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J. Paul Getty and Ebenezer Scrooge

Paul Getty and Ebenezer Scrooge

by William H. Benson

December 15, 2016

On July 10, 1973, kidnappers in Rome, Italy seized J. Paul Getty III, the sixteen-year-old grandson of the oil baron and the reported wealthiest man in the world. The kidnappers sent a ransom note that demanded $17,000,000, but the grand Senior Getty refused to pay. He said, “I have fourteen grandchildren. If I pay one penny now, I’ll have fourteen kidnapped grandchildren.”

Some whispered that the kidnapping was a staged hoax, designed to fleece the Senior. Hence, the kidnappers cut off the boy’s right ear and a lock of his hair, and mailed the two body parts to a newspaper, as proof that they had custody of the grandson.

The kidnappers negotiated down to a rock bottom $3,000,000, but then Senior agreed to pay only $2,200,000, the maximum amount his advisors claimed was tax deductible. Senior then required Junior, the child’s father, to sign a promissory note for a loan of $800,000, the difference, and then charged his own son four percent interest.

This was well within the Senior’s character. A miser to a fault and known for his tight-fisted ways, the Senior Getty had installed coin-operated telephones for his visitors’ use when in his home, in order to prevent them from running up excessive phone bills.

The kidnappers released J. Paul Getty III on December 15, 1973, ten days before Christmas, a wonderful gift for the lad’s mother, who told her son to call Senior and thank him for paying the ransom. He dialed the phone number, but Senior refused to take his grandson’s call.

  1. Paul Getty, the Senior, was married five times and divorced five times. After his final divorce in 1958, he gave up and remained single until his passing in 1976. Of his five wives, he said, “I hate to be a failure. I hate and regret the failure of my marriages. I would gladly give all my millions for just one lasting marital success.”

He and his fifth wife, Louise, had a single son, Timmy, who, when he was six, lost his eyesight because of a brain tumor. Louise said that Senior scolded her for spending an excessive amount on Timmy’s medical care. When Timmy died at the age of twelve, in 1958, Louise sued for divorce, and Senior did not attend his son’s funeral.

In a shadow that the Ghost of Christmas Past revealed to Ebenezer Scrooge, he saw himself as a young single man seated beside his fiance, Belle, who had tears in her eyes. He asks her why she cries, and she tells him, “Another idol has displaced me.”

To her he tried to justify his miserly ways, but she said, “You fear the world too much. All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one.” It is no wonder that she broke off their engagement.

In a shadow that the Ghost of Christmas Present revealed, Ebenezer saw two children hiding within the Ghost’s robe, a boy named Ignorance, and a girl named Want. Dickens described the two urchins as, “wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish.” Dickens personified children whose parents have neglected and subjected them to emotional and physical abuse.

In a shadow that the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come revealed, Ebenezer saw Bob Cratchit’s family mourning the passing of Tiny Tim, his little crutch laid aside. He hears Bob say to his other children, “’I am sure we shall none of us forget poor Tiny Tim.’ ‘Never, father,’ cried they all.”

Charles Dickens first published A Christmas Carol on December 17, 1843. In it, time is fluid. It backs up, jumps forward, and then races ahead into the future. At the story’s end, time returns to the present, and Scrooge is ecstatic. He now has a chance to rectify his errors, and he does.

The story is a call for a “secular conversion,” and Ebenezer Scrooge did experience an alteration. He purchased the prize turkey hanging in the butcher’s shop and had it delivered to Bob Cratchit’s home. He celebrated Christmas at his nephew Fred’s home. Of the day, Dickens wrote, “Wonderful party, wonderful games, wonderful unanimity, wonderful happiness.”

Whereas J. Paul Getty’s story is non-fiction, Ebenezer Scrooge’s is fiction. Both included a lad named Tim with physical ailments. Whereas Getty tried and failed at marriage five times, Scrooge failed to try even once. Getty never experienced a secular conversion, but Scrooge did.

A severed ear, a lock of hair, a ransomed grandson set free at Christmas, a child named Timmy Getty who died, a crutch, a prize turkey, and a child named Tiny Tim Cratchit who lived. These are the elements of two Christmas stories. Both are sad, and yet both include some happiness.