Author Says Betty White Made Jokes At Estelle Getty’s Expense To Cover For Her Dementia


Years after Golden GirlsBetty White died at 99, writer Stan Zimmerman is reflecting on the interactions between White and her co-star Estelle Getty during filming. In his book The Girls: From Golden To Gilmore and in a recent chat with Fox News Digital, Stan revealed the reasons for White’s funny jabs at Getty on the show.

Stan, who wrote scripts for the sitcom’s premiere season, recalled how Getty would forget her lines prompting her colleagues to think “that she wasn’t studying hard enough” because “she was out going to Hollywood parties” as a “sudden celebrity.” Unknown to them, she was battling dementia, though not diagnosed at the time.


Why did Betty White make jokes about Estelle Getty?

GOLDEN GIRLS, Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, Betty White, Estelle Getty, 1985-1992.

Getty was eventually diagnosed with dementia in the late ‘90s after being misdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease years prior. Stan explained that Getty’s character, Sophia, would often eat raisins in some scenes because her lines were written on her palm. “So, when we would break because of a mistake from Estelle, Betty would go walk over to the bleachers and start making jokes,” he recalled.


RELATED: 60 Years Ago, Betty White Married Allen Ludden, Whose Name Would Be Her Final Words

Like anyone would, Stan wondered why White would joke at the expense of the late Stuart Little actress. “I felt, ‘Why is she making fun of Estelle?’ I was very protective,” he said, noting that he assumed White was deliberately taking the chance to go “off making jokes at the expense of Estelle.” As he reflected on these moments, Stan deduced that White was only trying to deflect attention from her friend’s struggle. “I think Betty was steering the attention away from Estelle… and let Estelle have the moment to collect herself, look at the script,” he revealed.

THE GOLDEN GIRLS, from left: Estelle Getty, Rue McClanahan, Betty White, Bea Arthur, Leslie Nielsen at the taping of the show’s final episode ‘One Flew Out of the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ (season 7, episode 23, aired May 9, 1992), 1985-1992, Ph: J. Del Valle, © Touchstone Television/courtesy Everett Collection

Stan added that White was aware of Getty’s panic attacks before filming due to the tension that came with tape nights. “Imagine you’re having these feelings…you’re in front of a huge studio, cameras, multi-millions of dollars being spent. You have the network in the studio all there, and the lights are on you,” he explained. “I think that’s what got Estelle very panicked every week … she started talking about how she had to go to therapy to help her work through her fear.”

On analyzing White’s motive in helping her co-star get through her role in the classic, Stan took away “a life lesson in really putting yourself in everybody’s shoes.”

THE GOLDEN GIRLS, from left, Estelle Getty, Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan, 1985-92 (1985 photo). ph: Mario Casilli / TV Guide / ©NBC / courtesy Everett Collection

“Like, put yourself in Betty’s shoes. What is she supposed to do?” he asked. “She has a great sense of humor. She thinks on her feet. So, you know, she goes and takes care of it.” Stan, who has credit for season one episodes like “Blanche and the Younger Man” and “Rose’s Mother,” also discussed White’s strict demeanor and tensions between her and other castmates like Bea Arthur due to differences in work ethic and personality.

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