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. Getty got her start in the Yiddish theater and also as a comedian in the Catskills borscht belt resorts, and among her most notable stage roles was as Harvey Fierstein’s mother in Torch Song Trilogy during its original Broadway run. Getty is best known for her role as Sophia Petrillo on the popular 1980s sitcom The Golden Girls. 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. Getty won an Emmy Award in 1988 for Outstanding Supporting Actress. 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). She further capitalized on her success by releasing an exercise video for senior citizens in 1993.
Getty attended Seward Park High School in New York City. She was married to Arthur Gettleman (whose name she adapted into her stage name) from December 21, 1947 until his death in 2004. The couple had two sons: Carl Gettleman, who lives in California, and Barry Gettleman, who lives in Florida. 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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
- July, 25, 1923
- New York, New York
- July, 22, 2008
- Los Angeles, California
Cause of Death
- natural causes
- Hollywood Forever Cemetery
- Los Angeles, California