Actress Rhea Perlman is perhaps best known for her portrayal of Carla Tortelli on the popular sitcom “Cheers” (NBC, 1982-1993), from which she won three Emmy Awards, a Viewers for Quality Television Award and an American Comedy Award. After the show ended, she starred in the sitcom “Pearl” (CBS, 1996-1997) and costarred in the soon-canceled series “Kate Brasher” (CBS, 2001). More recently, she played the recurring role of Vera-Joan Skagle in the HBO series “Hung” (2009-2010). Perlman has also acted in a number of television films, including “A Place to Be Loved” (1993), “In the Doghouse” (1998), “How to Marry a Billionaire: A Christmas Tale” (2000), “Other People's Business” (2003) and “The Christmas Choir” (2008). Her movie credits include “Canadian Bacon” (1995), “Sunset Park” (1996), “Matilda” (1996), “10 Items or Less” (2006) and “Love Comes Lately” (2007).
Perlman has been married to actor, director and producer Danny DeVito (born November 17, 1944) since 1982. They have two daughters and one son. She and her husband have acted together in several projects, including “Taxi” and “Matilda” and co-founded the production company Jersey Films. She also began The Colonnades Theatre Lab in New York. Perlman is good friends with actress Lucy Liu and has supported various children's charities, such as LA's Best, Children's Action Network, the Westside Children's Center, the Children's Defense Fund, and the Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
Childhood and Family:
Rhea Jo Perlman was born on March 31, 1948, in Brooklyn, New York, and was raised in Bensonhurst. She is the eldest of two sisters born to Phil Perlman (born 1919), who emigrated from Poland in 1922, and Adele Perlman. Her father, who was an actor and a doll and toy part salesman, appeared in the TV show “Cheers” as Phil, a bar patron. Her sister, Heide Perlman (born 1953), is a producer and writer. When she was younger, Rhea wanted to become a Broadway actress after seeing musicals like “Peter Pan.” After graduating from Lafayette High School in Bensonhurst, she majored in drama at Hunter College in New York. After graduating in 1968, she began auditioning for roles full time. During this period, she supported herself working as a waitress at the Rainbow Room in New York City.
In 1970, while watching a friend performing in “The Shrinking Bride” off-Broadway, Rhea met actor Danny DeVito, who costarred in the play, and they moved into an apartment together two weeks later. They eventually married on January 28, 1982. Their first child, daughter Lucy Chet DeVito, was born in March 1983 and their second daughter, Gracie Fan DeVito, in March 1985. The couple welcomed a new addition to their family, son Jake Daniel DeVito, in October 1987.
Rhea Perlman had her first experience in front of the film cameras when she appeared with Danny DeVito in the short “Hot Dogs for Gauguin” (1972), which was written and directed by Martin Brest. The following year, she made her professional stage debut in an off-Broadway production of “What! And Leave Bloomingdale's?” Four years later, she appeared on television in the NBC drama “Stalk the Wild Child,” which starred David Janssen, Trish Van Devere and Ben Bottoms, and the CBS Golden Globe nominated drama “I Want to Keep My Baby,” starring Mariel Hemingway, Susan Anspach and Jack Rader. The same year, she was cast as Mrs. D'Angelo in the critically acclaimed short film “Selling of Vince D'Angelo,” which was directed by and starred DeVito.
Throughout the 1970s, Perlman appeared in TV films like “Mary Jane Harper Cried Last Night,” “Having Babies II,” “Intimate Strangers” (all 1977) and “Like Normal People” (1979). She was also cast as Zena Sherman, the girlfriend of DeVito, for an episode of the hit sitcom “Taxi” called “Louie and the Nice Girl.” She later reprised the role for additional episodes of the sitcom.
Perlman's big breakthrough arrived when she was cast as waitress Carla Tortelli LeBec on the NBC sitcom “Cheers,” opposite Ted Danson, George Wendt and John Ratzenberger, among others. Created by James Burrows, Glen Charles and Les Charles, the show received low ratings upon its premier on September 30, 1982, and was almost canceled during its first season. However, it eventually became a highly rated television series in the U.S. and stayed on the Top 10 list during eight of its eleven seasons. The show received 117 Emmy nominations and won a respective 28 awards over the course of its airing. For her work on the series, Perlman was nominated for 10 Emmys and took home the award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series in 1985, 1986 and 1989. She also nabbed six Golden Globe nominations in the category of Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV, a Q Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Quality Comedy Series from the 1985 Viewers for Quality Television Awards, and a 1989 American Comedy Award in the category of Funniest Supporting Female Performer in a TV Series.
