The Real Events That Inspired ‘Trust'

The Real Events That Inspired ‘Trust'

Anthology drama about the Getty family finds its roots in one of America’s most tragic kidnappings.

The 10-episode first season of the American anthology drama is coming to an end and viewers are on the edge of their seats. The series, which premiered in March 2018, has been well received by audiences for its gritty humor, strong cast, and fascinating take on the true-crime genre. At the helm of the limited series is executive producer Danny Boyle, who is best known for his work on films like Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, and 127 hours — while joining him on the roster of talents are actors like Donald Sutherland, Hillary Swank, and Brendan Fraser. 

Based off the Getty family saga, Trust explores a different premise on the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III (played by relative newcomer, Harris Dickinson). This is what we know about the true events that inspired Trust.

Jean Paul Getty (deftly portrayed by Sutherland) is the founder of the Getty Oil Company and during his time was considered one of the world’s richest men. He was even named the richest living American by Fortune Magazine in 1957. However, despite his wealth, Getty was infamously known for being incredibly frugal.

Jean Paul Getty was married and divorced to five different women and had five sons from these marriages. With his third wife, Adolphine Helmle, he had John Paul Getty Jr. (played by Michael Esper) who was the third of his sons. John Paul Getty Jr. , known as Paul Jr., ended up as the President of Getty Oil Italiana, Getty Oil’s Italian subsidiary in Rome.  

This is where Paul Jr.’s son, John Paul Getty III, spent most of his childhood and his teen years. When his father moved back to the United Kingdom, John Paul Getty III lived a bohemian and carefree lifestyle in Italy. However, at age 16, Getty III was kidnapped by a Mafia organization in Calabria called the ‘Ndrangheta. The organization sent a ransom note to the Getty family demanding $17 million in exchange for Getty III. 

Where it becomes bizarre and tragic is that Getty III had often times joked in the past about staging his own kidnapping in order to take some of his grandfather’s wealth. This had caused many of his family members to doubt the authenticity of the kidnapping.

Nonetheless, Getty Jr. asked his father for the ransom money but was met with refusal. Getty Sr. argued that that if he would pay for the ransom of one grandchild, then his thirteen other grandchildren would end up kidnapped as well. 

It all escalated in November of 1973 when the ‘Ndrangheta sent a lock of red hair and a severed ear to a local newspaper, threatening to keep sending in parts of Getty III until a ransom was delivered. This caused Getty Sr. to negotiate a deal for a lower ransom with the captors, which was seen through. But even at this lower ransom, Getty Sr. still did not pay the full amount of the negotiated ransom. Instead, Getty Sr. lent the amount to his son and expected to be paid back with interest.

The young Getty was kidnapped for a total of six months in 1973 and then released in December of that year. Following the tragedy of his kidnapping, John Paul Getty III would later become a drug and alcohol addict whose life was haunted by these painful events.

Today, the Getty family and the fortune that caused misfortune still have the world’s attention. And as with several tragedies, the Getty tale now serves as the inspiration for several pieces in today’s pop culture — books, films, and the series Trust.  

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Jason Ho Head of Marketing Communications & PR, FOX+, FOX Networks Group
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