Who Is Danny DeVito?
Actor Danny DeVito had his big break when he starred in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975). He rose to fame on the sitcom Taxi (1978-1983), for which he won a Golden Globe Award and an Emmy. He later produced and directed many films, including Matilda (1996), along with his wife of more than 30 years, actress Rhea Perlman. DeVito has also enjoyed a starring role on the TV series It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia since 2006.
Actor, director and producer Danny DeVito was born Daniel Michael DeVito Jr. on November 17, 1944, in Neptune, New Jersey. DeVito was raised by his mother, Julia, and his father, Danny Sr., a small business owner whose various ventures included a dry cleaner, luncheonette, dairy outlet and pool hall. DeVito attended Our Lady of Mount Carmel Grammar School and Oratory Prep High School in Summit, New Jersey, where he first tried his hand at acting, starring in school productions of St. Francis of Assisi and the Billion Dollar Saint.
A diminutive 4 feet, 10 inches tall, DeVito says he longed to be taller as a youth. He recalls, "I was plagued; I couldn't slow-dance with the girls I wanted to because my face would be in a spot where I might be thought of as moving too fast." His height also made him a target for neighborhood bullies. "I took a lot of lumps," DeVito remembers. "But I had a lot of friends who helped me and looked out for me."
Although he acted in high school, when DeVito graduated in 1962 he did not consider acting a viable career path. DeVito recalls, "I wasn't sure what I wanted to do when I got out of high school. College didn't seem a likely or desirable option, and I didn't want to go too far away." DeVito was lounging around the house one day when his older sister suggested he work as a hairdresser at the salon she owned. He remembers thinking, "Well, I'm not doing anything else, and I could meet a lot of girls there."
Breaking into Acting
After 18 months — and no romances — at his sister's salon, DeVito decided to switch to the more lucrative cosmetics profession. He applied to take makeup classes at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. Applicants must perform a monologue to get into any of the school's programs, and after his monologue received positive feedback, DeVito decided to take acting classes as well. He quickly realized that acting was his true calling.
DeVito graduated from the American Academy in 1966, and worked briefly at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Connecticut, where he met and befriended fellow actor Michael Douglas. While in Connecticut, DeVito read Truman Capote's In Cold Blood; after seeing an advertisement for Hollywood auditions for a movie version of the book, DeVito moved to Los Angeles.
DeVito did not land a part in the film In Cold Blood, or in anything else at the start of his career. Instead, he recalls, "I worked as a car parker and I hung around the Sunset Strip with all the flower children. I had long hair and I wore a raincoat and sneakers, and I fit right in. But I wanted to act." DeVito soon moved back to New York, where he landed parts in several off-Broadway plays.
DeVito is 4 feet, 10 inches tall. His small stature is due to his having Fairbank's disease, also called multiple epiphyseal dysplasia (MED), which is a genetic bone growth disorder.
Movies and TV Shows
'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'
In 1971, DeVito landed the role of Martini in an off-Broadway production of Ken Kesey's classic novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. That role led to DeVito's big break four years later, when Douglas produced a film version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and asked DeVito to revive his stage role. Widely praised by critics, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest swept the five major Academy Awards (Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director and Screenplay) in 1976, catapulting DeVito into the national spotlight.
In 1978, DeVito auditioned for a new TV series called Taxi. Before beginning his audition, DeVito famously flung the script down on the table and demanded, "One thing I want to know before we start: Who wrote this shit?" That display of caustic wit landed him the part of the endearingly tyrannical cab dispatcher Louie DePalma. The show ran for five years, from 1978 to 1983, and DeVito won an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1981.
'Terms of Endearment,' 'Twins' and 'Batman Returns'
DeVito went on to star in scores of films throughout the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. He appeared with Jack Nicholson in the 1983 film Terms of Endearment and co-starred with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1988 comedy Twins. In 1992, DeVito earned rave reviews for his turn as The Penguin, the vengeful villain, in Batman Returns. Other notable film credits include Romancing the Stone (1984), Ruthless People (1986), Throw Momma from the Train (1987), The War of the Roses (1989), L.A. Confidential (1997) and Big Fish (2003).
'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia'
DeVito returned to television in 2005, starring in the cult hit FX series It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
With It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, DeVito and his castmates, including Charlie Day, Rob McElhenney and Glenn Howerton, have pushed the envelope in terms of its content. San Francisco Chronicle critic Tim Goodman describes the show as a "politically incorrect gem." DeVito plays a morally challenged father on this edgy sitcom.
'Solitary Man,' 'The Lorax,' 'Dumbo'
DeVito has made several films in the latter part of his career. He appeared with Douglas and Susan Sarandon in the drama Solitary Man (2009), and in the romantic comedy When in Rome (2010) with Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel. In 2012, DeVito voiced the title character in the hit animated film The Lorax, based on the popular book by Dr. Seuss.
After a busy 2016 in which he appeared in Wiener-Dog and The Comedian, DeVito provided voice work for the animated Animal Crackers (2017). He then starred as ringmaster Max Medici in Tim Burton's live-action adaptation of Dumbo (2019).
Director and Producer
In addition to acting, DeVito has also enjoyed considerable success as a director and producer. DeVito directed several episodes of Taxi and made his feature film directorial debut with the dark comedy Throw Momma from the Train, in which he also co-starred with Billy Crystal. He has since directed half a dozen other feature films. DeVito owns his own production company, Jersey Films, earning producer credits on well-regarded films such as Pulp Fiction (1994), Erin Brockovich (2000) and Be Cool (2005).
With more than four decades in Hollywood as an actor, director and producer, DeVito has seen the good, the bad and the ugly of the film industry. "Hollywood is a jungle," he once said. "It's full of quicksand, vermin and flesh-eating beasts. Making a movie is not a walk in the park. Every movie is like navigating treacherous terrain." Nevertheless, DeVito says he thrives on the cutthroat nature of the movie business. "Fighting a battle and winning is fun," he once said, adding, "and this business is fun. I love it. It's the greatest business in the world."
While acting in a 1970 off-Broadway production of The Shrinking Bride, DeVito met actress Rhea Perlman, best known for her long-running role on the TV sitcom Cheers. DeVito and Perlman moved in together two weeks after meeting and married in 1982. They had three children, Lucy (b. 1983), Gracie (b. 1985) and Jake (b. 1987), before announcing that they were splitting in October 2012, after more than three decades together. In 2013, following months of separation, the couple reunited.
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