That Show’s Effervescent Mom
An American prolific television actress who has also found triumph on the silver screen, Debra Jo Rupp has appeared on stage and in film, and scored numerous hours of television airtime with regular roles on short-lived series and countless guest stints before receiving her huge break as the overprotective mother Kitty Forman on the Fox hit sitcom “That ‘70s Show” (1998-2006). The petite and brown-haired performer is also memorable for playing Alice, a home economics teacher who fell for Phoebe Buffay’s brother, on the NBC hot sitcom “Friends” (1997-1998), and as Jerry’s bungling manager on NBC’s “Seinfeld” (1995). She also has had recurring roles on such sitcoms as “Davis Rules” (1991), “Phenom” (1993-94) and “The Jeff Foxworthy Show” (1995-1996), and starring roles on short-lived series “The Office” and “If Not for You” (both 1995).
As a film actor, Rupp, who made her debut with 1988’s comedy Big (1988), starring Tom Hanks, gained impetus with roles on Death Becomes Her (1992) and Sgt. Bilko (1996). Her more recent and upcoming projects include Clockwatchers (1997), Senseless (1998), Lucky 13 (2005), Spymate (2006) and Kickin It Old Skool (2006).
Personally speaking, the 5’ 4” tall performer decided to stop smoking in 2000, and the event received many media attentions. This caused Rupp to gain twenty-five pounds. Later, she could control her weight and kicked smoking for good. On “That ‘70s Show,” Kitty Forman’s smoking dependence was also written out of the series, in tune with Rupp’s new lifestyle choice. Rupp is now a resident of Los Angeles.
From Massachusetts to NY
Childhood and Family:
Debra Jo Rupp was born on February 24, 1951, in Glendale, California. Raised in Boxford, Massachusetts, she attended Masconomet Regional High School in Boxford, Massachusetts, graduating in 1970. She went on to study at New York’s University of Rochester and after graduation in 1974 decided to stay in NY to launch a career in acting.
Kickin It Old Skool
California-born, Massachusetts-raised Debra Jo Rupp relocated to New York and started her acting career in the 1980s. Her first job came in 1980 with a guest spot on ABC’s series “All My Children,” playing striptease dancer Sheila, and by the late 1980s, she had begun a full-time career by playing episodic roles in such shows as “Kate & Allie,” “Spenser: For Hire” and “The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd.” Before long, Rupp made her film debut in the Tom Hanks comedy Big (1988), directed by Penny Marshall. A year later, she added television film acting to her endeavors with Mothers, Daughters and Lovers, playing small role Lottie.
Rupp starred as Mae in the 1990 Broadway revival of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” along side Kathleen Turner and Charles Durning, before snagging her first recurring role on the ABC comedy series “Davis Rules” (1991). Guest spots on the series “Civil Wars,” “Blossom,” “Family Matters,” “Evening Shade” and “Empty Nest” kept the actress in the public eye until she holdup another recurring gig on the ABC sitcom “Phenom” (1993-94), portraying Sister Mary Incarnata, the Catholic school teacher of a tennis prodigy. Meanwhile, she maintained busy by working on television films In the Line of Duty: Ambush in Waco (1993), The Odd Couple: Together Again (1993), MacShayne: Winner Takes All and MacShayne: The Final Roll of the Dice (both 1994), and by guest starring on “L.A. Law” (1993), “Hearts Afire” (1994) and “Diagnosis Murder” (1994).
When “Phenom” left the airwaves in 1994, Rupp maintained her small screen presence by making guest appearance on such TV series as NBC’s “Seinfeld” (1995), where he memorably played Jerry’s incompetent manager, Katie. Still in 1995, the virtually ubiquitous Rupp had regular roles on the CBS sitcoms “The Office” and “If Not for You,” but both were short lived. She also appeared in the television film The Invaders and emerged on Hollywood stage with a one-act play presented as part of “Act One ‘95 Evening B,” “Broken Bones.” She continued with a recurring part in the ABC sitcom “The Jeff Foxworthy Show,” a gig she held from 1995 to 1996.
Since her sophomore silver screen effort in 1992’s Death Becomes Her, starring Meryl Streep, Bruce Willis and Goldie Hawn, Rupp did not appear in another film until the Steve Martin comedy Sgt. Bilko (1996), a remake of the popular TV series of the same name. There, she portrayed Mrs. Hall, the wife of Dan Aykroyd’s insensible character, Colonel John T. Hall. She went on to appear on the independent film Clockwatchers (1997), with Lisa Kudrow, and on the comedy/romance Senseless (1998), which starred Marlon Wayans, David Spade and Matthew Lillard.
However, it was Rupp’s television work on the highly successful sitcom “Friends” (1997-1998) that garnered the demanding performer some notice. Playing recurring role Alice, the sister-in-law of Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) and the mother of the triplets Phoebe carried, she delivered her greatest visibility that eventually put her on the radar of the “That ‘70s Show” casting department. As a result, she was handed the regular co-starring role of bubbling mother Kitty Forman on this Fox’s popular sitcom in 1998, an assignment she kept until 2006. In addition to giving opportunities to further demonstrate her comic flairs, “That ‘70s Show” served as the true launching point of Rupp’s career.
While working on the show, Rupp also pursued other projects. She provided the voice of Mrs. Mary Lou Moira Angela Darling Helperman on the short-lived animation series Teacher’s Pet (2000) and later reprised her role for the 2004 movie of the same name. She did another voice-over, this time as Mom Rat on Garfield: The Movie (2004), appeared as Ms. Laneworthy on two episodes of the TV series “The Tracy Morgan Show” (2004) and starred as Rosy Marconi in the short movie The Act (2004). She next had feature roles in films Jackson, the comedy Lucky 13 (both 2005) and Spymate (2006), helmed by Robert Vince and starring Chris Potter.
After “That ‘70s Show” came to an end, Rupp could be seen playing Debra Hartnell on a 2006 episode of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” She is scheduled to play Sylvia Schumacher, the mother of a young break dancer, Justin, who slips into a coma for twenty years following a freak breakdancing accident, in the upcoming comedy film Kickin It Old Skool (2006).