This is Not A Photo Of Young Estelle Getty
If you’ve decided to read this article, it’s possible that you are a fellow Golden Girls fan who has been tricked into thinking that the photo above is of Estelle Getty, AKA Sophia Petrillo in the iconic 1980s sitcom. And I for so many years thought the same thing as well. But it in fact is not a photo of her. I know you Old Hollywood buffs are probably chuckling at me and everyone else who was fooled, but I ask that you follow along on this journey of how I came to the realization that I had been mislead all this time.
How did so many of us get duped? Well, we often trust Google as well as major fans of the show to do their research and provide us with correct information. And when you Google “young Estelle Getty,” this is what you see as of 10/23/2018.
The 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 8th photo are all of the same sultry young woman shown previously. Even when you Google “Estelle Getty” alone, the following are the results as of 10/23/2018
We again see a photo of the same woman. She even appears in the top right corner under the “Sophia” tag.
And every year on social media, countless fans share photos of the four Golden Girls in their youth like the following one I have recently discovered.
Before we get deeper into the Estelle photo situation, let’s look over some old photos of our other favorite girls.
Bea Arthur, who played the wise-cracking substitute teacher with a heart of gold buried underneath her stern exterior and infamous pant-suits we know as Dorothy Zbornak, had a long-lasting acting career. After serving in the Marines as a typist and truck driver, and working off-Broadway, Bea Arthur first appeared on screen 1951 at the age of 29. And all that theater training paid off when she landed the titular role in the All In The Family spin-off, Maude. The fact that she had headshots at a young age makes complete sense.
Betty White who played the well-meaning, “terminally naive” Minnesota native Rose Nylund, technically began her television and modeling career at the tender age of 17. And of course, we all know her from her infamous role as Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore show. It also makes sense for her to have so many glamor shots taken of her at a young age.
Rue McClanahan, who played the man-loving, confident and impulsive Blanche Devereaux, also had her acting debut at the age of 17 when she played the role of Mrs. Braylee in the television show Love of Life. Ever since the age of 27, she regularly received roles until 2009, the year before she passed away. It again, is clear why there would be so many glamorous photographs of her in her youth.
THE “MYSTERY” WOMAN
But when it came to Estelle, there wasn’t a whole lot of reason for her to have as many glamorous photographs from her youth as Google Images made it seem. She may have gotten her start as a theater actress and comedienne at a young age, but according to IMDB, Estelle did not officially begin her on-screen career until the age of 55, when she played a teacher in the 1978 film Team-Mates. And I found no information about a former career as a model, dancer or burlesque performer, as I assumed those are careers other than acting that would warrant photos of the particular nature.
In fact, although I was technically tricked for years, I always looked at the photo of the young version of her in the memes and in Google images, and felt that her spirit wasn’t there. I saw the spirit of a different woman entirely. And while the chin and nose had some similarities, there was something in her eyes that wasn’t quite right. I think I convinced myself over time that perhaps it was the makeup, aging or maybe some work done that had changed her features so drastically. Because when I see photos of Bea, Betty and Rue, I see the eyes and faces of the women who have brought joy into my home and life for years and years through their comedy and spirits.
But just yesterday, I was watching a YouTube video that was criticizing media marketing during the Old Hollywood era. And one criticism was that when the media wanted to start a narrative about an upcoming actress, they’d take one trait they discovered about them through word of mouth, and print it in every publication until the whole country thought it to be true.
One example was of an actress named Myrna Loy and how the press always claimed she was the perfect wife. Below is a photo of Myrna.
I stared at the photograph of her in total shock. I thought for about three seconds that the YouTuber making the video had mislabeled a photograph of Estelle Getty. But then one quick Google search revealed that the woman I’d been seeing photographs of for the longest time was in fact Myrna Loy.
And even still, Google failed us, as there is a photograph of Shirley Temple in Myrna’s “Child” tab. It’s possible that keywords, hashtags and categories typed in by random people on the internet might not be the most accurate way of collecting data…go figure.
But it saddened me to think that we have done such a disservice to both Estelle and Myrna’s memories. And neither are around any longer to set things straight. We have been giving credit for Myrna’s fierce modeling and stunning looks to Estelle Getty, and haven’t properly been sharing photographs of the true younger version of Estelle, who has brought light to so many of our lives. It’s time we change that and get to know each woman a little better.
Myrna Loy was an American actress who got her start during the days of silent films. Because of her wide set eyes and unique features, she was typecast to play femme fatales and exotic women, with some being of Asian descent. (Times were a lot different back then. Moving on.) Over time, her acting resume grew, and she became best known for her roles as Nora Charles in The Thin Man, and Lillian Gilbreth in the original 1950s film adaptation of Cheaper By The Dozen.
During World War II, Myrna discovered her passion for activism. She spoke out against Adolf Hitler so frequently that she ended up being banned from Germany. Meanwhile, she worked with the Red Cross, volunteered at the canteens for hours and even arranged entertainment for military hospitals. She later became co-chairman of the Advisory Council of the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing and a member of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO.
As for her legacy, she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a Sony Picture Studios building named after her and an Academy Honorary Award, which she accepted in 1990. She passed away in 1993 due to an unnamed illness.
Real photographs of young Estelle Getty are very hard to come by. Her on screen debut took place much later in life, and before that she wasn’t really well known.
There are some casual photos taken of her and her husband Arthur Gettleman - with whom she had two children, and stayed married to until his death in 2004 - enjoying a relaxing day by the pool. While she looks much different from Myrna Loy, she’s still gorgeous, and I can finally see Sophia in a young woman’s face.
Estelle was born and raised in New York City, which might explain why Sophia seems like she really knows what she’s talking about when it comes to the years she and Dorothy lived in Brooklyn. Because her parents were Polish Jewish immigrants, Estelle was extremely in touch with her Jewish background. And she even notably said when it came to The Golden Girls, she wished that Sophia and Dorothy had been Jewish instead of Italian, so that she’d have felt more comfortable making stereotypical cultural jokes.
Estelle was 61 years old when she finished up a successful run of the Broadway show Torch Song Trilogy, where she played Harvey Fierstein’s character’s mother. It was after that performance that she auditioned for The Golden Girls’ producer Tony Thomas. He immediately pegged her as the perfect actress to portray the headstrong Sicilian firecracker that was Sophia Petrillo.
Even during her second audition, which he was unable to attend, he told his colleagues to give her a chance no matter what because he had a strong feeling about her.
Thanks to 45 minutes of applying prosthetic wrinkles, makeup and a white wig, the makeup department was able to transform the middle-aged actress into her 80-something year old character. Fun fact: Estelle Getty is a year younger than Bea Arthur who played her daughter on the show.
For seven glorious seasons of The Golden Girls and one season of its spin-off show The Golden Palace, Estelle charmed the pants off the whole nation. Sophia is arguably the show’s most popular character.
For her role in The Golden Girls, she won a 1985 Golden Globe for Actress in a Leading Role - Musical or Comedy Series and a 1988 Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.
Later on in life, Getty unfortunately suffered from Parkinson’s and osteoporosis. In July of 2008, she passed away from complications due to Lewy body dementia. She is remembered as not just an incredible actress, but also a supporter of gay rights from the beginning, at a time when association with the community was taboo.
Below is both a compilation of hilarious Sophia moments and a documentary on her life and career.
This discovery about the photos I mistakenly thought were Estelle’s really showed me that in the future, if I see something fishy I should always look into it instead of believing even seemingly trustworthy sources. And that the more we know about people, the better.