Picture it. Manhattan, 1923...
American actress in movies and television and on the stage. Best-known for her portrayal of cranky Sophia Petrillo on the 1985-92 sitcom The Golden Girls.
Getty was born Estelle Scher on July 25, 1923 in New York City. She was the daughter of Jewish immigrants who were active in the Yiddish cultural scene in Manhattan. Getty grew up going to see Vaudeville acts with her parents and started auditioning for Yiddish theater when she was barely in her teens.
When she left home, she kept up with the auditions, appearing in every play in which she could get a part -- she started working as a secretary but would only take jobs from which she could leave early to go perform.
She married Arthur Gettleman when she was in her 20s; they moved to Queens and had two sons. She kept playing in Yiddish theater, off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway, summer stock and Borscht Belt shows. Whatever it took to get up in front of an audience. She and her husband were left-leaning political activists during and after the Second World War, and hung out with several intellectuals and actors who were blacklisted during the McCarthy era.
Getty's big break came in 1971, when she was 48. She went to see a play by Harvey Fierstein and was so taken with his work that she asked him to write a part for her.
He wrote the Torch Song Trilogy, the wrenching tale of an aging drag queen, which was a massive critical and box-office hit, first off Broadway and then on, over nearly 10 years. Getty played the lead character's mother, both in New York and in the touring company.
That brought Getty, who had also had a few small movie parts (including as Cher's mother in Mask), to the attention of some NBC executives who were casting an unusual prime-time comedy about four older ladies sharing a house in Miami.
Getty did not immediately impress. She auditioned for one of the starring roles and was turned down for looking too young, but was given a guest spot as the mother of Dorothy Zbornak, played by Bea Arthur. Her character's schtick was that she'd suffered a small stroke that had removed the filter that intervened between her inner monologue and her mouth; anything she thought, however nasty, she said out loud.
Done up in a white wig and shapeless dress and affecting a hobble, the diminutive Getty was a hit and quickly landed a full role. At 61, she was less than a year older than Arthur, but played the role pretty convincingly. She won an Emmy and a Golden Globe in 1987.
After The Golden Girls was cancelled in 1992, Getty kept playing the role on its spinoff, Empty Nest and on an abortive attempt to reprise the series, a 1995 mess in which the girls opened a hotel, called Golden Palace. She also appeared in several medium-grade films, such as Stuart Little.
Late in her career, Getty found moderate fame and -- given The Golden Girls's success in syndication -- considerable fortune.
In 2000, she announced she had Parkinson's disease and retired from acting. She lived in Los Angeles for many years, with her husband and live-in help, and died July 22, 2008.