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DeVito!

Although he has a penchant for dark comedies, actor-director Danny DeVito is serious about his craft, his family and his cigars.
David Shaw
From the Print Edition:
Danny DeVito, Winter 96

(continued from page 2)

In the late 1970s and early '80s, when he was starring in the hit television series "Taxi," in which he played the lovable louse Louie DePalma, he and the other key players in the show got into the habit of coming together for various special occasions—birthdays, weddings, the opening of a new season—to have a nice meal, open a box of Cuban cigars and join in a celebratory smoke.

It wasn't until meeting Arnold Schwarzenegger that DeVito began to smoke cigars regularly. While filming Twins in 1987, Schwarzenegger gave him a box of cigars. "I was on a major diet then," DeVito recalls, "so Arnold being Arnold, he also gave me a dozen pastries."

DeVito didn't eat all the pastries. But he did smoke all the cigars, and sometime after that, he began making them part of his routine—first just on weekends and now, every day. His favorites are all Cubans. He began with Cohibas, switched to Partagas Serie D No. 4 after a few years and recently switched again, to Diplomaticos. "Now I'm starting to have a big leaning toward Bolivars," DeVito says. "It depends on my mood and where I am and what I'm doing. When I'm not working on a movie, I like to get up in the morning and take the kids to school, come home and read and work out and have a good lunch and come outside and fire up. A Bolivar seems nice then."

As DeVito speaks, his two dogs—Ocean and Pepper—walk over, looking for a little attention. He pets them both and, in his sternest director's voice, tells them to go away. They ignore him and lie down. But all this cigar talk reminds him of his favorite cigar story:

"I was flying to Europe right after we finished The War of the Roses. It was an all-night flight. We had a great meal and they were going to pour some Port and I had a stogie with me and there were only a handful of people in first class. I had had a couple of drinks and I was with friends and I was feeling good. It was just the perfect time for a nice stogie. The flight attendants had been real friendly, so I said, 'Boy, I would really love to fire up now.' They said, 'You really can't.' I asked why not. They said the passengers would be really upset. I said, 'What if I asked every passenger on the plane—first class, coach, everyone—if they minded?' One of the flight attendants said, 'Well, OK, if you get everyone's permission.'

"I got up and walked the full length of the plane and said hello to everyone who was awake and asked if I could smoke. Everyone said OK. But there was one guy in the back of the first-class cabin who said, 'There is no way you are going to light up a cigar on this airplane' "—DeVito smiles his slyly malevolent movie smile—"'unless you give me one.'"

Danny DeVito portrait.

DeVito fairly cackles with joy at the recollection.

"It was the most enjoyable transatlantic flight I ever had."

Danny DeVito was born in 1944 in the shore town of Neptune, New Jersey—hence the name of his production company—and raised in neighboring Asbury Park, the youngest of five children (two of whom died before he was born). His father owned a pool hall, and Danny became adept with a cue at a young age; even now, he has a pool table in his home. He was a streetwise teenager whose love of movies and sense of the theatrical developed early. Once, while eating ice cream with some friends—one of whom happened to have a starter's pistol—he decided on a bit of impromptu street theater: he staged a fight that involved a phony shootout between two of his friends, after which he and his cohorts jumped into a car owned by the father of one of the friends and raced off into the dark night, while bystanders gaped in stunned silence. DeVito later restaged the event and filmed it as A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening.

But he didn't go straight from the streets of Jersey to the sound stages of Hollywood. There were several detours along the way.


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