Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: Albany Daily News. Posted by Lexi Schwartz
Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Lexi Schwartz
Currently Known For:
1982 - 1993
March 31, 1948
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“Everyone’s surprised when they meet me. I guess it’s because I’ve played tough cookies for so long… It’s what I do best. I’m not sure I could pull off a genteel Southern belle.” From slinging beer and spouting sass to packing a punch, Rhea Perlman first turned heads alongside her future husband, Danny DeVito, on Taxi, but is best known for her performance as Carla Tortelli on the long-running comedy series, Cheers. Spending over a decade on the show from 1982 to 1993, Perlman took home 10 Emmy Award nominations and four wins as well as six Golden Globe nominations while the series itself earned 95 Emmy nominations and an impressive 20 wins! How’s that for success! Since Cheers wrapped over two decades ago, Perlman has gone to make dozens of appearances in television and film while also proving her talents as a children’s author with the release of her series, Otto Undercover. So, apart from her longtime romance with DeVito and her own stellar career, how did the 5’0” tall actress get her start in Hollywood and what’s next for her?
The oldest of two daughters born to Polish immigrants, Rhea Jo Perlman came into this world on March 31, 1948 in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Growing up in a traditional Jewish family, Perlman and her sister, Heide, both showed interests in show business at an early age with Heide going on to become a television writer, story editor and producer with credits on The Tracey Ullman Show, Frasier and Cheers. But, before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s get back to Perlman, who enrolled at New York’s Hunter College where she graduated in 1968 with her bachelor of arts degree in drama.
On her own and focused on acting full time, Perlman easily settled into New York City and landed her first bit part in an Off-Broadway production of Dracula Sabbat in 1970. Spending a year with the show, she went on to make her film debut in 1972 in Hot Dogs for Gauguin alongside another young, aspiring actor named Danny DeVito. With shared dreams of making it big, romance sparked between Perlman and DeVito as they started dating and moved in together while appearing in a stage production of Up—An Uppity Review. Even then, Perlman was still struggling to get noticed until she snagged her first notable role on a new series called Taxi. As luck would have it, she was cast as Zena, the charming, soft-spoken and sweet girlfriend of Louis De Palma played by DeVito himself.
With both love and her career blossoming, Perlman took on a much tougher role in a local play where Taxi producers—Glen and Les Charles—just so happened to be in the audience. Impressed by her performance, they invited her to join the cast of their new series, Cheers, where she immediately won hearts as the tough-talking and mean-spirited waitress, Carla Tortelli. Cheers, as we know, became an even bigger success than Taxi with Perlman taking home four Emmy Awards and 10 nominations making her the most nominated and awarded star on the show. Heck, her character is even ranked as one of the greatest of all time!
Wrapping up Cheers in 1993, Perlman has gone on to appear in notable flicks like There Goes the Neighborhood, Canadian Bacon, Carpool, Sunset Park and Matilda, which DeVito also starred in and directed. Snagging a starring role in the short-lived sitcom Pearl in 1996, she appeared in a string of made-for-television films like H-E Double Hockey Sticks, Secret Cutting, and How to Marry a Billionaire: A Christmas Tale before joining her former Cheers co-star Ted Danson for the fourth season premiere of his hit sitcom, Becker, in 2001. The following year she reprised her role as Carla Tortelli in an episode of Frasier and reunited with Kirstie Alley for 12 episodes of Kirstie in 2013. Since then, she’s made cameos in The Neighbors, The Mindy Project and Brooklyn Nine-Nine in addition to silver screen credits as the voice of Judith in Sing and as Esther in Lemon.
Beyond her life in the spotlight, Perlman’s personal life has always been linked to DeVito thanks to their 40-year friendship. Meeting in January 1971 after a production of The Shrinking Bride, the pair moved in together two weeks later and spent the next decade dating and building their careers before marrying on January 28, 1982. Settling down in Beverly Hills, they welcomed three children into the world—Lucy, Grace and Daniel—and raised them to appreciate both DeVito’s Catholicism and Pearlman’s Judaism. “Our kids are not Jewish and they’re not Catholic. They’re not Episcopalian. They’re not Buddhist. They’re not anything,” Perlman said. “We do all the holidays to keep the traditions and the culture going. I truly don’t have a great feeling about any particular organized religion, and I don’t think it’s right to impose one on my kids. I feel like I’m bringing them up to be good people, and that’s what it’s about.”
Raising three wonderful children and even taking on a second career as an author with the children’s series Otto Undercover, Perlman found her relationship with DeVito entering a new chapter when the couple announced they were separating in October 2012. As rumors ran wild that one of Hollywood’s longest lasting couples had split over DeVito’s “wandering eye” for attractive women, the couple reconciled months later in March 2013 only to separate again in March 2017. Leaving everyone wondering if the couple will mend fences, DeVito took divorce off the table staying, “Well, we’ve been friends for 40-something years. We still love each other.”
As for what’s next for her career, Perlman is always on the lookout for the next role but remains incredibly humbled by her success on Cheers. “There’s one thing about TV that I really think is true,” she says. “If you find the right cast and the right writers, and you got some chemistry going, even if a show is taking a little while to find an audience, if you keep it there, that audience will find it. Because that’s what happened with Cheers.” And now, everybody knows Perlman’s name because of it!