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Estelle Getty played Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls, and was one of television’s most popular comedic actresses of the 1980s.
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For decades, Estelle Getty performed in Yiddish theaters, off Broadway shows, and touring productions. In the 1980s, she had a career breakthrough in Torch Song Trilogy. She also made a few TV guest appearances on such shows as Cagney & Lacey and Newhart. In 1995 she was in the film Mask. That same year, she took a role on The Golden Girls. She retired from acting in 2000 for health reasons.
Actress. Born Estelle Scher on July 25, 1923, in New York, New York. As the sarcastic, crabby scene stealer Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls, Estelle Getty became one of television's most popular comedic actresses of the 1980s. Growing up New York City's Lower East Side, she first dreamed of becoming an actress as a child.
While working as a waitress in the Catskills, Getty tried her hand at stand-up comedy but found the audiences unreceptive to a female comic. She later took a job as a secretary while trying to find work as an actor. In 1947, Getty married Arthur Gettleman, and they had two sons, Barry and Carl. She took a few years off to be with her children before resuming her passion for acting.
For decades, Getty performed in Yiddish theaters, off Broadway shows, and touring productions. In the 1980s, she had a career breakthrough playing a Jewish mother with traditional values who learns that her son played by Harvey Fierstein in Torch Song Trilogy, which he also wrote. Her performance earned her a Drama Desk Award nomination in 1982. Around this time, Getty also made a few television guest appearances on such shows as Cagney & Lacey, Hotel, and Newhart.
Again taking a maternal part, Getty played Cher's mother in the drama Mask (1985), one of her first substantial film roles. That same year, she took the country by storm as the small and sassy Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls. In the show, she played Bea Arthur's mother, even though they were very close in age. Getty wore a wig and learned to carry herself as an older person. She was so convincing that people were often shocked to learn that she was really in her sixties, not her eighties.
Also co-starring Betty White and Rue McClannan, The Golden Girls broke new comedic ground, proving that audiences would tune in to see a show about mature women. All of the lead actresses were skilled performers with excellent comedic timing, but Getty often got the biggest laugh with her character's sharp dialogue. Sophia Petrillo was such a hit that the character even appeared on other shows, such as Blossom and Empty Nest. For her portrayal of Sophia, Getty was nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series seven times and won it once in 1988.
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