Intimate Portrait

Season 7 Episode 26

Estelle Getty

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Aired Monday 7:00 PM Jan 15, 2001 on Lifetime
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Estelle Getty
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Estelle Getty: Mother to Many Actress Estelle Getty gained fame by playing Sophia Petrillo on "The Golden Girls." The feisty daughter of Jewish immigrants and a theater lover from birth, she has played mom to many Hollywood actors — and to two real-life sons. Getty was bit by the show-business bug at a tender young age. The daughter of Jewish immigrants who settled in Manhattan, Getty saw her first vaudeville act at the age of four and was hooked. As a teenager, she auditioned for every play that came along. When she started working as a secretary, she would only take jobs with employers who would let her leave early so she could moonlight at theaters. After tying the knot with Arthur Gettleman (a man not intimidated by her quick wit), Getty settled down in Queens. She quickly became part of a tight-knit group of left-leaning activists, many of whom were blacklisted during the McCarthy era. Getty's two sons, Carl and Barry, later followed their mother's activist lead by protesting the war in Vietnam. In the early 1970s, after attending a play written by Harvey Fierstein, Getty approached the playwright and asked him to write a part for her. He came up with "Torch Song Trilogy," which became a smash Broadway hit and made Getty (who played the mother of an aging drag queen) the toast of the town. The actress joined the national tour of the play and was spotted by the producers of a new NBC show about three retired women living together, aka "The Golden Girls." They were so impressed with Getty that they invited her to audition. In 1985, Getty, then 61, nabbed the role of a lifetime: Sophia Petrillo, Dorothy's crochety mother. A guest appearance quickly turned into a regular gig, and for the next seven years, Getty gained fame and fortune along with the smash hit sitcom. After the show was canceled, Getty reprised her role on "Golden Palace" and "Empty Nest"; all in all, she embodied the role of Sophia for 10 years. In the spring of 2000, Getty announced publicly that she has Parkinson's disease, a reality that has forced this true "Golden Girl" to retire from the vocation she has loved since childhood.moreless

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