Danny DeVito

A raucous presence on television and feature films for decades, Danny DeVito transitioned from Emmy-winning comic actor on "Taxi" (ABC/NBC, 1978-1983) to bona fide movie star with "Ruthless People" (1987) and assured feature director ("Throw Momma from the Train," 1987) and producer of such hits as "Pulp Fiction" (1994) and "Man on the Moon" (1999). Born Daniel Michael DeVito, Jr., in an Italian household in Neptune Township, New Jersey on November 17, 1944, he gave his first performances as a student at Oratory Prep High School in Summit, New Jersey. Short of build - he stood 4'10" as a result of the genetic disorder known as Fairbank's disease - and a moderate student, he initially pursued a career as a hairdresser at his sister's salon, which led to studying cosmetics at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. Applicants were required to perform a monologue in order to enter the school's various programs, and the response he received for his audition convinced him that acting might be his career of choice. After completing his studies at the American Academy, DeVito made the rounds with East Coast theater companies, including the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Connecticut, where he befriended fellow aspiring actor Michael Douglas, and the Westbeth Playwrights Feminist Collective, where he met his future wife, actress Rhea Perlman. After a short stint in Los Angeles, DeVito returned to New York and made his screen acting debut in the independent film "Dreams of Glass" (1970). More minor roles in obscure films followed before Douglas cast him as a mental hospital patient in Milos Forman's adaptation of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975). The popularity of the film led to character turns on television and in features, but his true breakout role came in 1978 when he was cast as Louie DePalma, the short-fused dispatcher for a New York taxi company on "Taxi." DeVito reaped numerous award nominations, including Emmy and Golden Globe wins in 1980 and 1981, and parlayed his popularity on the show into steady work as a character actor in features. He was a natural for abrasive, manipulative figures like the scheming con man on Douglas's train in "Romancing the Stone" (1984), but also showed a more kindly side in "Terms of Endearment" (1983) and Brian DePalma's "Wise Guys" (1986). During this period, DeVito also began making inroads to a directorial career: he helmed and starred in segments of a Cinemax anthology series called "Likely Stories" (1983), and made his feature-length debut in "The Ratings Game" (Showtime, 1984), a satire of the television business co-starring Pearlman. After starring in the big-screen comedies "Ruthless People" and "Tin Men" (1987), DeVito made his own feature debut as director with "Throw Momma from the Train," a skewed take on Alfred Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train" (1954) with DeVito roping Billy Crystal into a plan to murder his domineering mother. A surprise hit, it spurred DeVito to launch his own production company, Jersey Films, with Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher, which oversaw a remarkable array of popular films in the 1990s, including "Reality Bites" (1991), "Pulp Fiction," "Out of Sight" (1998) and "Man on the Moon," which featured DeVito playing himself opposite Jim Carrey as his "Taxi" co-star, Andy Kaufman. During this period, DeVito continued to not only act in features, including two inspired turns opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Twins" (1988) and "Junior" (1994), as well as Norman Jewison's "Other People's Money" (1991) and a show-stopping performance as the disfigured Penguin in Tim Burton's "Batman Returns" (1992). DeVito also maintained his directorial career, turning the bitter comedy "The War of the Roses" (1989), which reunited him with his "Romancing" co-stars Douglas and Kathleen Turner, as well as an impressive crime epic in "Hoffa" (1992), with Jack Nicholson as the labor chief, and "Matilda" (1996), a spry and charming adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel. DeVito continued on this exceptionally busy path into the new millennium, and if some of his efforts as director, producer and actor were only middling - "Drowning Mona" (2000) and "Death to Smoochy" (2002) were just two of the many that failed to find an audience - the projects that did score as hits, like "Erin Brockovich" (2000), "Garden State" (2004) and "Reno 911!" (Comedy Central, 2003-09), which he produced, or "LA Confidential" (1997), the Disney animated feature "Hercules" (1997) and David Mamet's "Heist" (2002), all of which featured in character roles, were memorable. In 2006, he returned to network television as Glenn Howerton and Kaitlin Olson's perversely odd father on the cult comedy "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" (FX, 2005- ). But he remained doggedly active in all other areas of his career, logging voice-acting roles in "The Lorax" (2012) and producing numerous shorts and television episodes, while choosing to appear in an array of diverse live-action projects, including Todd Solondz's "Wiener-Dog" (2017), Burton's "Dumbo" (2019) and "Jumanji: The Next Level" (2019), as well as several episodes of Douglas's Netflix series, "The Kominsky Method" (2018- ). He also returned to feature directing after a 16-year absensce with the post-apocalypse drama "St. Sebastian."