Danny Devito – A trailblazing comedian who masterfully rides the line between stand-up and performance art. He’s received his fair share of critical acclaim for his groundbreaking work. He’s earned himself a Golden Globe, a Primetime Emmy, and an Academy Award that attests to his versatility as an actor.
His breakout role was in 1975 working alongside Christopher Lloyd and Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
He rose to prominence in 1978 when he signed on to the cast of Taxi as dispatcher Louie De Palma, although younger viewers are probably most familiar with his role in It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia as Frank Reynolds.
There’s no one quite like Danny Devito. He might be known for his short stature – clocking in at 4 foot 10 – but his personality packs quite the punch. In fact, that’s exactly why he was considered for the cast of Taxi in the first place. We’ll touch on that in a second – so bear with me.
Taxi was unlike any other sitcom on the tube during its era. It focused on working-class members of society, who despite their high-hopes and aspirations, never really were destined to do anything other than drive taxi cabs.
The show won 18 Emmy Awards during its half-decade run on the TV screen and will always be remembered for its outstanding cast and brilliant writing.
Let’s celebrate Danny Devito’s illustrious career and Taxi’s 42nd anniversary with some fascinating behind-the-scene facts – because what else would we do over here at Facts Verse – it’s kind of our thing.
Danny Devito’s Dirty Mouth Earned Him His Role As Louie De Palma
Joel Thurm was the casting director for Taxi, and when he asked DeVito to swing by and audition for the show, Danny’s buddies Jack Nicholson and Michael Douglas both cautioned him to not do TV. They told him that it ‘uses you up’.
That was probably pretty easy for them to say as they were already big-time rich and famous movie stars. Devito didn’t listen to their warnings however as he loved the pilot script and knew that he would be perfect for the part of Louie the dispatcher.
To get the part, Devito knew that he would have to show the execs at the audition that he had the right attitude and swagger for the role. When he waltzed into the conference room and found the brass all patiently sitting at the table waiting for him, the first thing he did was throw the script on the table and gruffly shout out ‘One thing I want to know before we start – Who wrote this shit?”.
That was a pretty bold move but fortunately, it paid off. The producers all thought he was hilarious and proceeded to howl and chortle at every one of his following remarks. Needless to say, he got the job and the rest is history.
Tony Danza Is Driving The Taxi In The Opening Scene
In the opening credit sequence, Danza is the one that’s steering the cab across New York’s Queensboro Bridge. The sequence is looped to make it appear that the cab is traveling across a never-ending bridge – which can be seen as a metaphor of sorts for the characters of the show perpetually going nowhere with their lives.
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Did you know that Andy Kaufman’s alter-ego, Tony Clifton, was given his own contract and dressing room while he was a cast member of Taxi? We’ll touch on that in a second, so stayed tuned, but let’s first find out the truth behind why Jeff Conaway left the show.
Bobby Wheeler Was Written Out Of the Show After Jeff Conaway’s Firing
Conaway did an interview in 2008 with the Calgary Herald where he revealed why he left the show. According to him, producers of the series dishonored and disrespected him and didn’t uphold their end of his contract.
He further explained that he didn’t have to work in TV at the time as he already had a successful movie career. He claimed that if he didn’t do Taxi then he would probably be what he called a ‘$20 million dollar’ movie star by now if he hadn’t.
He proceeded to trash talk the producers by calling them jerks and declaring that he was better off without them. Dramatically, he stated that once he left the show, it dropped 20 rating points, indicating that its popularity was mostly because of himself.
Sam Simon who was a writer and producer for the show had a different story to tell about why Conaway left the series. In a phone-in interview on the Howard Stern show, he described how he found Conaway lying on the floor of his dressing room too intoxicated to perform. He had a pretty debilitating drug problem at the time and that was essentially the last straw. His lines were divvied up between Danny Devito and Christopher Lloyd and the audience didn’t seem to miss Conaway’s presence in the least bit. That’s when they realized that Conaway’s Bobby Wheeler character wasn’t essential for the show and they let him go.
Unfortunately, Conaway died in 2011 of complications related to his drug usage and pneumonia at the age of 60. His passing was documented in the UK TV docu-series Autopsy; The last Hours Of…
The Theme Song Was Originally Funkier
The first choice for a theme song was a funky jazz track called ‘Touchdown’ by Bob James. At the last minute, the theme music was swapped out for another composition by James that was featured in the series third episode “Blind Date”. The song plays when Alex walks up to the door of the toxic Angela Matusa for their ill-fated second date. The new track was less upbeat and more melancholy – which seemed to mesh more with the show than the original choice.
