One of the great inside jokes of The Golden Girls was that, in real life, the mother was younger than the daughter. Estelle Getty, who played the snarky Sophia, was born in 1923; meanwhile her on-screen daughter Dorothy was portrayed by Bea Arthur – who had been born one year earlier, in 1922. Getty's small stature, combined with aging makeup and some fine acting, made us believe that she was a little old lady, much older than Arthur.
Estelle Getty in 1989 (Wikimedia Commons/Alan Light)
In the end, reality conformed to fiction: the mother died before the daughter. Four years ago, Estelle Getty passed away after a long struggle with Lewy body dementia. Today we're remembering a career that was crowned by Getty's ten-season turn (on three different series) as wise-cracking Sophia, and also included many other funny gigs.
Getty rose to fame, of course, with The Golden Girls. From 1985 to 1992, she played Sophia Petrillo, and for one more season, she reprised the role in spinoff The Golden Palace.
As The Golden Girls came to a close, Getty starred on the big screen opposite Sylvester Stallone in Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. The movie has been pretty much universally panned – it's got an abysmal 4% rating at RottenTomatoes.com, and Getty's performance won her the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actress. But it has its share of fans – especially among those who love campy early-'90s comedies (hey, we're out there).
From 1993 to 1995, Getty once again played Sophia on yet another Golden Girls spinoff – Empty Nest.
Getty worked in television, film and theatre during her long career. Before The Golden Girls, she even appeared on Broadway in the Tony-winning Torch Song Trilogy, originating the role of Mrs. Beckoff, the loud, outspoken, intolerant mother of Harvey Fierstein’s Arnold, But there's no getting around it – the loud, outspoken Ma we all remember is Sophia Petrillo. And we can't sign off without one more look at Getty’s great character – and without thanking Getty for being a friend.
Written by Linnea Crowther