Golden Girls Wiki
Golden Girls Wiki

Picture it...
— Sophia’s common catchphrase...

Written by: Jessica Aleksandra Edited by: Avalon Cupid and Niki Poplin

Written originally: March 2020; edited in May/June 2022


Sophia Grisanti-Petrillo (née/maiden name Grisanti), (also known as Sophia Weinstock) is a fictional, main character from the TV series hit, The Golden Girls and its spin-offs, The Golden Palace, Empty Nest and Nurses. She was portrayed by the veteran stage actress, the late Estelle Getty.

Estelle Getty played the character of Sophia Petrillo in a total of 7 seasons of The Golden Girls consisting a total of 180 episodes plus 1 season of The Golden Palace consisting of 24 episodes so that is a total of 204 episodes. She also appeared as Sophia Petrillo in

To many Golden Girls fans around the world, Sophia is the main favorite character.

How Sophia Petrillo Came To Be; Estelle Getty's Breakthrough![]

Estelle played in several stage plays as well as made her very first Hollywood short-film/movie appearance in 1982 in the movie, Tootsie.

Estelle was age 61 in February of 1985 when she landed the biggest role of her lifetime - the role that would lead her to the beginning of greatness and to be noticed and recognized in the celebrity world and by fans nationwide... or quite possibly, even throughout the world. Her audition was done in front of all of the producers, including the creators of Susan Harris and Paul Junger Witt.

Susan Harris wanted to portray the character of Sophia Petrillo as a "big, fat, Italian mama with a bun" initially. However, Estelle mentioned that she could just about do any character she would like. To Estelle, she wanted to portray the Italian mama as a Brooklyn Italian mama. Estelle mentions, "I would play Sophia my way. I would play her New York Brooklyn." (Colucci, 2016).

Estelle landed that gig quite flawlessly to be signed on to play the first Golden Girl. The lines that made Estelle win that golden ticket were, "I'm older than dirt!" in the most Brooklyn Italian accent possible. She nailed it. Out of all of the previous candidates who audited for Sophia Petrillo's part, Estelle Getty was the one who stood out. Miraculous! Eureka!

Director, Tony Thomas, mentioned just right after the Estelle's audition, "We read a lot of people for Sophia. Estelle came in to see me, and it was actually frightening You don't expect to hear the words jump off the page that way. It was like, 'Oh, my God! This is everything we wanted! I told them if you don't like her, have her do it again. Don't let her out of the room until you're satisfied, because she is the one.'" (Colucci, 2016).

However, the audition for Estelle Getty took about one month because there was a bit of some hesitancy from the others. They felt Estelle was too young being just 61 in February of 1985. Sophia's age was supposed to be 80 at the debut of the first episode.

Estelle had to audition four total times during the month of February 1985 to claim Sophia Petrillo's role fully and completely. Why?

Estelle mentioned, "The producers seem pleased, but there was also a reservation: they thought I might be too young. I had never auditioned that many times for a role." (Colucci, 2016).

Thankfully so, despite racking up Estelle's nerves during the month of February 1985 with four, different auditions for the Sophia Petrillo role, she was accepted!

Estelle Getty got the role for the character of Sophia Petrillo!

Written by: Jessica Aleksandra

Edited by: Avalon Cupid and Niki Poplin

Written originally in March 2020; edited in May/June 2022

Sophia's Backstory[]

Sophia was born on around April 17, 1905 in Sicily, Italy with her brothers, Angelo and Vito and her sisters, Angela and Regina. It was revealed that her 50th birthday was in April 1956 in the episode, A Piece Of Cake (however, in the first episode of The Golden Palace (1992), it was revealed that Sophia was 87, though in several episodes, she is revealed to be between the ages of 80 and 85). In the 1987 episode, And Then There Was One, Sophia stated she has been walking since 1904. In the episode, The Competition, it is revealed that While in Sicily, as a teenager, she was briefly engaged to a man from her village, Augustine Bagatelli. Later, she became engaged to Giuseppe Mangiacavallo, who jilted her at the altar. It is said in the episode "Ro$e Love$ Mile$ that she moved to New York after she annulled her arranged first marriage to Guido Spirelli when she was 14. She has no accent left to show that she grew up speaking the Sicilian language. Instead, she sports a thick Brooklyn accent with a fast speaking pace, which often contributed to the humor in her one-liners.

