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DeVito, Danny

DeVITO, Danny


Nationality: American. Born: Neptune, New Jersey, 17 November 1944. Education : Attended parochial school in Asbury Park, New Jersey; Oratory Prep School in Summit, New Jersey; Wilfred Academy of Hair and Beauty Culture; the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, New York City, graduated 1966. Family: Married the actress Rhea Perlman, 1982, daughters: Lucy Chet and Gracie, son: Jake. Career: 1968—stage debut, off-Broadway, in a program of Pirandello one-acts; 1969—film debut in Dreams of Glass; 1978–83—starred in the TV series Taxi (as Louie DePalma); 1984—directed The Ratings Game, a cable TV movie; 1985—directed and starred in "The Wedding Ring" episode of Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories (TV anthology); has directed numerous shorts and TV shows in addition to feature films; 1987—directorial feature debut with Throw Momma from the Train; starting 1988—provided voice of Herbert Powell for several episodes of the cartoon TV series The Simpsons. Performed in several TV specials for children; has an active production company, Jersey Films; produced Reality Bites and Pulp Fiction, 1994; and Feeling Minnesota, 1996. Awards: Best Supporting Actor Emmy Award, for Taxi, 1981. Agent: Fred Specktor, Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90212, U.S.A.


Films as Actor:

1969

Dreams of Glass (Klouse)

1971

Bananas (Woody Allen) (as subway hood); La Mortadella (Lady Liberty) (Monicelli) (as Fred Mancuso)

1973

Hurry Up, or I'll Be 30 (Jacoby) (as Petey); Scalawag (Kirk Douglas) (as Fly Speck)

1975

One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest (Forman) (as Martini); The Money (Workman)

1976

Car Wash (Schultz); Deadly Hero (Nagy); The Van (Grossman) (as Andy)

1977

The World's Greatest Lover (Gene Wilder) (as the assistant director)

1978

Goin' South (Nicholson) (as Hog)

1979

Valentine (Philips—for TV)

1981

Going Ape! (Kronsberg) (as Lazlo)

1983

Terms of Endearment (James L. Brooks) (as Vernon Dahlart)

1984

Johnny Dangerously (Heckerling) (as Burr); Romancing the Stone (Zemeckis) (as Ralph)

1985

The Jewel of the Nile (Teague) (as Ralph); Happily Ever After (Melendez—for TV) (as voice)

1986

Head Office (Finkleman) (as Stedman); My Little Pony (Joens) (as voice of Grundle King); Ruthless People (Abrahams, Zucker, and Zucker) (as Sam Stone); Wise Guys (DePalma) (as Harry Valentini)

1987

Tin Men (Levinson) (as Ernest Tilley)

1988

Twins (Reitman) (as Vincent Benedict)

1991

Other People's Money (Jewison) (as Lawrence Garfield)

1992

Batman Returns (Burton) (as Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot)

1993

Last Action Hero (McTiernan) (as voice of Whiskers, uncredited); Look Who's Talking Now (Ropelewski) (as voice of Rocks); Jack the Bear (Herskovitz) (as John Leary)

1994

Junior (Reitman) (as Dr. Larry Arbogast); Renaissance Man (Army Intelligence) (Penny Marshall) (as Bill Rago)

1995

Get Shorty (Sonnenfeld) (as Martin Weir + co-pr)

1996

Space Jam (Pytka) (voice)

1997

Hercules (Musker, Clements) (voice); L.A. Confidential (Hanson) (as Sid Hudgens); The Rainmaker (Coppola) (as Deck Schifflet)

1998

Living Out Loud (LaGravenese) (as Pat Francato + co-pr)

1999

The Virgin Suicides (Sofia Coppola) (as Dr. Hornicker); Foolproof (Alexander, Karaszewski) (as Grover); The Big Kahuna (Swanbeck) (as Phil); Man on the Moon (Forman) (as George Shapiro + co-pr)



Films as Actor and Director:

1984

The Ratings Game (for TV) (as Vic De Salvo)

1987

Throw Momma from the Train (as Owen Lift)

1989

The War of the Roses (as Gavin D'Amato)

1992

Hoffa (as Bobby Ciaro, + co-pr)

1996

Matilda



Other Films:

1994

Reality Bites (Stiller) (co-pr); Pulp Fiction (Tarantino) (co-exec pr)

1995

Get Shorty (Sonnenfeld) (co-pr)

1996

Sunset Park (Gomer) (co-pr); Feeling Minnesota (Baigelman) (co-pr)

1997

Gattaca (Niccol) (co-pr)

1998

Out of Sight (Soderbergh) (co-pr); The Pentagon Wars (Benjamin for TV) (exec pr)

Publications


By DeVITO: article—

Interview in Playboy (Chicago), February 1993.

"Jimmy Riddle," interview with Steve Grant in Time Out (London), 10 March 1993.

"Book Smart," interview with Stephen Pizzello, in American Cinematographer(US), August 1996.


