Estelle Getty

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Estelle Getty
EstelleGetty2.jpg EstelleGetty2.jpg
Getty at the 41st Primetime Emmy Awards (1989)
BornEstelle Scher
July 25, 1923
New York City, U.S.
💀DiedJuly 22, 2008(2008-07-22) (aged 84)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.July 22, 2008(2008-07-22) (aged 84)
Resting placeHollywood Forever Cemetery
🏳️ NationalityAmerican
💼 Occupation
📆 Years active  1978–2001
Notable workThe Golden Girls
The Golden Palace
Empty Nest
👩 Spouse(s)
Arthur Gettleman
(m. 1947; died 2004)
👶 Children2

Estelle Gettleman (née Scher; July 25, 1923 – July 22, 2008), known professionally as Estelle Getty, was an American actress and comedian. She was known for her portrayal of the sarcastic and quick-witted senior citizen Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls (1985 – 1992), a role she reprised for appearances on Empty Nest (1993 – 1995), The Golden Palace (1992 – 1993), Blossom (1990–1995), and Nurses (1991 – 1994).[1] Other notable films in which she appeared include Mask (1985), a semi-biographical film in which she played the grandmother of Roy L. Dennis, and Stuart Little (1999). She retired from acting in the early 2000s, due to issues with her health.[2][3]

Early life[edit]

Getty was born Estelle Scher on July 25, 1923, to Sarah (née Lacher; 1896 – 1975) and Charles Scher (c. 1895), Jewish immigrants from Poland, at the family's apartment at 257 2nd Street in the Lower East Side, which also served as the storefront for the family's glass business.[4] She had a sister, Rosilyn "Roz" Scher Howard (c. 1921), and a brother, Samuel "David" Scher (c. 1925).[5][6][7] As a child, she was known as Etty, a nickname that stemmed from her sister's inability to pronounce "Estelle" correctly and stuck with her throughout her life.[8] Her father owned and operated his own business, installing glass windows into automobiles and trucks, and her mother was a homemaker.[9] As a weekly treat, every Friday night, her father would take her and the rest of their family to the Academy of Music on 14th Street to watch a film and a live vaudeville performance and, it was while watching those performances that Getty decided she wanted to become an actor.[8] After graduating from Seward Park High School, she continued to live at home with her parents, her father doubtful she would be able to forge a successful career in acting, and worked as a secretary, as the hours allowed for her attend auditions in the late afternoon and evening while having an income.[10][11]


For years, Getty won roles in the New York theater circuit, while simultaneously holding a job and raising her two sons, but struggled to find notoriety for her talent. Finally, in 1982, nearing 60 years old, she found her breakthrough role as Mrs. Beckoff in the Broadway production Torch Song Trilogy, a character that playwright Harvey Fierstein had created specifically with her mind.[12][13] She received widespread praise for her appearance in the play, and went onto reprise the role in both Broadway and off-Broadway productions for four years. In 1985, the role heavily influenced Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions to cast Getty for the role of Sophia Petrillo on NBC's new sitcom The Golden Girls. Getty relied on wigs, clothing, and heavy makeup to age herself in order to look the part of a mother in her eighties. In reality, she was a year younger than her television daughter, Bea Arthur, who played the long-suffering Dorothy Zbornak.[14][15] In 1988, Getty won her most notable award, the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, for her work on the show.[16] The Golden Girls ended in 1992 after seven seasons (six of the seven seasons in the top ten of the Nielsen ratings) due to Arthur wishing to explore new projects. That fall, Getty, McClanahan, and White starred in the show's spin-off, The Golden Palace, for one season before it's cancellation. Getty then went on by herself to appear in Empty Nest, Nurses, Blossom, Touched by an Angel, Mad About You and The Nanny. Some other television and film appearances prior to and during the filming of The Golden Girls included: Fantasy Island, Cagney & Lacey, Tootsie, Mask, and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.

