Thursday, July 22, 2010

Remembering... Estelle Getty

Television lost one of its brightest stars on this day in 2008 when Estelle Getty - who for seven seasons played Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls* - succumbed to natural causes at her Los Angeles home just three days before her 85th birthday. Getty had been battling Lewy body dementia.

PhotobucketAlthough it would seem that Getty was a late-comer to show business, she was in fact a seasoned stage veteran; she not only got her break in New York City's Yiddish theater but also trod the boards as a comedienne in the Catskills - the so-called Borscht Belt - before landing the role of Harvey Fierstein's mother on Broadway in the play Torch Song Trilogy - also opposite a very young Matthew Broderick.

Despite being one year younger than Beatrice Arthur, Getty submitted to being aged in order to play Sophia, which is the sort of precaution TV producers have taken ever since Irene Ryan agreed to be biddied up in order to play Granny on The Beverly Hillbillies; alas, similar precautions weren't taken with Marion Lorne, who died in 1968 during the run of Bewitched, thus depriving viewers of Aunt Clara's priceless loopiness for that show's final three seasons.

Getty won a Golden Globe in 1986 and an Emmy in 1988 for her portrayal of Sophia; she also won a Golden Raspberry Award in 1992 for her part - opposite Sylvester Stallone - in Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. My inclination, though, is to blame Stallone for that one; film fans may remember (but wish they didn't) that time he also tried to ruin Dolly Parton's career with Rhinestone in 1984.

So while Estelle Getty will be sorely missed, her verve, killer smile, and inherent humanity live on; to any of you jonesing for a Sophia fix having just read this may I suggest you check out The Lanai, on YouTube, and catch up on some of those great episodes of The Golden Girls you might have missed. Or, you know, really splash out and buy them on DVD.

*As well as one season on the spin-off The Golden Palace** and the occasional appearance on Empty Nest.
**Which featured an early appearance by Don Cheadle!
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