I started describing some style as Talitha-Gettyish before I had a real grasp of what that phrase really meant. I was just describing long haired women who hung out on balconies in Morocco (or any geography featuring tiles) and wore flowing caftan type gowns. To be fair, I used Oona-Chaplinish the same way when referring to women who wore gloves and skirt suits. But I think I had something going with that Talitha Getty wording. After all, Yves St. Laurent said:
“I knew the generation of the 60s: Talitha and Paul Getty lying under a roof of stars in Marrakesh, beautiful and damned, and a whole generation assembled as if for eternity where the curtain of the past seemed to rise on an extraordinary future.”
See? See? Curtains? Like billowing white robes?
So, basically, I was completely correct in my description, and doubtless am about Oona Chaplin, too.
I had always assumed that Talitha was some heir to the Getty fortune who had gone bohemian when, no, that was not the case. She did not begin life as a major fashion symbol who was always swanning around with Yves St. Laurent. Talitha Pol was born in Java in 1940. She spent the first four years of her life in a Japanese prison camp. After the war, her father, who was a painter, and her mother went their separate ways. Talitha moved with her mother to London in 1945. Her mother died three years later, which friends say left her with something of a wounded quality.
Then she immediately had sex with Mick Jagger.
No, that’s not actually true, she had sex with the dancer Rudolf Nureyev first. And that is all I have about her early years, fascinating though they must have been. Then in the mid 1960s, everyone in London simultaneously decided that she was extraordinarily beautiful. They were correct:
According to Woodrow Lyle Wyatt, Antony Lambton, 6th Earl of Durham, was totally besotted with her. He recalled, “There was Talitha Pol who was very pretty and had a little starlet job in Yugoslavia; and he [Antony] went and stayed at the hotel and sent her huge bunches of flowers about every two hours and showered her with presents.”
Antony and Talitha didn’t end up together, but I’m sure she liked the flowers.
Nureyev told friends that, after he met her at a party in 1964, he had “never felt so erotically stirred by a woman.” He was often said to be a homosexual, so that was surprising. But I guess she was that beautiful.
Weirdly, it was through her relationship with Nureyev that she met her husband! Little known fact, but before OkCupid, relationships were how everyone met their husbands. Nureyev was invited to a party given by Claus von Bulow, who later maybe tried to murder his wife, Sunny von Bulow. But that is a whole other story, one called Reversal of Fortune.
At the last minute Nureyev was unable to attend the party, although Talitha was already on her way. So Claus seated her next to his business partner, John Paul Getty. He was heir to one of the largest oil fortunes in the world and, at this time in his life, described as “a swinging playboy who drove fast cars, drank heavily, experimented with drugs and squired raunchy starlets”. Talitha’s romance with him seemed to allow her entree into all of fashionable society.
Tatler described Talitha as the “It Girl of 1965”. Think of her as an earlier, English, longer-haired version of Edie Sedgwick. Shortly after marrying in 1966, the Gettys decided to divide their time between London, Rome and Marrakesh. Their place in Marrakesh became known as their pleasure palace and if you were a remotely cool jet setter, you went there. And remember those were in the days when it was still uncommon to have ridden in a plane, let alone own one.
Or you could take a train!
The Rolling Stones came to visit the couple at their Moorish castle and later recalled in their memoirs, “We would climb up on the roof where we could see the snowy mountains above and the gardens below, full of palm trees, squawking birds and fish in tanks. A lot of music was played, and musicians brought in from the Djemaah El-Fna, the great un-square square full of sounds and stories.”
Meanwhile, Yves St. Laurent said that as soon as he met Talitha, his entire outlook on style changed.
To be fair, her outlook on style had changed as well. She was no longer a mod young Londoner who had married in a white mini skirt trimmed with mink. After moving to Morocco she adopted a more flowing wardrobe, with a lot of robes, caftans, djellabas and wraps. It worked for her. Vogue Editor Diana Vreeland claimed that she was THE style icon during those years, and profiled her:
“A welcoming, fantastical, joyous life, at once sensible and sybaritic . . . Mrs. Getty prowls the marketplace, bringing back delights for the house and table. Best she brings back entertainers—dancers, acrobats, storytellers, geomancers and magicians. A day that began with a picnic on a great flat rock near a waterfall in the Atlas Mountains may end with a dinner for a houseful of young Moroccan and European friends by the light of candles, among roses wound with mint. While Salome is playing in the background, snake charmers charm and tea boys dance, balancing on their feet trays freighted with mint tea and burning candles.”
