Saturday 22 December 2012

Talitha Getty - Icon of 1960's Hippie/Bohemian Style

Talitha Getty with her son Tara, 1968

It is not often that I do a post about a female fashion icon, but since I never wanted this blog to be exclusively about male fashion (or exclusively about fashion, for that matter), I don't see a reason not to. In the late 1960's, Talitha Getty was one of rich and beautiful (and doomed) people - part of European Jet Set. She was also one of the first adopters of a posh-hippie style, now referred to as 'bohemian chic'.

Talitha Pol was born in Java in 1940 to Dutch parents. She was a step-granddaughter of a painter Augustus John - one of the leading figures of early 20th century Chelsea bohemian movement. Talitha spent her early years in Japanese POW camp, and when the war ended in 1945, she moved with her mother to London.  In her late teens, she enrolled to Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts with an intention of becoming an actress. She did subsequently play few bit parts in a handful of movies - most notably in The System by Michael Winner (a 1964 kitchen sink-y drama starring young Oliver Reed and even younger David Hemmings) and in Return From The Ashes with Maximillian Schell (1965).
In 1965, after an affair with a Cabinet minister and near-affair with ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev (Nureyev, a homosexual, claimed that he had never felt so erotically stirred by a woman) Talitha met John Paul Getty II at the dinner party of Claus Von Bulow - a personal assistant of Getty's father - an American oil magnate. J.P. Getty Jr. was an heir to one of the biggest fortunes in the world. He started an affair with Talitha whom he eventually married in October 1966 (After divorcing his first wife, with whom he had four children).
After marrying Paul Getty, Talitha gave up her acting career (although she did play a cameo in Barbarella in 1968), and the two became a part of international jet-set sharing their time between London, Rome and Marrakech. Their palace in Marrakesh (known as 'Pleasure Palace') became a 'a place to be' for anybody who was anybody in the 1960's. Christopher Gibbs and The Rolling Stones (Mick, Keith and Brian) were their guests. Patrick Lichfield took  one of the most famous photos of his career there - it depicted Talitha, with hooded Paul in the background, on the terrace with a view of the city. The photo is said to have captured the mysterious and mystical atmosphere of Marrakesh.   Yves Saint-Laurent reminiscing about The Gettys said: I knew the youthfulness of the Sixties (...) Talitha and Paul Getty lying on a starlit terrace in Marrakesh, beautiful and damned, and a whole generation assembled as if for eternity where curtain of the past seemed to lift before the extraordinary future (Saint Laurent is reffering to a book by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and The Damned).
But beneath the facade of beauty, wealth and glamour, there was a dark reality - by late 1960s, both, Paul and Talitha had become heroin addicts. Their addiction would  result in a tragedy...

 Talitha Pol, 1961 






Talitha Pol and Paul Getty, 1966

Talitha with actor Michael York and ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev in a Rome nightclub, 1966

Wedding of Talitha Pol and Paul Getty, 10.12.1966

Talitha Getty, 1966

Paul and Talitha Getty, 1966

Hippie-Jet Setters: (from left) Paul, Talitha, Prince Dado Ruspoli and unknown girl, 1967

Talitha, 1967


Talitha Getty's blink-and-you-miss-it appearence in Barbarella as a girl who enjoys 'the essence of man'...

 Jane Fonda and Talitha Getty

with a director Roger Vadim, 1967

Paul and Talitha Getty, 1967

Paul and Talitha, 1967

Talitha with her son Tara, 1968

Talitha, 1968


Possibly the most famous photo of Talitha and Paul Getty, taken in Morocco by Patrick Lichfield in 1969

Feature in Vogue magazine about Paul and Talitha's Moroccan lifestyle. The interior of their palace looks, to put it mildly, breathtaking..(1969)

Talitha, 1969

Paul and Talitha in Rome, 1969

With their son, Tara, 1969

Talitha in Rome, 1970


 Talitha on the cover of French Vogue, April 1970.



