FX’s Trust recounts the story of John Paul Getty III, the then-16-year-old heir to Getty oil who was kidnapped in Italy in 1973. It’s a tale filled with callous characters; Getty’s grandfather initially refused to pay his ransom, and the longer Getty was gone, the worse his abductors’ treatment of him became. But through it all, there’s one sympathetic figure: John Paul III’s mother Abigail “Gail” Harris Getty, played by Hilary Swank.
As outlined by the New York Times, Gail was once married to J. Paul Getty Jr. (played by Donald Sutherland in Trust). The two wed in 1956 near San Francisco and had four children: John Paul III, Aileen, Mark, and Ariadne. By the time John Paul III was kidnapped, the couple had been divorced for 10 years; J. Paul Getty Jr. married the Dutch actress and socialite Talitha Pol in 1966, splitting time between Rome and Morocco while Gail stayed in Italy with their four kids.
Trust highlights Gail’s attempts to save John Paul III from the clutches of his kidnappers. Though she eventually succeeded in convincing her ex-father-in-law to give her the money to pay John Paul III’s ransom, it wasn’t without struggle: John Paul III’s ear was cut off before he was returned home. And after the kidnapping, he faced many difficulties in life. “No one really understands what the kidnapping did to him,” Martine Zacher, who married John Paul III in 1974, told People magazine. “He came back changed. He wanted to get control of himself, but he just wasn’t able to.”
Paul III was 17 when he married Zacher (who now goes by the name Gisela). She had a daughter, Anna, from a previous relationship, and the pair soon had a son together: actor and musician Balthazar Getty, born in 1975.
In April 1981, when John Paul III was 25, he overdosed on drugs and had a stroke, leaving him partially blind, paralyzed, and unable to speak. As with the kidnapping, Gail had to advocate for her son again. William Newsom, a judge and family friend of the Gettys, told People at the time that Gail was “very, very strong,” and that while the ordeal had “crushed her,” she was “never going to let her son know that” and was “solid as a rock for him.”
John Paul III remained in a wheelchair and unable to speak for the rest of his life. He died at the age of 54 in 2011. “His mother basically cared for him until he died, so he was very close to his mother. He was the center of her life for over 40 years,” the screenwriter of All The Money In The World — which is also based on John Paul III’s kidnapping — told Vanity Fair in 2017.
Besides caring for Paul III, Gail also helped to raise John Paul III’s son Balthazar, who called Gail a father figure to him in an interview with the UK’s Evening Standard. “I can remember being frightened of her when I was a kid,” said Balthazar, who was only 5 when his father overdosed. “Frightened that she would be upset. She was very vocal, very tough. She had to be because she went through so much personally.”
Gail is now the only living member of the Getty family who was involved in the events of Trust, which made her of particular interest to series creator Simon Beaufoy. “I really wanted to talk to her, but it proved very difficult for legal reasons,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018. “I have huge admiration for her. She’s the one person in the story with no money, who kept the faith the whole time and wanted her son released. She worked tirelessly to get him released and yet she had no agency. She was divorced from the Gettys, she had no cash. She’s an extraordinary woman and Hilary Swank plays her as the true heart of the whole series.”
Gail is now 85 and living a “quiet life in London,” according to a People report in late 2017.
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