On DeVITO: articles—

Current Biography 1988, New York, 1988.

Seidenberg, Robert, "Funny as Hell," in American Film (New York), September 1989.

"Little Boss Man," in Rolling Stone (New York), 16 November 1989.

Corman, Avery, "Danny DeVito, This Year's Redford," in New York Times, 8 September 1991.

Clark, John, "Danny DeVito," in Interview (New York), July 1992.

Reed, Julia. "DeVito Raises Hoffa," in Vogue (New York), December 1992.

Young, Josh, "Danny DeVito: Center of the Universe?," in New York Times, 6 November 1994.

Séquences (CN), September 1992.


* * *

An actor seemingly proscribed from leading man status by his physical instrument—his five-foot, 150-pound body, his dark-haired, dark-eyed "ethnic" features, and his flat, fast, New Jersey-rooted speech—Danny DeVito over the past decade has established himself as one of the defining screen comics of his generation. Like most recent movie comedians, DeVito first achieved fame in television and continued to work with creative television personnel as he moved into film. But his persona is marked as a product of his times even more by his central theme: the journey of a formerly antiauthoritarian, "freaky"—post-1960s—entrepreneur toward his slice of the American pie. DeVito's life story and those of his characters neatly cohere around this subject.

While also working on-stage, DeVito spent the 1970s playing background roles in mostly unremarkable films and television shows. Unshakably dedicated, he also produced and directed several short films. DeVito's biggest movie role of the 1970s was as one of the inmates who take over the asylum in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. That film's sympathy for the socially maladjusted persisted into DeVito's breakthrough role, as Louie DePalma in the 1978–83 television situation comedy Taxi. With Louie, however, DeVito moved from portraying the odd and exploited to portraying the odd and exploited exploiter—the type to which most of his subsequent movie characters adhere.

The dispatcher in a taxi company full of nice fallout victims from the 1960s (a recovering addict, a divorced mother, a Vietnam veteran), Louie is unfettered capitalism embodied—grasping, volatile, and rude. Stamped by the late 1970s, however, Taxi made Louie less a figure of unmitigated scorn than, for instance, its generic predecessor M*A*S*H made the money-grubbing Frank Burns in the decade's early years. DeVito's performances play to this softening, employing his ability to slide between naturalism and cartoonish excess. DeVito conveys not only Louie's gratingly innocent delight in his gratuitous abusiveness but his fear and loneliness. As he does throughout his career, DeVito in Taxi often treats his own body as a prop; he sparks fresh ideas from the ensemble's other players; and he fully exploits his voice. DeVito's thoughtful choices among a subtly wide range of (mostly) East Coast accents, pitches, and volumes individuate his various characters even as they ground these men in the everyday and the middle class.

DeVito's first showcase supporting movie role came from Taxi producer James Brooks, who cast him in a subdued key in 1983's Terms of Endearment. (People who work with DeVito once seem inclined to repeat the experience.) The next year DeVito directed his first feature-length project, the made-for-cable The Ratings Game: all his evolving persona's key traits are present in his leading role as a mob-linked executive from New Jersey who becomes a television star and marries a good woman, played by DeVito's wife and frequent collaborator, Rhea Perlman. For the well-grossing feature Romancing the Stone and its sequel Jewel of the Nile, DeVito's crooked smalltime businessman type metamorphosed into a true crook, in a supporting role as a goofily unhappy, drug-smuggling kidnapper. DeVito got glowing reviews, and the chance to star in two big-screen vehicles—the organized crime spoof Wise Guys, and the black comedy of big business and marriage, Ruthless People.

With Ruthless People DeVito attained movie stardom. He then moved between sour and soft comedies, acting in and directing the former with Throw Momma from the Train, his theatrical film debut as director, and The War of the Roses; and starring in the latter with Tin Men (as a crazed salesman), Twins (as a gangster), and Other People's Money (as a corporate raider). Almost all of DeVito's post-Taxi characters are criminals, either organized, white collar, or both. They are ambivalent figures of mixed pathos and satire, their unlawfulness sometimes standing in for their outsider's natures, but their ill will more often entwining with their situations as capitalist cogs.

In 1992, DeVito played the supporting role of comic-book villain Penguin in Batman Returns, while also turning his directorial hand to drama with Hoffa, starring his old friend Jack Nicholson; the first was a huge success, though the second fizzled. Jack the Bear, a rare noncrime drama (directed by Marshall Herskovitz, a television veteran), did not receive either critical or commercial recognition. DeVito continued to move away from the criminal type and to work with television-bred comic talent in Renaissance Man (directed by television star Penny Marshall) and Get Shorty (starring television star John Travolta). Both succeeded at the box office, as did Junior, his second pairing with Arnold Schwarzenegger. In 1996 DeVito released Matilda, based on Roald Dahl's children's story of a young girl working past her venial and grotesque parents (DeVito and Perlman). As the era's Hollywood dean of corrupt but salvageable authority, DeVito thus pursues his great theme.

—Susan Knobloch

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