Sophia married Salvatore "Sal" Petrillo (played by Sid Melton), (although in the episode "Adult Education", she states that she met him when she bargained with someone in a dark alley in Sicily, and in "Diamond In The Rough", she says she won him in a contest in Sicily, when she stood on a rock so they were the same height) and had 3 children with him: Dorothy Zbornak, a divorced substitute teacher; Phil Petrillo, a cross-dresser with a wife named Angela Petrillo and 10 children in a trailer park in Newark, New Jersey who later died, and Gloria Harker (played by Doris Belack and Dena Dietrich), who lived in California, and married into a wealthy family. However, Gloria later lost the fortune that her husband had left her in an investment scam.

Written by: Jessica Aleksandra

Edited by: Avalon Cupid and Niki Poplin

Written originally in March 2020; edited in May/June 2022


In her older years, Sophia suffered a stroke (the effects of which are said to be a partial explanation for Sophia's uncensored and brazen remarks) and was subsequently placed in Shady Pines retirement home by Dorothy. After it was damaged in a fire, Sophia moved into Blanche's house with Blanche, Dorothy, and Rose. Sophia did not have many good things to say about "the home", constantly alluding to poor treatment by the staff. Dorothy threatened to send her back there whenever Sophia's behavior went out of control. Dorothy's threats were subtle, for example, when "I'd go outside but there don't seem to be any shady pines to sit under" when Sr. Claire visited.

While living in Miami, Sophia had many boyfriends, but did not date any for a substantial amount of time. She did remarry once more, though, to Max Weinstock (Jack Gilford). Max was her late husband's long-time business partner, whom Sophia had long blamed for ruining the business, although it was later revealed Sal was responsible. Sophia and Max forgave each other after the latter reveals the truth, and the two quickly became close and got married. The newlyweds realize their romance would not work out, and they part ways as friends. However, they would remain legally married or have their marriage annulled, as divorce would have gone against her Catholic beliefs.

Due to Sophia's Sicilian descent, there were regular hints in the series that she and her family have some mafia connections; she has made reference to several vendettas. It is even hinted that Sophia herself has done mob work; she once stated in The Case Of The Libertine Belle, that no one in her family had "ever left a body to be found". In Rose's Big Adventure, Sophia also claimed to have been present at the St. Valentine's Day Massacre to which she then took back stating, "Oh yeah, I was at the movies that day. All day.", although in another episode, titled Valentine's Day, she did say she was present at a St. Valentine's Day Massacre, not the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

Sophia believed strongly in ancient Sicilian custom and traditions, and in the power of a "Sicilian curse." The list of people she claims to have cast curses on include: Shelley Long, the Baltimore Colts, the New York Jets, Giuseppe Mangiacavallo (the boy who stood her up at the altar), and Mr. Barton (the girls' next door neighbor who expressed disdain for Italians). She has threatened to cast a curse on Dorothy (before she found that it was prohibited by another arcane custom), and on Stan Zbornak. In the final season, Sophia spent two episodes doing odd tasks in order to save Dorothy from an ancient curse from a Sicilian strega, or witch.

  • Sophia also appeared in one episode of Blossom, entitled I Ain't Got No Buddy, and one episode of Nurses, entitled Temporary Setbacks.

Written by: Jessica Aleksandra

Edited by: Avalon Cupid and Niki Poplin

Written originally in March 2020; edited in May/June 2022

Sophia's Characteristics[]

Sophia telling the girls a story

Sophia relaxing on the lanai.

