Memoir of love and loss has family ties

Bill-Gaston-Greenwich-VoicesTeddy Getty Gaston turned 100 years old in September. And in Alone Together, My Life with J. Paul Getty, the red-haired centenarian, who was raised in Greenwich, has written a gutsy and colorful account of her 19-year marriage to oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, one of the world’s first billionaires.

If you’re noticing a similarity in the names here, it’s not a coincidence. Teddy is my step-grandmother and married my grandfather, William Gaston, after her divorce from Getty in 1958. When I visited Teddy in the summer of 2011, she was beginning to cobble together her book, and she graciously invited my wife and family to her bungalow in Venice, Calif., where she now lives.

Though confined to a wheelchair, the former torch singer’s mind remains as sharp as a tack and her majestic face is still framed by luxuriantly thick auburn hair. But the book, published by Harper Collins/Ecco Press, 2013, is a tough look at her life.

Born Louise Theodora Lynch, Teddy doesn’t sugarcoat her early childhood years in Belle Haven. While she reminisces fondly on her days studying at Greenwich Academy and dating a Brunswick football star, she nonetheless graphically recounts her sexual assault at the hands of her drunken stepfather and the ugly anti-Semitic slurs he leveled at her Jewish heritage.

In 1932, at the age of 19, Teddy, like many society girls, took to performing in swanky Manhattan supper clubs. It was at one such club, Mon Paris, where she fatefully met J. Paul Getty, and the sparks immediately flew. In The Great Getty, author Robert Lenzner wrote, “To Teddy, he looked like a combination of Leslie Howard and Jean Gabin, of beauty and the beast … he was very, very intriguing. Most intriguing of all was his interest in her voice. He thought she should train for the opera.”

In Alone Together, Teddy writes, “I was so happy to be in the arms of a man who might open a door to a world of music and art that I never dreamt could be mine.”

Married in 1939, the two signed a (rare for the time) pre-nuptial agreement. Living by all accounts an enviable lifestyle, Teddy pursued her singing career— she sang opera in Billy Wilder’s movie The Lost Weekend — but Getty’s months-long absences and notorious tight-fistedness took its toll on the marriage. Teddy describes how her husband agreed to pay for her singing lessons, but demanded she fork over 10% of her earnings to him in return.

Her memories, good and bad, of her marriage to Getty jump off the page in Alone Together. The book’s title is tragically apt, as Teddy endured Getty’s ritual womanizing and the heartbreaking death of their 12-year-old son, Timmy, from a brain tumor. Indeed, the most devastating sections of Alone Together center around Getty’s own emotional remoteness and cruelty, as Timmy underwent years of brain surgery operations.

While Getty was off brokering oil deals with Arab potentates and living the bon vivant lifestyle, Teddy was left alone to deal with the consequences of Timmy’s illness. Teddy writes how her husband never visited his son once in the hospital, but instead complained incessantly to Teddy about the size of the hospital bills. That her husband was nowhere to be found perhaps should have come as no surprise, given that Getty had previously married and divorced three different teenage girls within five years before marrying Teddy.

By 1956, Teddy would file for divorce. Timmy died in 1958 in a New York hospital. Getty was too busy in Europe to return to his son’s funeral. In 1958, Teddy married my grandfather, who was a longtime family friend and lived in New Canaan. Together they had had a daughter, Gigi (my aunt), a filmmaker who also lives in Venice.

A painful but absorbing read, Alone Together is a fascinating whirl through a long-lost world. It is also a courageous testament from a lovely and loving step-grandmother.


Bill Gaston is a vice chairman of the Greenwich Democratic Town Committee, but the opinions expressed here are his own.

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