Friday, July 25, 2008


The passing of Estelle Ghetty was pretty hard on me. I loved the character of Sophia that she portrayed. When I studied comedy writing with the late great Danny Simon, he had always taught us writers that only absolute honesty was funny--in fact it could be downright hysterical. We laugh at something honest because we can see ourselves in that very role and/or in the very same situation. Why do we laugh at Lucy? Because Lucy has no pretensions. She plays her character as we should lead our lives-- direct, as we are, "warts and all". Sophia was written in such a way that you could not help laughing at her zingers. The set up was wonderful -- an elderly lady has an operation that does away with that inhibition device in our brains that prevents us from saying exactly what is on our minds. Well because you can incorporate comedy into everything that was the basic premise for the show. I had a chance once to pitch an idea to the Golden Girls producers. There I was and they said to me-- Ok, you think you can write for us -- give us something funny that Sophia would do and what she would say about it. I thought a moment and said "Ok, Sophia and Dorothy go to a "Rocky Horror Show" midnight showing. Now everyone should know that because of the nature of the showing (in which every one can come in a costume from the film and they know the lines from the script by heart that once you are in one of these lines to see it, they don't permit you to leave the line. So my premise was that Dorothy and Sophia would actually have gone into the showing, maybe by accident and watched "Rocky Horror" for the very first time in their lives. (This person would be called "a virgin")They said to me "That smells funny"-- meaning that the situation was "ripe" for comic development. "What would Sophia have said about that experience? In my best Sophia voice at the time (this was 1987) I said as Sophia "I actually started watching that movie- and all these kids pointed at Me and said "Virgin, virgin !" That's like pointing at Queen Elizabeth and yelling "Pretty! Pretty". They were on the floor and I was given an option. But then I hurt my back and well as they say "that's show business"
Estelle Ghetty was absolutely perfect for the role and her dream of becoming an actress didn't happen until she was 47. She got the role of Sophia when she was 60. So dreams come true. I had a mini crash on my computer-- so this time EVERYTHING is going to get backed up and labeled on a CD. Thank goodness for John Nugent-- he is such an amazing friend and partner. He keeps me so level headed and sane sometimes. He is a true gift from God. Well still looking for work, but now on disability so in better shape financially. The background of Sophia's character by the way is this:Sophia Petrillo is the daughter of Don Angelo and his wife Eleanor from Sicily. Sophia was born in Sicily and moved to New York after annulling her first (arranged) marriage to Guido Spirelli (she was also briefly engaged to a young man from her village, Augustine Bagatelli, as a teenager). She married Salvador Petrillo (Sid Melton),--remember him from "The Danny Thomas Show" and they had three children: Dorothy, a divorced substitute teacher whom Sophia depended upon and came to live with; Phil, a cross-dresser who was married with kids; and Gloria, who married into wealth, but eventually lost the fortune that her deceased husband left her.Sophia was put away in the Shady Pines Retirement Home by Dorothy prior to the start of the series. Sophia had suffered a massive stroke, which, on more than one occasion, was said to have destroyed the part of her brain that acted as a censor; indeed, much of Sophia's popularity comes from her humorous, and often shocking, frankness and general lack of inhibition. In the pilot episode, she came to live with the girls after Shady Pines burned down. In a later episode, Sophia tried to run away to Sicily after becoming the prime suspect in starting the fire after making s'mores with a roommate on an illegal hotplate. Sophia never had good things to say about her retirement home, and she alluded to poor treatment by the staff many times throughout the series' run (although, in an episode meant to raise awareness about poor-quality nursing homes, she did admit that the treatment at Shady Pines was satisfactory). There were constant hints in the series that she and her family back in Sicily had some mafia connections; she once stated that she had lived through "two world wars, 15 vendettas, 4 operations and two Darrins on Bewitched" In one episode, she accidentally let it slip that she knew what happened to Jimmy Hoffa.Members of Sophia's family who appeared throughout the course of the show include: her sister Angela (played by the layte great Nancy Walker), her brother Angelo (played by Bill Dana), her daughter Gloria (played by Doris Belack and Dena Dietrich), and, in flashbacks, her husband Sal, her mother (played by Bea Arthur), and her father (also played by Bill Dana), and Dorothy herself at a younger age (played by Lyn Greene). Phil, her only son, was never seen; he died later on in the series when he suffered a heart attack (due to his obesity) while trying on large women's clothing (even in his wake, Phil is referred to as wearing women's clothing). In the episode "Ebbtide's Revenge," after her son's funeral, Sophia (with the help of Dorothy's no-nonsense personality and Rose's caring counseling expertise from her grief counseling center job) finally realized the root of her anger, broke into tears, and ended the long feud with Phil's wife Angela (played by Brenda Vaccaro). It is revealed that Sophia was angry at herself because she wondered what she had done or said to her son to make him want to be a cross-dresser, and she is finally able to reconcile with Angela after coming to the realization that she still loved him. In one of Sophia's few true emotional moments, she says, "My baby is gone." Sophia always referred to Angela as "Big Sally" because it got on Angela's nerves. Phil, Angela, and their children lived in a trailer home in Newark, New Jersey.
During the series' run, Sophia married Max Weinstock (played by the great character actor Jack Gilford), Sal's business partner, and attempted to revive Sal and Max's old pizza-and-knish business (Does anybody know what a knish is?) at the beach, but they soon separated, realizing they were better off as friends "with occasional benefits." Throughout the series, she held a few part-time jobs mostly involving food, including fast-food worker and entrepreneur of spaghetti sauce and homemade "chuck wagon" sandwiches.

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