While acting in “Cheers,” Perlman was also busy on other projects. In 1982, she made her feature film acting debut in “Love Child,” a film directed by Larry Peerce that starred Amy Madigan, Beau Bridges and Mackenzie Phillips. She also appeared with Dick Van Dyke and Mariette Hartley in the CBS TV film “Drop-Out Father” and costarred with her husband in the TV film “The Ratings Game” (1984), which was directed by DeVito. She then reprised her role of Carla Tortelli in an episode of “St. Elsewhere” called “Cheers” (1985), provided the voice of Reeka in “My Little Pony: The Movie” (1986), which starred the voice of DeVito as Grundle King, guest starred in the adventure series “Amazing Story” (1986), supported John Aylward, Joseph Hacker and Judith Light in the NBC thriller “Stamp of a Killer” (1987), portrayed Aunt Dee in the “ABC Afterschool Specials” episode titled “A Family Again” (1988) and voiced Rose Johnson in the animated TV film “Two Daddies” (1989). In 1990, Perlman returned to the big screen with the comedy “Enid Is Sleeping,” which starred Elizabeth Perkins, Judge Reinhold and Jeffrey Jones. The next few years, she landed roles in such films as the comedy “Ted & Venus” (1991), Randall Miller's comedy “Classic Act” (1992, starred Christopher Reid, Christopher Martin and Andre Rosey Brown), Bill Phillips' “There Goes the Neighborhood” (1992, starred Jeff Daniels, Catherine O'Hara and Hector Elizondo) as well as the TV movies “The Last Halloween” (1991), “To Grandmother's House We Go” (1992, opposite Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen) and “A Place to Be Loved” (1993, with Richard Crenna and Linda Kelsey). She also guest starred in NBC's “Blossom” (1991, as The Godmother) and Fox's “Roc” (1992, as Connie Mason).
After “Cheers” left the airwaves, Perlman voiced the character of Mother Bird on the 1993 animated film “We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story,” which also starred the voices of John Goodman, Charles Fleischer, Blaze Berdahl, Jay Leno, Charles Fleischer and Martin Short, supported Kate Nelligan, John Heard and Tobey Maguire in the based on play television movie “Spoils of War” (1994), and provided the voice of Carla Totelli in an episode of the “Simpsons” called “Fear of Flying” (1994) and Ardeth in two episodes of the Jon Lovitz animated vehicle “The Critics” (both 1995). Still in 1995, she portrayed the role of Honey in the comedy film “Canadian Bacon” (1995), alongside John Candy and Alan Alda. She next starred as Phyllis Saroka in “Sunset Park,” opposite Fredro Starr and Carol Kane, worked with Tom Arnold and David Paymer in the Arthur Hiller “Carpool,” and costarred with husband DeVito in his adaptation of Roald Dahl's children's novel “Matilda” (all 1996).
Perlman did not returned to series television as a regular until she received a role in the 1996 sitcom “Pearl,” which she executive produced. Created by Don Reon, the series ran on CBS for from September 1996 to June 1997. She then guest starred in “Union Square” (1997), “Almost Perfect” (1997) and “Mad About You” (1999, as Ramona) and appeared in the TV films “In the Doghouse” (1998), “Houdini” (1998) and “H-E Double Hockey Sticks “ (1999). On stage, she was cast in a Los Angeles production of the Tony winning play “The Last Night of the Ballyhoo.”
Entering the new millennium, Perlman portrayed Thelma in the ABC television film “Tale of Two Bunnies” (2000), Dr. Parella in the Lifetime drama “Secret Cutting” (2000), starring Sean Young, Kimberlee Peterson and Robert Wisden, and Jacqueline Kennedy in the Fox television movie “How to Marry a Billionaire: A Christmas Tale” (2000), starring John Stamos, Joshua Malina and Shemar Moore. In 2001, she landed the reoccurring role of attorney Abbie Schaeffer on the CBS short lived drama “Kate Brasher,” which was executive produced by her husband. Starring Mary Stuart Masterson, the series premiered on February 24, 2001, and was canceled after six episodes. The same year, she also landed guest spots in “Ally McBeal” and “Becker” and returned to play Carla Tortelli on a 2002 “Frasier” episode called “Cheerful Goodbyes.”
Perlman next appeared in episodes of “What's New, Scooby-Doo” (2002, voice of Agnes), “Karen Sisco” (2003), “Kevin Hill” (2004), “Fat Actress” (2005), “Crumbs” (2006) and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (2008, as Roxana Fox). She also appeared in the TV films “Other People's Business” (2003, as Mrs. Wabash), “Stroller Wars” (2006, as Penny) and “The Christmas Choir” (2008). In addition, the actress worked with Morgan Freeman, Paz Vega, Kumar Pallana and Jonah Hill in “10 Items or Less” (2006), a low budget dramatic comedy written and directed by Brad Silberling, portrayed Reisel in Jan Schütte's “Love Comes Lately” (2007), opposite Otto Tausig, Lee Wilkof and Elizabeth Peña, and costarred with Jonathan Silverman, Jennifer Finnigan, Moises Arias and Eddie Griffinin in the direct to video “Beethoven's Big Break” (2008). In 2007, she made her London stage debut in “Boeing-Boeing,” where she replaced Patricia Hodge in the role of long suffering housekeeper Bertha.
During 2009 to 2010, Perlman portrayed the recurring role of Tanya's mother, Vera-Joan Skagle, on the HBO series “Hung.” She will play Maria in Michael Knowles' upcoming film “East Fifth Bliss.” Costars of the film will include Brie Larson, Michael C. Hall, Lucy Liu, Sarah Shahi, Peter Fonda, Chris Messina and Christian Campbell.
TV Land: Legend Award, “Cheers,” 2006
American Comedy: Funniest Supporting Female Performer in a TV Series, “Cheers,” 1989
Emmy: Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, “Cheers,” 1989
Emmy: Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, “Cheers,” 1986
Emmy: Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, “Cheers,” 1985
Viewers for Quality Television: Q Award, Best Supporting Actress in a Quality Comedy Series, “Cheers,” 1985
Emmy: Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, “Cheers,” 1984