Today is Danny DeVito’s birthday, so we here at UNILAD thought it was the perfect opportunity to pay homage to one of the only true embodiments of the phrase ‘living legend’ and lay down the law on just why he is the only celebrity worth creating a shrine for.
Daniel Michael DeVito Jr. was born on November 17, 1944 in New Jersey to Daniel Sr. and Julia. From his very first portrayal of Louie De Palma in Taxi onwards, his work both on and off the screen would come to light the lives of millions around the world.
His trademark wry smile and inimitable sense of humour are almost as distinctive as his appearance, something which has helped DeVito enjoy a long and varied career in the performing arts – both in front of, and behind the camera.
In fact, while many of our generation may well know DeVito from his frankly award-worthy work as Frank Reynolds in It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia or Penguin in Batman Returns, he is as prolific in the production of films as he is in the creation of iconic characters.
DeVito has his own production company, Jersey Films, which is responsible for many classic films. Perhaps most notable is Pulp Fiction, widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made.
Serving as Executive Producer on Tarantino’s magnum opus, DeVito was instrumental in getting the project started, and making it the success it has become today.
Apparently, Tarantino even wanted DeVito’s involvement in front of the camera too, if a leaked cast wish list is anything to go by. According to this list, Tarantino wanted DeVito to play Harvey Keitel’s character of fixer Winston Wolfe, though this sadly never came to be.
His production company is also responsible for the Oscar nominated Erin Brockovich, Zach Braff’s debut directorial effort Garden State and Jim Carrey’s Golden Globe winning biopic of comedy genius Andy Kaufman, Man on the Moon.
So DeVito’s film credentials aren’t in any doubt, but that doesn’t explain just why we as a society have come to love him so dearly. Why has Danny DeVito permeated so far into the zeitgeist that he’s almost morphed into a superego-like Danny detached from the man himself?
That’s hard to say. Stories of his warm-heartedness and generosity have permeated internet culture for years, not least of which the now infamous tale of DeVito and his then-wife Rhea Perlman’s familial kindness to Matilda actress Mara Wilson during her mother’s battle with cancer.
The oft-told story goes that Mara’s mother was battling cancer during the filming of the Roald Dahl favourite. Mara was just nine at the time, and DeVito and Perlman stepped forward to look after Mara while her mother was at doctor’s appointments or during treatment.
They became a family during these moments despite of – perhaps actually strengthened by – the emotionally draining time, something for which Mara has said she will always be grateful.
But the generosity did not end there. Mara’s mother loved to read to her daughter, and one of their favourite books to read together was Roald Dahl’s Matilda, and it was one of Mara’s great sadnesses that her mother never got to see her performance in the beloved film.
Or at least that’s what she thought: before Mara’s mother sadly passed away, DeVito rushed a rough cut of the classic and showed the film to her so she could see what her daughter had accomplished.
the best thing about my school is the danny devito shrine hidden behind the paper towel dispenser in one of the bathrooms pic.twitter.com/3jFe0V9eK6
— snootosphere (not responding to dms about shrine) (@slackerdook) November 13, 2018
This gift to Mara’s mother in her final weeks has stayed with Mara for decades since, and is testament to the man behind the legend.
What is perhaps so distinctive about DeVito, though, is that he is one of the few celebrities whose persona doesn’t feel like a carefully constructed act – he is just a nice man.
Few famous people hold this quality – Bill Murray and Emma Thompson are but two – but those who radiate their natural personality to the world are invariably met with love around the world.
Make no mistake, this trait is not something to be scoffed at. Can even any of you claim to be an honest reflection of yourself to your friends let alone most of the world?
Think back to the viral story of the girl who took the cardboard cutout of Danny DeVito to prom. An incredible story in its own right, no? But this viral sensation went to the next level when DeVito himself responded by taking a cutout of the girl to the set of Paddy’s pub.
When interviewing DeVito for his recent film Smallfoot, I asked him about this experience, and he had this to say:
Recently I did a talkshow in LA with other cut outs of me and they brought her on and didn’t tell her I was behind one of the boards. It was kinda cute, they gave her a cutout of me as Oswald and Mr. Wormwood and I was behind the door myself. It’s a cute thing that she did that.
This underpins DeVito’s outlook on his fans. He knows full well the attitude people have towards him, and he does what few celebrities do in that situation, he leans into it.
When most celebs love to lean away from any kind of popular persona which has been created around them – think Tom Cruise or Bruce Willis – DeVito encourages it and enhances it with his interactions with fans.
"danny devito" means "daniel of life" and i think that's beautiful
— michael lutz (@WarrenIsDead) October 5, 2018
He told UNILAD:
I’m very lucky that I’ve got fans who are kids who are Matilda fans, and I get a lot of that on the street. I get Twins fans. In London I got really enthusiastic Sunny fans who just stopped in the middle of the street and jumped out of their cars to take selfies.
You’ve gotta roll with the punches, it’s fun and I embrace it. Maybe I ask for it, I feel like I give an aura that it’s okay to run around the block and take a selfie with me. Maybe that’s the superego of Danny. Whatever it is, it’s fun.
It’s incredibly difficult to get to the bottom of what makes Danny DeVito such an incredible human being, but whatever it is, it’s fun.
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