During her time on The Golden Girls, Getty, she wrote her autobiography entitled If I Knew Then, What I Know Now... So What?, with the help of Steve Delsohn, published by Contemporary Books in 1988.[5] She also released an exercise video for senior citizens in 1993.[17]

Personal life[edit]


Getty was introduced to Arthur Gettleman, whose last name she used as the basis for her stage name, at a party by her friends from the New York theater circuit and the two married nine months later, on December 21, 1947. They had two children together, sons Carl Gettleman and Barry Gettleman, and remained married until his death on September 24, 2004, at the age of 85.[18] After they wed, the two lived in the Bronx for a time, and, after the births of their two sons, moved to Queens, living in a liberal-minded cooperative built for Jewish veterans of World War II called Bell Park Gardens, while Arthur worked with his father-in-law in glass installation. The two lived separately for some time in the mid-80s to mid-90s, as Getty moved to California in order to work on The Golden Girls, and Arthur had no desire to leave New York, and continued to work in the family's glass business.

HIV/AIDS activism[edit]

Getty was said by friends, Harvey Fierstein and Rosie O'Donnell, both notable members of the LGBT community, to have been heavily involved in HIV/AIDS activism and that she'd lost close friends and family to the disease, among them her nephew, Steven Scher (1962 – 1991), whom she cared for after he was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, and her Torch Song Trilogy co-star, Court Miller (1952 – 1986).[19] She later helped to open a hospice for AIDS patients in Greensboro, North Carolina, her nephew's hometown, in 1996, called Beacon Place, which was still in operation as of 2019.[20]

Health and death[edit]

Getty died on July 22, 2008, just three days shy of her 85th birthday, at her home in Los Angeles County, California, the result of Dementia with Lewy bodies, according to family, and was buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery, her headstone inscribed with the words "With Love and Laughter" and a Star of David to indicate her Jewish heritage.[21][22] Bea Arthur, Betty White, and Rue McClanahan, her co-stars from The Golden Girls were saddened by her loss and, in an interview, said that her disease had progressed to the point that she was not able to hold conversations with them or recognize them.[3] She had reportedly started to show signs of the dementia during the filming of the television series, when, despite more than three decades of theater work, she began to struggle to remember her lines and, in later seasons of the show, had to rely on cue cards.[23] Getty suffered from osteoporosis, and was also thought to have Parkinson's disease. This diagnosis was ultimately changed to Dementia with Lewy bodies.[24]

According to her former co-star Betty White, she had undergone a face lift sometime during the hiatus between the end of filming season one of The Golden Girls and the beginning of filming season two and that Getty has a strong fear of death, to the point that she avoided making jokes about death whenever possible, and was uncomfortable when the show brought up the subject.[25]



Year Title Role Notes
1978 Team-Mates Teacher
1982 Tootsie Middle Aged Woman
1983 Deadly Force Gussie
1984 No Man's Land Eurol Miller TV movie
1984 Victims for Victims: The Theresa Saldana Story TV movie
1985 Mask Evelyn
1985 Copacabana Bella Stern TV 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 TV movie
1999 The Sissy Duckling Mrs. Hennypecker Voice, TV movie
1999 Stuart Little Grandma Estelle
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 Fantasy Island Money Lady Episode: "The Match Maker"
1984 Cagney & Lacey Mrs. Rosenmeyer Episode: "Baby Broker"
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 ComedyPrimetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy SeriesNominated—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 TV special
1991 The Fanelli Boys Dr. Newman Episode: "Doctor, Doctor""
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 Ida Episode: "The Birth: Part 1"
1997 Duckman Aunt Jane Voice, Episode: "Westward, No!"
1998 The Nanny Herself Episode: "Making Whoopi"
2000 Ladies Man Sophia Gates Episode: "Romance"
2001 Intimate Portrait Herself Episode: "Estelle Getty"
2001 It's Like, You Know... Herself Episode: "Lust for Life", (final appearance)