With Rudolf Nureyev, 1970


Talitha and Paul Getty, 1970


Talitha with Ossie Clark, 1970

Talitha Getty, 1970

In 1968, Talitha gave birth to her son, whom she named Tara Gabriel Gramophone Galaxy Getty (not surprisingly, as a grown-up, Tara would remove 'Gramophone Galaxy' from his name). Although the baby temporarily brought a little bit of stability into their hectic lifestyles, they still struggled to control their drug addictions. Their relationship started deteriorating , too. In 1971 Paul had an affair, and Talitha left their Rome apartament and went to London. In London she started her own affair - with a shady French aristocrat Count Jean De Breteuil. De Breteuil stayed at Keith Richards' house in Chayne Walk and was a self-proclaimed 'drug dealer to rock stars'. After some time, Talitha decided to go back to Rome to fix her marriage (around the same time, Count De Breteuil went to Paris with Marianne Faithful, where he sold a lethal dose of heroin to Jim Morrison). On 14 July 1971, Talitha died in Rome of heroin overdose. The exact circumstances of her death are unknown. She was taken to a private clinic, where initial verdict was 'death from a barbiturate overdose'. It wasn't until six months later, when it was reaveled that the drug in question was heroin (Count De Breteuil's stuff, most likely).
Guilt stricken Paul Getty, thinking in paranoid state, that he might be arrested in connection with Talitha's death, fled Rome and came to London. Several dark years followed. He never completely recovered from Talitha's death and he succumbed deeper into his heroin addiction. In 1973, another tragedy happened.  Paul's son from his first marriage - 17 year-old John Paul Getty III  was kidnapped in Calabria. Kidnappers demanded $17 million ransom. Because Paul's trust fund was not enough to cover such sum, he turned to help to his father, J.P. Getty Sr., who refused saying: I have fourteen other grandchildren. If I pay a penny now, I will have fourteen kidnapped grandchildren. But when kidnappers cut off young Paul's ear, and posted it to an Italian newspaper, He agreed to lend Paul II money with a 4% interest. Paul III was eventually freed (just like his father, he was a drug addict. In 1981 he took an overdose, which resulted in stroke, which left him paralysed from a neck down and nearly blind at the age of 25. He died in 2008).
Paul Getty II started overcoming his addiction in early 1980's, thanks to a lenghty and expensive (£500 per day for approximately 500 days) period in London Clinic. After inheriting his father's money in 1976, he started making a slow transformation from a drug addicted jet-setter to a prolific philantropist. He shared his $3 billion fortune with poor and needy. His donations included £50 million to National Gallery, £20 million to British Film Institute and £5 million to St. Paul's Cathedral. He purchase Canova's Three Graces for National Galleries of Scotland for £1 million. During miners' strike in 1984 (even though he was a lifelong Conservative supporter) he was helping financially miners' families. He set up Paul Getty Jr. Charitable Trust which he claimed supported 'unpopular' causes - rehabilitation for young offenders, assistance to victims of domestic abuse, preserving dilapidated buildings, etc. Countless little businesses around the country benefited from Getty's generosity. For his charitable work, he had been rewarded KBE (Knight Commander of the British Empire) in 1987, although he could not use a title 'Sir' because of his American citizenship  - which he eventually renounced when he was granted British citizenship in 1997.
Paul Getty Jr. died in 2003, aged 70 - a respactable, slightly eccentric English gentleman,a philantropist, friend of many Conservative politicians - a very far journey from young American Playboy of 1960's, who, along with his' beautiful and damned' wife, led a life of pleasures. And tragedies.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Most of the photos used here come from personal collection of Ms. Jayme Franklin who runs The Beautiful And The Damned website.

Source of the story - "London Babylon" by Steve Overbury, 2009. 


Stuart said...

Great photos - and a fascinating story.

I walk past Paul Getty's Cheyne Walk house everyday: for a long time it looked boarded up, but pleased to see it looks like it's being lived in again.

SteveO said...

I thought that story looked familiar and then I saw the credit at the end and realised where I knew it from.

This is a great site. Good luck with it.

Steve Overbury

PS Look out for the revamped, bigger and better Epub version of London Babylon... coming soon

Peter said...

Ha! Thank you Mr. Overbury

I've found your book in charity shop few months ago. I was wondering how come I didn't hear about it when it was originally published in 2009. Then I've noticed you published it yourself...It is a shame the book did not get more exposure, as it makes fascinating reading.

I really liked 'Who's Who In Swinging London' bit, what a great idea! I actually wanted to post it in here along with a few words about how good your book is. I hope you don't mind....

jason haris said...

Hi A Dandy,
Usually I am not regular to read article on blogs, but I would like to say that this write-up very pressured me to check out and do it! Your writing taste has been surprised me. Thank you, quite nice article.

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Anonymous said...

Splendid. Completely in the dawn of sunlight & dusk.

David Titlow said...

Fascinating post - and amazing pictures - thank you -

Anonymous said...

Not Keith Richard’s House?

Unknown said...

Well done. Just watched Trust on FX and wondered about the Morocco scenes. Nice bio and backstory on the significance of rooftop shot, which the movie copied convincingly.