abusive towards her by not tending to the welfare of their child, Timothy, who suffered six years with a brain tumor while Getty failed to visit them. Did Teddy accept his abuse because of his wealth?
And there’s more. Jail was something the effervescent Teddy knew about. She was imprisoned by the Fascists under suspicion of being a spy at the beginning of WWII’s Italy. The Teddy Getty Gaston I knew was forthright, whimsical, fun and laughed about her prison days.
When I read “Alone Together,” I found myself reading another celebrity bio with all the lah-dee-dah perfections that could have been written by a copyeditor at Harper Collins. This was a packaged book that lacked heart. Better if Teddy had talked into speech-recognition software, self-published and kept the integrity of her life instead of having it packaged like a multivitamin.
Why didn’t Digby dig?