Live theatre[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1982 Torch Song Trilogy Mrs. Beckoff [26]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Emmy Awards[edit]

  • 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 Series – The 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[edit]

  • 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[edit]

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

Helen Hayes Awards[edit]

  • 1985 – Helen Hayes Award Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Touring Production – Torch Song Trilogy – (Won)


  1. "Estelle Getty: Matriarch of 'The Golden Girls'". The Independent. 2008-07-24. Retrieved 2019-09-30.
  2. Carlson, Michael (July 24, 2008). "Obituary: Estelle Getty". The Guardian. Retrieved October 13, 2013.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Estelle Getty of 'Golden Girls' Dies at 84, retrieved 2019-09-30
  4. "Charles Scher in the 1940 Census | Ancestry®". Retrieved 2019-10-21.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Estelle Getty Biography (1923-)". Film Reference. Retrieved October 13, 2013.
  6. "ESTELLE GETTY OBITUARY". 2008. Retrieved Sep 30, 2019. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  7. "United States Census, 1940," database with images, FamilySearch( : 28 July 2019), Estelle Scher in household of Charles Scher, Assembly District 6, Manhattan, New York City, New York, New York, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 31-517, sheet 61A, line 32, family 203, Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, NARA digital publication T627. Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790 - 2007, RG 29. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012, roll 2635.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Intimate Portrait, "Estelle Getty" (aired 15 January 2001)
  9. 1930 United States Federal Census
  10. "Estelle Getty, 84; 'Golden Girls' actress brought humor, depth to mother roles". Los Angeles Times. 2008-07-23. Retrieved 2019-09-30.
  11. "Goodbye Golden Girl: Comic actress Estelle Getty dies at 84". Haaretz. July 23, 2008. Retrieved October 13, 2013.
  12. Gussow, Mel (November 1, 1981). "Theatre Review: Fierstein's 'Torch Song'". The New York Times. Retrieved June 24, 2008.
  13. Simonson, Robery (July 22, 2008). "Estelle Getty, Star of "Golden Girls," Dies at 84". Playbill. Archived from the original on October 13, 2013. Retrieved October 13, 2013. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  14. Lansden, Pamela (March 31, 1986). "Estelle Getty Zings for Her Supper as Bea Arthur's Zap-Happy Mom on Golden Girls". People. Retrieved October 13, 2013.
  15. Lawson, Sarah (November 19, 2012). "Great Moments in Age-Inappropriate Casting". The New York Times. Retrieved October 13, 2013.
  16. Bernstein, Adam (July 23, 2008). "Estelle Getty, 84; 'Golden Girl' Actress Won an Emmy Award". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 13, 2013.
  17. Glenn Haas, Jane (December 31, 1993). "Estelle Getty leads a workout for seniors". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved October 13, 2013.
  18. "Arthur Gettleman Obituary". Miami Herald. September 27, 2004. Retrieved September 30, 2019. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  19. Collins, Glenn (1987-04-05). "In 'Safe Sex,' Harvey Fierstein Turns Serious". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-10-02.
  20. Writer, PATRICK NINNEMAN Staff. "TRIAD HOSPICE FOR AIDS PATIENTS OPENS". Greensboro News and Record. Retrieved 2019-09-30.
  21. Estelle Getty of 'Golden Girls' Dies at 84, YouTube, retrieved 2019-09-30
  22. Weber, Bruce (2008-07-23). "Estelle Getty, 'Golden Girls' Matriarch, Dies at 84". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-09-30.
  23. Nolasco, Stephanie (2017-11-08). "Bea Arthur's son says she 'wasn't really close to anybody' despite 'Golden Girls' fame". Fox News. Retrieved 2019-09-30.
  24. [1][dead link]
  25. "Betty White: Bea Arthur was not fond of me". YouTube. Retrieved 2019-10-01.
  26. "Torch Song Trilogy". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved October 14, 2013.