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.
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 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.”
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.
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.
Michael Jordan, Bill Murray
Danny DeVito, Mara Wilson
The War of the Roses
Kathleen Turner, Danny DeVito
Danny DeVito, Bette Midler
John Travolta, John Wayne
Danny DeVito, James Woods
Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken
Romancing the Stone
Kathleen Turner, Danny DeVito
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Heather Graham