Friday, April 23, 2021

Estelle Getty

"If there are two things in life you want to do and one of them is the other."
  -- Estelle Getty

Estelle Getty was born Estelle Scher in New York City on July 25, 1923.  Her parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland who settled on the Lower East Side, where her father operated an automobile glass business, fixing windshields in cars and trucks.

As a young girl, she spent her Friday nights with her family at the Academy of Music in lower Manhattan, which was home to the vaudeville stage and a movie house.  These performances inspired her into becoming an actress herself.

After graduating from high school, she took a job as a secretary while attending auditions at night.  She often found work in the New York theater district, but success and stardom were still years away.  

In 1947, she married Arthur Gettleman, from whom she would later adopt her stage name of Getty.  He went to work for her father in the glass business and continued running it for the next five decades.  They raised two boys together, while she continued taking theatrical roles.  Her big break however, didn't come until 1982, when she was cast in a Broadway production of Torch Song Trilogy, in a role that playwright Harvey Fierstein created just for her. 

The play was an overnight success and Getty earned widespread acclaim for her performance.  She continued in the role for the next three years, both on Broadway and off.  It was because of this role that she came to the attention of executives at Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions in Los Angeles, who were casting a new sit-com for the Fall 1985 season, one that featured four senior citizens sharing a condo in Miami.  That year, Getty was cast as Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls, the role that would define her career.

The series lasted for seven seasons and Getty proved to be the breakout star.  In 1988, she won an Emmy Award as Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.  The character proved so popular that NBC farmed her out to its other sit-coms, and Sophia found herself visiting the casts of Empty NestNurses and Blossom.  Sadly, she never visited that bar where everybody knows your name.

The series came to an end in 1992, when lead actress Bea Arthur opted to pursue other projects.  Rival network CBS convinced Getty, Rue McClanahan and Betty White to continue their roles in a series dubbed The Golden Palace.  It would only last for one season however, as it was obvious that the magic was gone.  The series is notable for introducing audiences to supporting actor Don Cheadle, who has since gone on to find great success at the box office.

When that series ended, Getty continued acting on television, guest starring on such series as The Nanny and Mad About You.  Her roles were often thinly veiled replicas of her Sophia character, which I'm sure delighted Golden Girls fans.  She also appeared in a few feature films, including Stuart Little and the Sylvester Stallone action comedy Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, for which she was honored with a Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actress.

By the early 2000s, Getty's health had started to decline, and according to her Golden Girls co-stars, she was no longer able to recognize them or hold conversations with them.  She was ultimately diagnosed with dementia, from which she passed away on July 22, 2008, just three days shy of her 85th birthday.

Estelle Getty was buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles.  Arthur passed in 2004 and was cremated.  The location of his ashes remains unknown.

A rare shot of this blogger.  Although you can't see it in the photo,
the grave of voice actor Mel Blanc is directly behind me.

Thank you for being our friend, Estelle.


  • Although she played Bea Arthur's mother on television, Getty was more than a year younger than her.  

  • Getty released a book of her wit and wisdom in 1988.  You can pick up a copy of If I Knew Then What I Know Now....So What from Amazon.

  • Getty released an exercise video for seniors in 1993.  You can watch Young at Heart: Body Conditioning with Estelle in its entirety on YouTube.  I highly recommend it.

  • Getty was politically active, once stating "the only time you'll see me as a democrat is when I play Sophia.  In the real world I'm a republican from head to toe."  She was especially active on the issue of AIDS, caring for her 29-year-old nephew as he died from the disease.  She later started a charity for AIDS research.

  • In September 1999, this blogger attended a taping of Wheel of Fortune at the Sony Pictures Studios in Los Angeles.  Sitting in the audience not too far away was Ms. Getty herself, who was introduced to the rest of us by announcer Charlie O'Donnell.  She explained that she was on the lot that day filming a movie and decided to stop by and see her favorite game show live and in person.

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