God, I bet Paula Deen would have loved tea boys.
I think in addition to the tea, it’s worth mentioning that they were doing a lot of drugs. Tons. Keith Richards claimed that Talitha Getty had “the best and finest opium.”
Keith Richards. A man who presumably knew his opium.
At least the Rolling Stones could kind of hold it together when they were at the Getty’s. John Hopkins wrote in 1968:
Last night Paul and Talitha Getty threw a New Year’s Eve party at their palace in the medina. Paul McCartney and John Lennon were there, flat on their backs. They couldn’t get off the floor let alone talk. I’ve never seen so many people out of control.
Okay, everyone was doing a lot of drugs in the 1960s, at least everyone who was a cool jet setter, but if you have called your home a “pleasure palace” then you’re really setting it up for a ton of drug use. Apparently, too much. It’s rumored that in the iconic shot by Patrick Lichfield of Talitha crouched in a multi-colored caftan and white harem pants, she actually couldn’t stand up, because she was on a lot of drugs.
John Paul was, incidentally, no better. Supposedly at one point he consumed a bottle of rum and a gram of high-grade heroin a day.
I do not know anything about heroin, but I imagine that’s a lot? At least it’s a lot of rum.
Certain members of the jet set began to overdose, and in 1968 the Gettys decided to forsake the pleasure palace for a life of spiritual enlightenment.
The couple traveled to Bali and then Indonesia. They went shark diving – which doesn’t really strike me as spiritual enlightenment, so much as something that would be advertised on the Discovery Channel. (Jesus Christ, imagine if Paris Hilton or whoever our wealthy style icon of the moment is went shark diving).
They also had a child in 1968, whom Talitha named Tara Gabriel Gramophone Galaxy Getty. If you are thinking, “Well, I know a girl named Tara” I should point out it was a male child and also, that its middle name was Gramophone.
Probably Talitha had not completely given up drugs. I don’t know. I guess that’s speculative. She could have just liked weird names. I mean, Heloise and Abelard named their kid Astrolabe, and no one judges them, except everyone, ever, who reads a biography of Heloise and Abelard and says, “Astrolabe is a weird name”.
Sadly, by 1971, in large part due to their lifestyle choices, the Getty’s marriage had begun to deteriorate. In July Talitha went from her London apartment to visit John Paul in Rome. There, she supposedly took a massive overdose of heroin. She was found on “black and white marble floors” among pieces of “Balinese furniture” which I guess are the kind of details a woman who lived for style would want remembered about her death.
Her husband was terrified that he was going to be charged with her murder and fled Rome. Though later found not guilty of any negligence, he never returned to Rome.
John Paul fell into a reclusive depression following Talitha’s death. Despite being one of the richest men in the world, he installed a payphone at his home and guests were required to pay whenever they needed to make calls from his house. Perhaps having seen the result of his hospitality in the past, he was determined to be less accommodating to people in the future. Mick Jagger supposedly helped him return to the world by . . . seriously . . . helping him develop a passion for cricket. Still, when talking about Talitha’s death in 1985 he said, “The pain does not evaporate.”
Talitha may have died early – she was only 30 – but she lived beautifully. Diane von Furstenberg, perhaps drawing a page from Yves St. Laurent, said that Talitha was “a very bright creature who wanted to dance under the stars—and danced too fast.”
If you are perhaps wondering about Tara – I think he sounds like the happiest of the Getty bunch. He lived quietly, went to agricultural college and became an ecological conservationist in Africa. He met a woman named Jessica, the daughter of someone who worked on one of his family’s yachts, and the two married. They have a son named Orlando Willem Pol, after Talitha’s maiden name, and a daughter named Talitha.
Which all sounds very nice.They will never dance in Marrakesh with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones but, I suppose you make trade offs. Either way, you can wear a great caftan. Caftans are for everybody.