Before there was Golden Girls, Estelle Getty needed auditions. Although she was well into middle-age, Getty had yet to enjoy a career breakout, so she paid the bills by working as a secretary.
And since she was a secretary, her time was structured. She needed to be behind a desk, answering the phone, taking dictation or filing.
When could she audition? On her lunch break. Problem was, since audition times were fluid, so was her so-called lunch break.
In a 1990 interview, Getty recalled what her bosses, pre-Golden Girls, used to tell her. One such job was for Snap-Out Forms. The office manager there had no idea that this older woman was trying to be an actress.
“The first day I came to work, I had an audition, ” Getty recalled. “And I said, ‘Can I go for my lunch at 10 o’clock?’ The next day I had to go someplace else. I said. ‘Can I take my lunch at 2:30?’ The next day I asked if I could take lunch at 11 o’clock.
“The office manager said, ‘You have the strangest eating habits of any secretary we’ve ever had.’ ”
But how many businesses can claim that the future Sophia Petrillo worked for them? It took Getty decades to get there, but she became a star on Golden Girls, the beloved series that ran on NBC from 1985-92.
Getty was 59 when she earned a role in the Broadway sensation Torch Song Trilogy. Then because of that role, Getty was cast as Sophia on the Golden Girls. She was 63.
Getty would don a wig and go through more than an hour of makeup each day to emerge as Sophia, Dorothy’s 80-something mother. Sophia had no filter. She said whatever popped into her mind. She was loving, cantankerous, caustic and pragmatic.
Fans of the Golden Girls loved Estelle Getty as Sophia. So did the critics. Getty earned seven Emmy nominations for Best Supporting Actress, winning it in 1988.
Estelle Getty Battled Anxiety on The Golden Girls
Getty did have issues on the Golden Girls. She suffered from anxiety.
Rue McClanahan, who played Blanche, the show’s Southern belle, said of Getty:
“She had an awful time remembering her lines because she would freeze and panic. The day before tape day, you could see a big difference in her. She’d be walking around like Pig-Pen under a black cloud. By tape day, she was unreachable.”
And as for those strange eating habits — Getty, as Sophia, loved to cook food from Sicily for daughter and roommates. Plus, the Golden Girls introduced a whole generation of television fans to late-night comfort eating.