Sophia is best known for her wisecracks, put-downs and brazen remarks, often commenting on Dorothy’s lack of love life, Blanche’s promiscuity, and Rose’s stupidity. However, despite her sharp criticism of her daughter and housemates, she loves and cares for them deeply; she even sees Rose and Blanche as surrogate daughters. The other women usually seek Sophia out for advice, which Sophia is all too willing to share, usually beginning with her catchphrase, "Picture it, Sicily…"

Like Rose’s tall tales, Sophia's parables often end with a moral, from which advice can be gleaned. These stories usually also involved historical figures, with Sophia claiming to have had trysts with Pablo Picasso, Sigmund Freud, and Winston Churchill, among others. She also claims to have befriended many famous people including Golda Meir, Mama Celeste, Mussolini, and accidentally claimed in the episode "Miles To Go" that Robert Frost was always nipping at her nose (she was confused with Jack Frost).

Sophia's Family[]

Members of Sophia's family who have appeared on the program include: Her sister, Angela (Nancy Walker); her brother, Angelo and her father (both roles were played by Bill Dana); her daughter, Gloria; her husband, Sal (in flashbacks and in dream sequences); and Sophia's own mother, Eleanor, (Bea Arthur in a dual role (who also didn’t have a Sicilian accent), who also appeared exclusively in flashbacks; and even Dorothy at a younger age (played by Lyn Greene).


In her younger years, Sophia apparently had always been short, with auburn hair (Estelle Getty's natural color), but in the episode "Blanche And The Younger Man", she says she was "a tall voluptuous blond with a butt like granite" when she was younger (though this statement was likely a by-product of her penchant for telling tall tales). During the series' run, Sophia resembled the archetypal "old lady" in looks: White-haired, small stature, wrinkles, and large-framed eyeglasses. She was shown to have a fondness for conservative, elderly clothing such as cardigans, knee-high stockings, and muumuu dresses. Sophia owned a tan bamboo handbag that became her personal trademark - she carried the purse everywhere, even around the house (including the bathroom). Sophia’s sister, Angela closely resembled these traits as well.


  • Best Friend of the Year Award


  • Sophia was seen knitting a bottle cover for the sherry in the episode The Operation. It turns out that once a month, Sophia and the girls from Cloud Society stake out a few benches, drink a few bottles of Sherry and discuss the shape of clouds. She remarked that she thought she saw Pat Sajak riding side-saddle on a dolphin.
  • Every morning, at 7 A.M, like clockwork, Sophia pees. Unfortunately, she doesn't wake up until 8 A.M.

Notable Quotes[]

  • "Not to me. It was a retirement home, and ya know what they did? They set off the fire alarm, in a retirement home. Who can rush? Half the people have walkers, the other half can't get out of their chairs. But they've got bells going off like crazy! You know what that does to hearts that only beat a few times a week? It's not pretty!" The Pilot
  • "I heard noise, I thought it was robbers, so I hid my jewels. Now I can’t remember where." The Pilot
  • "Hey, uh, Pfeiffer, how would you like a punch in your p-face!" It's A Miserable Life
  • "Please, I’m 80! Bathtubs are dangerous!" Break-In
  • "I'm 81, what are you worrying about? You think I'm gonna find someone down at the center to do that with?" Isn't It Romantic
  • "Please, I'm 81 years old, I may not remember what it feels like, but I sure as hell remember what it looks like!" Family Affair
  • "Dorothy, anger is a lot like a piece of shredded wheat caught under your dentures. If you leave it there, you get a blister, and you gotta eat Jell-O all week. If you get rid of it, the sore heals, and you feel better." Guess Who’s Coming to the Wedding?
  • "Picture it..." (Frequently used in various episodes as a prelude to Sophia's detailed, sometimes unbelievable stories about her life, usually in Sicily.)
  • "THAT’S THE GUY!" *runs towards a parking valet with a group of elderly women and beats him up* (Last line) The Chicken and the Egg
  • "I don’t make excuses for any of my children... except Phil." - The Custody Battle


~The Golden Girls~
Blanche Devereaux - Dorothy Zbornak - Rose Nylund - Sophia Petrillo
- Stanley Zbornak - Miles Webber -