It Seems Like Yesterday

It was a beautiful summer’s night. Some people were still dancing at dawn. The scene here was right out of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

That evening, Minnesota-born J. Paul Getty was hosting a lavish house-warming party, as he had recently moved to England. His new home in Guildford, Surrey, appropriately named Sutton Place, was formerly the home of the Duke of Sutherland

As the press was not invited to the party, and the competition among the nine London daily newspapers was fierce, the reporter with whom I worked quite often and who was known for his outrageous antics, Jeremy Banks, rented a limousine. We donned evening dress and flipped a coin to see who would be the limousine driver and who would be the supposed guest. When I won the toss, Jeremy threw a tantrum. We had a big row, Jeremy screaming and shouting that he would make a better guest than I would, as he had gone to several posh boys’ schools, but I held firm, and Jeremy donned a chauffeur’s cap. He failed to mention during his tirade that he had been asked to leave more schools than he had mentioned.

J. Paul Getty dancing with a guest during a party at his Sutton Place home on June 30, 1960. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

We drove in early with the orchestra, and I immediately went up to Mr. Getty and said something like, “Good evening, Mr. Getty. What a lovely party.” He was a good sport and smiled, as I am sure he knew I wasn’t invited. I remember seeing David Steen, a Daily Mail photographer, being thrown into the pool that night with all his equipment—so I stayed away from the swimming pool.

Inside the house, I did see the legendary public telephone coin box on the wall, so I could confirm that it was not a rumor.

Years later I again photographed Mr. Getty at his home in Surrey and reminded him that I had gate-crashed his party. He smiled and just nodded. The last thing he laughingly said to me when I left that day in 1974 was, “I’m planning another party, and you’re invited to this one.”