Actor/producer/director Danny Devito was one of the most prolific artists of the last fifty years. He shone on the big and small screens playing countless memorable characters. Known primarily for his dark comedy films and leaving audiences in stitches, he also ventured into dramatic roles that left an indelible mark on Hollywood history. Performances like the irascible Louis DePalma in Taxi to the gentle and lovable John Leary in jack the bear, what the actor lacks in physical stature, he more than makes up for in versatility. Here is a list of some of the highlights.
Martini in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Most of us got our first look at Devito in this classic as Martini, the naïve bright-eyed mental patient at Oregon State Hospital. play opposite Jack NicholsonDevito left his mark on the film with his youthful exuberance, his love for Monopoly and his time under Nurse Ratched (Louise Flecher) skin. The film won the “big five” Oscars and ranks 33rd on AFI’s list of the best films of all time.
Lawrence Garfield in Other People’s Money (1991)
After having a solid decade of experience under his belt, Devito began the ’90s targeting high finance as Lawrence “Larry the Liquidator) Garfield, a brash corporate raider whose affinity for buying and selling businesses doesn’t win him many friends, but after trying to acquire a company owned by Andrew Jorgeson (Gregory Peck), he falls in love with his daughter, (Penelope Ann Miller) making things a bit more complicated.
Bobby Ciaro in Hoffa (1992)
The biopic marked one of the few times DeVito would try his hand behind the camera as a director. It was also the second time he had worked with Jack Nicholson, (the other being Flight over a cuckoo’s nest.) The tiny actor used every inch of his 4-foot-10 height to portray Teamsters Union leader Jimmy Hoffa’s right-hand man, Bobby Ciaro. This was DeVito’s only real turn as a badass, as he and Hoffa have to use some muscle to push through cases involving the unions in the ’60s and ’70s.
Louis DePalma in Taxi (1978-1983)
Of course, who can forget the head taxi dispatcher everyone loved to hate, Louis DePalma, in the classic sitcom? From the safety of his caged office, Louis never encountered an employee he couldn’t berate or put down on his way to winning both a Golden Globe and an Emmy Award. It was the role that solidified DeVito as a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
The Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot in Batman Returns (1992)
Joining an all-star ensemble cast that included Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Christopher Walken DeVito used his small stature to his advantage, as he forayed into the DC Universe as Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot in Tim Burton’s entry into the Batman franchise. Beneath layers of prosthetics and make-up, the actor delivered a chilling iteration of the villain, to outsmart Bruce Wayne’s alter ego and wreak havoc on the streets of Gotham. The film earned over $266 million at the box office, making it the highest-grossing film DeVito has appeared in.
Owen Lift in Throw Mamma From the Train (1987)
Next to billy crystal, DeVito also directed this dark comedy about a man and his overbearing mother (Anne Ramsey). Inspired by the Alfred Hitchcock classic Strangers on a trainthe film revolves around Devito’s sweet and shy portrayal as Owen Lift dreaming of killing his mother with the help of his creative writing teacher, Larry Donner (Billy Crystal).
Jack Leary in Jack the Bear (1993)
Delivering what many consider his most nuanced and emotional performance, Devito stars as a professional clown and recent widower. After losing his wife in a car accident, his heartwarming portrayal of a single father left alone to care for his two young sons, was a memorable change of pace for the actor.
Frank Reynolds in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2006–present)
Set to begin its sixteenth season, the hugely popular sitcom that follows the shenanigans of five Philadelphia friends who own an Irish bar is the longest-running live-action television show currently airing. It marks a successful return to television for DeVito as the rude and abrasive Frank Reynolds opposite, Rob McEl Henny (the creator of the show) Glenn Howerton, Charlie Day, and Kaitlin Olson. It is available to stream on Hulu and Effects.
J. Lyman “Bruiser” Stone in The Rainmaker (1997)
In a performance reminiscent of Taxi’s Lous DePalma, DeVito stars as an unscrupulous lawyer chasing ambulances in John Grisham’s 1995 adaptation of the bestselling novel and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Alongside his intrepid young partner, Rudy Baylor (Matt Damon), DeVito’s character, J. Lyman “Bruiser” Stone, falls into a massive insurance fraud case.
Ralph in Romancing the Stone (1984)
Fresh off his stint on Taxi, DeVito’s first role is in the Robert Zemeckis-directed action-adventure romantic comedy. DeVito steps up his role as the villainous Ralph, who kidnaps an acclaimed novelist’s sister (Kathleen Turner). She enlists the help of exotic bird smuggler Jack T. Colton (Michael Douglas) to help him navigate the dangerous Colombian jungle in a desperate search for his kidnapped sister. The film’s success earned it a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and spawned a sequel, The Jewel of the Nile just a year later.
Sam Stone in Ruthless People (1986)
After the success of Romancing the Stone and Jewel of the Nile, DeVito was rewarded with his first leading man role. In Ruthless People, DeVito shines in yet another black comedy about a man whose plan is to have his wife (Bette Midler) killed turns ugly as clumsy kidnappers (Judge Reinhold, Helen Slater) can’t bring themselves to do the deed. The film was well received by fans and critics and proved that the Italian actor could carry a film on his shoulders.
Vincent Benedict in Twins (1988)
DeVito has always been able to poke fun at himself and his short stature, never more so than in the Ivan Reitman barred outing in which he plays the sculpted action star’s fraternal “twin” brother, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The film works on the unexpected chemistry between the two protagonists as they run into trouble in the search for their biological mother. The film was a massive hit, grossing $216 million in sales and scoring a huge DeVito payday.