Reverend Jim’s Clothes Came Straight Out Of Christopher Lloyd’s Closet
The worn-out blue-jeans were Lloyd’s and the shoes that Reverend Jim wore had previously belonged to Lloyd’s former father-in-law. The jacket he wore was a found item that Lloyd’s next-door neighbor discovered abandoned in his bushes while he was tending to his garden.
When Lloyd showed up for his audition in the ragged clothes, unkempt, disheveled, and unshaven, the receptionist thought that he was a homeless man that somehow managed to sneak past all of the security detail at the Paramount lot. They were pretty surprised when his name was actually on the audition list.
Danny Devito’s Best Friend Helped Him Get Started In The Film Industry
Devito is besties with Michael Douglas. They’ve been best buds for over 50 years. The oddly-matched companions first met back in 1966 when they were both struggling actors trying to find work. They even shared an apartment together in Manhattan where they each chipped in $75 dollars a month for rent. Good luck finding housing in the Big Apple that cheap these days. 75 bucks won’t even get you a single night at a roach motel.
It was Douglas that actually got Devito his part in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest back in 1975. Douglas was the producer of the film and Devito had already appeared in an off-broadway production of the play when Douglas suggested his pal to the film’s director. Devito was subsequently the first actor to be cast in the film.
If it weren’t for Michael Douglas, Devito probably would have never had a chance landing his iconic role in Taxi.
Reverend Jim’s Zany Character Was Originally Given To Tony Banta
The characters of Taxi went through a rather startling evolution throughout the show’s early production.
Phil Ryan was initially conceived as a drunken dimwit.
When Tony Danza was hired on, the producers all thought that he was better suited playing a youthful, naive, innocent kind of character as opposed to a baffled bumbling blunderer that he became.
There was a bit of a hang-up though because Randall Carver had already been selected to play John Burns, a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed redneck transplant to the big city.
As season one continued to unfold, the production team realized that the characters were much too similar and all of their lines could easily be interchanged, so John Burns was nixed from the series after season one and Christopher Lloyd was added to the cast to provide his unique brand of wacky comedic relief.
Andy Kaufman’s Contract Had A Bizarre Clause
Tony Clifton was Andy Kaufman’s alter-ego. His character was some kind of obnoxious, sleazeball, freeloader. Well, Kaufman insisted that Clifton be written into a few Taxi episodes but he also asserted that Clifton be treated as a completely separate person than himself. He requested that his second-self be given his own dressing room, parking space, and even a separate contract. Kaufman was adamant too that cast and crew members always refer to him as “Tony” and never “Andy’.
Clifton was written into an episode called “A Full House For Christmas”. When he showed up on set, not only was he egregiously late but he also brought two sex workers with him that he immediately escorted his dressing room and proceeded to have ridiculously loud sex.
After the trio finished up their ‘business’ in the dressing room and rehearsals got underway, Tony kept changing up the dialogue and then informed everyone that he had written in parts for his prostitute companions as well.
Jeff Conaway angrily ran off set and Judd Hirsch and Tony started going at it. What first started off as a war of words turned violent when punches started being thrown. Ed Weinberger ended up calling security and having ‘Tony Clifton’ escorted off the lot.
Andy Kaufman would later state that the episode went exactly how he planned it too.
Bobby Wheeler Was Supposed To Be Black
The character was originally written with an African American actor in mind. Cleavon Little, who recently starred in Blazing Saddles was the front runner at one point for the role. Eventually, it came down to him and Jeff Conaway.
Conaway, who had already appeared in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, already had a rapport with the production team. He had also recently starred in Grease which also gave his prospects a boost. Conaway was originally intended to play John Burns but they later decided that he would be best suited for Bobby Wheeler – although as we already noted, that didn’t really pan out in his favor.
Well, here we are, once again at the end of another facts-tastic video. Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed learning all of the ins-and-outs of Taxi. The series might have been canceled in 1983 but Danny DeVito’s career was just getting started.
Which television show featuring Danny DeVito do you think is funniest, Taxi or It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia? Post your opinion in the comments section below.
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