'Golden Girls' gold-digging: Blockbuster auction of Estelle Getty's sitcom stuff

Poor Bea Arthur has only just left us, but the nostalgia for The Golden Girls may be eternal.

Bonhams & Butterfields, a fine art auction house that regularly hosts Hollywood-themed sales, has announced it will be hocking the personal effects of Estelle Getty, who played wisecracking Sophia Petrillo, the mother of Beatrice Arthur's character Dorothy Zbornak.

The star of the sale is bound to be the straw handbag she clutched in nearly every scene of the show, but there are some other iconic lots on sale, too, including her giant eyeglasses (I wonder if Larry King will bid) and a bathrobe stitched with "Sophia" on the back. More of Getty's stuff will be sold in an estate sale on May 17 and a jewelry sale on June 16. The main sale previews on June 12 in Los Angeles, and the hammer comes down on June 14. Getty died last July at 84, Arthur died April 26 at 86 (yep, Getty was younger even though she played her mom).

It certainly makes up for the cancellation of the blowout auction of Michael Jackson's effects. It also speaks of the times we live in. Jacko's out; Sophia is forever.

None of the lots are intrinsically very valuable -- until you consider the cultural impact of the Golden Girls characters, which seems to expand by the year. The Girls have a massive following -- to some gay men, they're as iconic as an '80s version of the Beatles, (and come to think of it, there are now just as many of them living as there are the Beatles, too.) One professor at Indiana University noticed that after the show, Americans became more willing to define a family in terms that didn't necessarily include a heterosexual relationship, a shift he calls "The 'Golden Girls' Effect." You could even call the worldly quartet, with their liberated sexual attitudes and can-do sisterhood, the precursor to Sex and the City, if Carrie had slept with more guys with names like Murray and Carl.

In their day, the Girls fizzled out. Three of them did a follow-up sitcom, The Golden Palace, in which they ran a B&B, but Bea Arthur, having flopped a decade earlier in Amanda's, her own B&B-based duplicate of John Cleese's Fawlty Towers, wisely opted not to participate. To judge them in 1993, you'd have thought they were destined for the same cultural blind spot as Emmanuel Lewis and ALF.

In fact, NBC is still making cash off the old broads. Golden Girls merchandise still moves in its online store -- one shirt is for tweens who might otherwise be buying Miley crap, as a matter of fact. Valerie Harper tees? Nowhere to be found.

Putting your money in stocks is a risk, but the value of old Sophia just goes up and up. The ruby slippers were nearly worthless once, too.

Obviously, an auction like this had to have been set up a while ago, before Arthur's death, so we can't accuse them of disrespecting old Maude. But the timing of the announcement surely won't hurt proceeds. It reminds me of those guys who manage to see front pages of newspapers on eBay for hundreds of dollars in the days after a big event. Sophia herself was always inappropriate, and that's why we loved her.

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