By James W, Monday 11th February 2013
It seems quite incredible to think that Taxi, the comedy drama that launched the careers of Danny DeVito, Judd Hirsch and Christopher Lloyd is now 35 years old. The show, which ran for 114 episodes, was a change of direction for American situation comedy as it added honest pathos rather than saccharine coated sentiment.
Created by James L. Brooks, Stan Daniels, David Davis and Ed Weinberger the show is an ensemble piece with huge, but believable characters, that had to deal with everyday issues. By keeping it cemented in reality the show tackled subjects you wouldn't normally associate with comedy and it's this dramatic element that made it television not to be missed.
Built around the loser-in-life character of Alex Rieger (Hirsch) we witnessed the day-to-day goings on at a Taxi rank in Manhattan and the notable characters who worked for the Sunshine Cab Company. There was wannbe boxer Tony Banta (Tony Danza), arty Elaine O'Connor Nardo (Marilu Henner), acid casualty Jim Ignatowski (Lloyd) and Latka Gravas (Andy Kaufman) an immigrant who is bemused by much he sees.
Though Rieger was the central character of the series, DeVito's interpretation of the manager Louie De Palma soon became the focus. He was the dark heart of the piece; always beating in the background ready to deliver pulsating acerbic one-liners with such precision timing you could set an atomic clock by his performance. De Palma was a hate-riddled man who used and abused his staff with looks that could kill, and regularly did, metaphorically speaking. Its DeVito's assured take on such a loathsome person that helped him to make the seemingly easy transition from TV to movies.
Though audiences had already seen him on the big screen in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest in 1975, it would be the 1984 box office smash Romancing The Stone, directed by Robert Zemeckis which gave him the global exposure he needed. From here he had a massive run of hits including the follow up to Romancing The Stone, The Jewel Of The Nile (1985), Ruthless People (1986) and Throw Momma From The Train (1987) in which he also directed. Then came Twins (1988), The War Of The Roses (1989) and as the 80s progressed so did his career and he moved into other areas such as producing.
A turning point was starring as The Penguin in Tim Burton's stunning yet bleak masterpiece, Batman Returns (1992). Here DeVito gave the character of Oswald Cobblepot an internal anguish and showed the world how to give a grotesque comic book character a three-dimensional realisation.
Probably his greatest success was transforming Roald Dahl's Matilda into a big screen smash in 1996. Directed with care for the source text, though it did have some changes to the book, Matilda is a triumph of storytelling and DeVito cast himself as the loathsome Harry Wormwood.
But no matter what he turns his hand to, Danny will always be associated with Taxi and with the legendary character of Louie De Palma. We're catching up with Danny soon, so if you have a question for him, post it on our Facebook or Twitter feeds. You never know, he might just answer the one you sent in.
Don't miss Taxi weekdays at 6.30pm showing as part of the CBS Drama Happy Hour alongside Cheers.
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