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Estelle Getty

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Estelle Getty

Estelle Getty
Getty at the 41st Primetime Emmy Awards in 1989
Born Estelle Scher
(1923-07-25)July 25, 1923
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died July 22, 2008(2008-07-22) (aged 84)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Other names Estelle Shweet-Gettleman
Education Seward Park High School
Occupation Actress, comedian
Years active 1978–2000
Television The Golden Girls
The Golden Palace
Empty Nest
Religion Jewish
Spouse(s) Arthur Gettleman
(m. 1947–2004; his death)
Children Carl Gettleman
Barry Gettleman

Estelle Scher-Gettleman (July 25, 1923 – July 22, 2008),[1] better known by her stage name Estelle Getty, was an American actress, who appeared in film, television, and theatre. She was best known for her role as Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls from 1985 to 1992, which won her an Emmy and a Golden Globe, on The Golden Palace from 1992 to 1993 and on Empty Nest from 1993 to 1995. In her later years, after retiring from acting, she battled Lewy body dementia.[2]

Early life

Getty was born Estelle Scher in New York City, the daughter of Sarah and Charles Scher, Polish immigrants of the Jewish faith. They worked in the glass business. She had a sister, Roz, and a brother, David.[3] Getty got her start in the Yiddish theater and also as a comedian in the Catskills borscht belt resorts,[4] and among her most notable stage roles was as Harvey Fierstein's mother in Torch Song Trilogy during its original Broadway run.[5]


Getty is best known for her role as Sophia Petrillo on the popular 1980s sitcom The Golden Girls.[6] Her character was the wise-cracking Sicilian mother of Dorothy Zbornak, played by Bea Arthur, although Getty was in fact one year younger than Arthur.[7][8] Getty won an Emmy Award in 1988 for Outstanding Supporting Actress.[9]

During her time on The Golden Girls, Getty wrote an autobiography with Steve Delsohn entitled If I Knew Then, What I Know Now... So What? (Contemporary Books, 1988).[3] She further capitalized on her success by releasing an exercise video for senior citizens in 1993.[10]

Personal life

Getty attended Seward Park High School in New York City.[11]

She was married to Arthur Gettleman (whose name she adapted into her stage name) from December 21, 1947 until his death on September 10, 2004.[12] The couple had two sons: Carl Gettleman, who lives in California, and Barry Gettleman, who lives in Florida.[13]

In 1991, as later reported in Star magazine, Getty helped to nurse her 29-year-old nephew Steven Scher, who was near death and suffering from the final stages of AIDS.[14] Because Scher's parents lived in England and his friends were no longer able to care for him in Greensboro, North Carolina, Getty had him flown to California and admitted to hospice care. He died in January 1992. Getty was a supporter of gay rights.

In 2000, Getty stopped making public appearances after revealing she had Parkinson's disease and osteoporosis. In 2002, media reports claimed she was also suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Doctors later discovered she actually had Lewy body dementia; both the Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diagnoses were incorrect.[13] Cast members attempted to talk to her on the phone or in person but found that she couldn't remember them, or anything about the show. Bea Arthur said that even during production of the series, Getty had so much trouble remembering her lines that they should have known something was wrong from the beginning.[15][16]

In 2003, Lifetime television hosted a Golden Girls reunion. In 2008, the show was awarded the Pop Culture award at the Sixth Annual TV Land Awards. Getty did not participate in either project.

Getty died on July 22, 2008, just three days before her 85th birthday due to natural causes. She is buried and interred at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.


Emmy Awards

Getty at the 1988 Emmy Awards
  • 1986 – Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series – The Golden Girls – (Nominated)
  • 1987 – Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series – The Golden Girls – (Nominated)
  • 1988 – Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy SeriesThe Golden Girls – (Won)
  • 1989 – Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series – The Golden Girls – (Nominated)
  • 1990 – Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series – The Golden Girls – (Nominated)
  • 1991 – Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series – The Golden Girls – (Nominated)
  • 1992 – Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series – The Golden Girls – (Nominated)

Golden Globe Awards

  • 1985 – Actress in a Leading Role – Musical or Comedy Series – The Golden Girls – (Won)
  • 1986 – Actress in a Leading Role – Musical or Comedy Series – The Golden Girls – (Nominated)
  • 1991 – Actress in a Supporting Role – Series, Mini-Series or Television Movie – The Golden Girls – (Nominated)

