‘Golden Girls’: Why Estelle Getty Said She Played ‘Mother to Everyone Except Atilla the Hun’

by Keeli Parkey
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Being viewed as an actor who can only play one type of role often happens to actors. That was the case for at least one actress on the classic sitcom “The Golden Girls.”

That actress was Estelle Getty. She famously played the small – but sassy – Sophia Petrillo. Sophia was the biological mother to actress Bea Arthur’s character Dorothy Zbornak. Sophia was also an adopted mother to the two other “Golden Girls.” They were Blanche Devereaux, played by Rue McClanahan. And, Rose Nylund, played by Betty White.

However, long before she played the tough love sharing Sophia Petrillo, Getty played many other motherly roles, according to The New York Times. The article was published shortly after Getty’s death. She passed away on July 22, 2008.

Estelle Getty of ‘The Golden Girls’ Spent Early Career Acting on the Stage

According to the publication’s reporting, before she was cast on “The Golden Girls,” Getty had spent most of her career acting on the stage. And, many of the roles she played were mothers.

In one 1981 production, the very first line Getty said on stage was “I am the mother.” This play was “Torch Song Trilogy” and it was written by Harvey Fierstein.

According to The New York Times, Getty was very aware of the fact that she was often cast to play motherly roles. She reportedly talked about it in her autobiography, which was titled “If I Knew Then What I Know Now … So What?”

In it, she wrote: “I’ve played mothers to heroes and mothers to zeroes. I’ve played Irish mothers, Jewish mothers, Italian mothers, Southern mothers, mothers in plays by Neil Simon and Arthur Miller, and Tennessee Williams. I’ve played mother to everyone but Attila the Hun.”

Simon, Miller, and Williams are three of the most respected playwrights of the past century. So, playing mothers in their works was something to be proud of. She also played the mother of Cher’s character in the movie, “Mask.”

Getty also starred as the mother to Sylvester Stallone’s character in the movie, “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.”

Sophia Petrillo Remains a Fan Favorite on Classic Sitcom

It is her portrayal of Sophia Petrillo that most people will always think of when they think of Estelle Getty. Thanks to her great advice and doses of tough love, she’s the mother we have all needed at one point in our lives. And, most fans of “The Golden Girls” will have learned something from her stories. And, we got some good laughs out of them.

The stories usually began with “Picture it, Sicily …” They were often used as a way to impart some wisdom to Dorothy, Blanche, or Rose. Or, all three of them at once.

According to The New York Times, Getty was born to parents who immigrated to the United States from Poland. Her birth date was July 25, 1923, in Manhattan. Her given name was Estelle Scher. She did not have a middle name. She reportedly chose her stage name based on her husband Arthur Gettleman’s last name.

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