Friday, September 20, 2013


Book Review: Alone Together: My Life with J.Paul Getty by Teddy Getty Gaston

Teddy Getty Gaston, age 100, has lived a courageous, outrageous life. But her spirit, her sense of the absurd, is missing in Alone Together: My Life with J. Paul Getty published September 3 by Ecco Press. She did not need the celebrity walker 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 Getty Gaston for the Huffington Post I found her voice and 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 attracted in the person of Teddy Getty Gaston was missing. Hidden. Covered up with a formula of how to make a best-seller. Get a top agent ie. Mort Janklow, get a celebrity biographer, Digby 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. She is 100 and couldn't afford to make any more mistakes. Life and Getty Sr. had taught her to delegate responsibility. So much so that in Alone Together there is no Teddy Getty Gaston there. 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's ear being cut off?

"Honey, he was drug addict," Teddy Getty Gaston told me in 2011 recalling the recent death of Jean Paul Getty III who was J.Paul Getty, Sr.'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 two million," she paused. "Everybody has tried to make all the Getty's look cheap, but the boy's grandfather did what he could. J.Paul Getty, Sr., gave his money to his son, John Paul Getty II who was on dope and whose wife Talitha was the first to die from drugs. Though J.Paul Getty, Sr., gave two 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."

J.Paul Getty, Sr., was not an enabler.

But what about the ransom? Biographer Diehl did not ask Teddy Getty Gaston about the above ear saga. Instead when I read Alone Together, I found myself reading another celebrity bio with all the la de da perfections that could have been written by a copy editor at Harper Collin's and not the cabaret singer with passion burning out of her larynx. This was a packaged book that lacked heart. Better if Teddy Getty Gaston had talked into dragon speech recognition software, self-published and kept the integrity of her life instead of having it packaged like a multivitamin. And "whitewashed" to quote the review in the New York Times whose critic wrote, "I do not believe a word of this story about 3-year-old Timothy. Perhaps we shouldn't always read memoirs for the facts, but to get closer to our subject."

Publishing is in a sad state when to get a book on, one cannot make one grammatical mistake or the celebrity will have to go back to jail as in monopoly and face public ridicule. Worse yet, oblivion.

Teddy Getty Gaston had no time to make a mistake so she took the easier way to tell her story by hiring a biographer to protect her her heart. But she gave it away. A writer's voice belongs to the writer, not the interpreter. A writer's voice is precious. Instead Teddy Getty Gaston's voice was recreated, like pasteurized milk. Or music in a synthesizer. Sad. Under layers of fear and low self-esteem was the voice the reader longed to hear.

Jail was something the effervescent Teddy Getty Gaston 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.

Why wasn't Teddy Getty Gaston's daughter, Gigi Gaston, mentioned in the acknowledgements? Mysteries abound due to Digby Diehl's negligence, not because Teddy Getty Gaston would not dish.

We all know J.Paul Getty was outrageously cheap, but why did his fifth wife feel the need to protect him? We know that Teddy Getty Gaston 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 J.Paul Getty failed to visit them. Teddy Getty Gaston and J.Paul Getty lived apart for much of the twenty years. Did she accept his abuse because of his wealth? Why didn't Diehl ask her? It is public knowledge that when J.Paul 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 didn't Digby dig?

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