Icons for the New Year: Estelle Getty

Actress and comedian Estelle Getty (1923 – 2008) in 1985.

When actors make it big later in life, they usually have a long history of smaller roles and near misses to back up their rise to fame. There’s no such thing as an overnight success, and so on. Estelle Getty’s journey to her star-making role in The Golden Girls was really just that—an overnight transformation—though it may not have felt that way for Getty.

After trying and failing to make it as a comedian in the Catskills, she married at 24, had two sons, and became a secretary. She did Community Theater with other mothers, restricting her dreams of acting to the occasional local production. Her fate changed unexpectedly when she befriended Harvey Fierstein, who recognized her talent and cast her in his Broadway show, Torch Song Trilogy. At her Broadway debut, Getty was already in her 50s.

The West Coast run of Torch Song Trilogy brought Getty to L.A. in 1985, and it was there that she auditioned for The Golden Girls. She was the last member of the ensemble to be cast. Getty would win great acclaim and a devoted audience as the snarky, hilarious octogenarian Sophia.

In the span of a few short years, Getty went from secretary to Emmy winner. Maybe she achieved her lifelong dream because she had kept her love of theater alive while raising children and keeping up her household, or maybe it happened solely because of sheer good luck and a chance encounter with Fierstein. Either way, it must have taken an open heart and mind to jump into a major role on Broadway with little professional experience, and in middle age.

Getty’s story is a paean to taking chances and keeping hope alive, even when life seems ordinary and static. When we find ourselves facing new opportunities and unexpected choices, we’d do well to remember Estelle Getty’s bravery and belief in herself. At a stage when women are told to start disappearing, she not only transformed her own life but created a character that would become iconic to outspoken, gutsy women everywhere.

Topics: Television
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How to cite this page

Metal, Tara. "Icons for the New Year: Estelle Getty." 18 September 2015. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 4, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/icons-for-new-year-estelle-getty>.

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