Drama Desk Award

  • 1982 - Drama Desk Award Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play - Torch Song Trilogy – (Nominated)

Golden Raspberry Awards



Year Title Role Notes
1978 Team-Mates Teacher
1982 Tootsie Middle Aged Woman
1984 No Man's Land Eurol Miller Television movie
1985 Mask Evelyn
1985 Copacabana Bella Stern Television movie
1987 Mannequin Mrs. Claire Timkin
1992 Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot Mrs. Tutti Bomowski Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actress
1997 A Match Made in Heaven Betty Weston Television movie
1999 Stuart Little Estelle Little
2000 The Million Dollar Kid Sister Rosanne


Year Title Role Notes
1981 Nurse Sadie Mandler Episode: "Equal Opportunity"
1982 Baker's Dozen Mrs. Locasale Episode: "Dear John"
1984 Cagney & Lacey Mrs. Rosenmeyer Episode: "Baby Broker"
1984 Fantasy Island Money Lady Episode: "The Match Maker"
1984 Hotel Roberta Abrams Episode: "Intimate Strangers"
1985 Newhart Miriam the Librarian Episode: "What Makes Dick Run"
1985–1992 The Golden Girls Sophia Petrillo 180 episodes
American Comedy Award for Funniest Supporting Female in a Television Series (1991–92)
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (1986–87, 1989–92)
1987 Roomies Mama Episode: "Mid-Term Fever"
1990 City Helen Rutledge Episode: "Seems Like Old Times"
1990 The Earth Day Special Sophia Petrillo
1991 Blossom Sophia Petrillo Episode: "I Ain't Got No Body"
1992–1993 The Golden Palace Sophia Petrillo 24 episodes
1993 Nurses Sophia Petrillo Episode: "Temporary Setbacks"
1993–1995 Empty Nest Sophia Petrillo 52 episodes
1996 Touched by an Angel Dottie Episode: "The Sky Is Falling"
1996 Brotherly Love Myrna Burwell Episode: "Motherly Love"
1997 Mad About You Paul's aunt Episode: "The Birth – Part 1"
2000 Ladies Man Sophia Gates Episode: "Romance"
2001 It's Like, You Know... Estelle Getty Episode: "Lust for Life"

Live theatre


  1. ^ Hayward, Anthony (July 24, 2008). "'"Estelle Getty: Matriarch of 'The Golden Girls.  
  2. ^ Carlson, Michael (July 24, 2008). "Obituary: Estelle Getty".  
  3. ^ a b "Estelle Getty Biography (1923-)". Film Reference. Retrieved October 13, 2013. 
  4. ^ "Goodbye Golden Girl: Comic actress Estelle Getty dies at 84".  
  5. ^ Simonson, Robery (July 22, 2008). "Estelle Getty, Star of "Golden Girls," Dies at 84".  
  6. ^ Weber, Bruce (July 23, 2008). "Estelle Getty, 'Golden Girls' Matriarch, Dies at 84".  
  7. ^ Lansden, Pamela (March 31, 1986). "Estelle Getty Zings for Her Supper as Bea Arthur's Zap-Happy Mom on Golden Girls".  
  8. ^ Lawson, Sarah (November 19, 2012). "Great Moments in Age-Inappropriate Casting". The New York Times. Retrieved October 13, 2013. 
  9. ^ Bernstein, Adam (July 23, 2008). "Estelle Getty, 84; 'Golden Girl' Actress Won an Emmy Award".  
  10. ^ Glenn Haas, Jane (December 31, 1993). "Estelle Getty leads a workout for seniors".  
  11. ^ Luther, Claudia (July 23, 2008). "Estelle Getty, 84; 'Golden Girls' actress brought humor, depth to mother roles".  
  12. ^ Miller, Stephen (July 23, 2008). "Estelle Getty, 84, 'Golden Girl' Had Avant-Garde Career".  
  13. ^ a b "Frequently Asked Questions". Retrieved November 16, 2013. 
  14. ^ "Estelle Getty". Gay Globe Magazine Média TV. Retrieved November 16, 2013. 
  15. ^ "A 'Golden Girl's Tragic Battle with Dementia".  
  16. ^ Fonseca, Nicholas (April 24, 2009). Golden Girls': A 20th Anniversary Oral History"'".  
  17. ^ "Torch Song Trilogy".  

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