Certainly, she did. Her looks suited the tastes of the time: long, dark straight hair; accentuated, high cheekbones;
delicate arching eyebrows that seemed to have been drawn onto her flawless forehead above deep-set eyes that were
made to be ringed with kohl. And in the photograph that Vogue took on the roof of their Marrakech palace,
she looked comfortable enough lounging on what, it has to be said, looked like more than enough cushions. Her
adoring husband, wrapped in some sort of floral dressing gown and wearing sodium-tinted glasses, looked suitably
transfixed and not a little goofy in the background.
However, the defining image of the Gettys, also taken on this roof by aristocratic British photographer Lord
Lichfield, featured no cushions at all. Instead, it showed a crouching Talitha, one long, beautiful white-booted leg
extended, throwing open an embroidered cloak with a violet lining; one slender, ring-heavy hand gripping the
elaborately crenellated parapet; her wild-eyed gaze fixing the photographer’s lens. But the biggest transformation
was the husband, who had been changed, by the magic of a floor-length cowled Moroccan robe, from the awkward child
of a tyrannical billionaire into a figure of sinister brooding mystery.
It was not just the defining image of the couple but one of the emblematic images of the epoch. Like Lewis Morley’s
famous picture of a naked Christine Keeler astride an Arne Jacobsen-alike chair, or Peter Blake’s Sergeant
Pepper album cover, it was more than just an evocative and well-composed picture, it was the distilled essence
of a culture. It is an image that has gone on to inspire any number of derivative haute-bohemia magazine fashion
shoots. But even if it has become a cliché beloved of a generation of fashionistas, at the time the impact of the
couple – his wealth and her beauty – was explosive. The term ‘muse’ has become banal, but it is the only way to
describe her relationship with Yves Saint Laurent, who had also acquired a house in Marrakech in the late sixties.
“When I knew Talitha Getty,” Saint Laurent later said, “my vision completely changed.” According to Pierre Bergé,
Saint Laurent’s lover and business partner, Yves and Talitha shared “the same flair – the same perception of life,
more or less the same behaviour”. “It’s a decadence, a mix of Burne-Jones and Rossetti,” he said. “For these people
the rest of the world is square.”
Well, not quite the rest of the world. Talitha filled the house with the elite of Swinging London: Christopher Gibbs,
The Rolling Stones, Anita Pallenberg, Marianne Faithfull, Ossie Clark. And once they were there, they took drugs –
lots and lots of drugs. Too stoned and too rich, the Gettys delegated the management of the household to “a
marvellous secretary” who, according to a neighbour, “ran the house to perfection and with such precision, but at
the same time she’d also be there cutting up hash cake for us all”. As well as cushions, the near-limitless wealth
of the Gettys could buy oblivion: according to Keith Richards, Paul and Talitha Getty prided themselves on having
“the best and finest opium”.
The Stones had been introduced to Morocco by Gibbs, an aristocratic Old Etonian antiques dealer as dandified as he
was druggy, and who was said to have been the first man in London to wear flares. He stocked his Chelsea shop with
curios and carpets sourced in Tangier, and in the summer of 1966 he took a bickering Pallenberg and Brian Jones to
Morocco. This visit “affected Brian Jones more profoundly than anything since he had first heard Elmore James,” said
Stones biographer Philip Norman. “It was not just the hashish, jetted up through a hookah or smouldering in the bowl
of an intricately carved pipe. It was not just the clothes, caftans, djellabahs, cloaks and waistcoats, beaded with
glass or silver. In Morocco, Brian found a country whose daily life, both spiritual and secular, is indivisible from
And in the furore that followed the notorious Redlands drugs bust, it was to Morocco that the band headed to lie low
(not that they travelled incognito: Keith Moon decided he would make the trip in his sky-blue Bentley Continental,
along with Pallenberg, who had transferred her attentions to him). The car was equipped for the journey with “pop
art cushions, scarlet fur rugs and sex magazines”. These priceless details are bequeathed us by Beaton, the
inveterate socialite and diarist who was also in Marrakech at the time and bumped into the rock group. Beaton’s
diaries record a booze-sodden madcap couple of late nights, flamboyant clothes, hash cakes and kif pipes. He
finishes with the observation, “Gosh, they are a messy group. No good getting annoyed. One can only wonder as to
their future. If their talent isn’t undermined by drugs, etc. They are successful rebels, all power, but no sympathy
and none asked.” With the exception of poor old Brian Jones, Sir Cecil need not have worried, for almost 50 years
after that action-packed Moroccan holiday, The Rolling Stones show little sign of slowing down.
By contrast, the same cannot be said of hippydom’s golden couple, the Gettys. Looking at the familiar Lichfield
picture today, the young pair are preserved forever at the apogee of their psychedelic glamour. It is shocking to
think that within thirty months, heroin would have claimed that beautiful woman’s life and turned her bibliophile
husband into a recluse. The end of the Gettys’ marriage was as squalid as its beginnings had been glamorous. By 1971
their drug abuse had destroyed their love and he had initiated divorce proceedings. On July 10, Talitha flew to Rome
to try to discuss reconciliation; they ended up arguing until three o’clock the following morning. He awoke bleary
and befuddled around noon; she never opened her eyes again. Overnight, she had slipped into a coma. Heart failure
ensued. By the evening, she was dead.
Getty’s hermit existence was to last a decade and a half – it is said that his recovery from addiction and seclusion
was effected in great part by his love of cricket, a game to which he was introduced by none other than Sir Mick
Originally published in Issue 38 of The Rake.
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