(VIDEO) Cinematic Asbury Park History: Danny DeVito premieres "Throw Momma From The Train" at the Paramount

In December 1987, Danny Devito held the world premiere of his directorial debut, “Throw Momma From The Train,” in Asbury Park.  The veritable cult classic, which the Jersey Shore native also wrote, was celebrated with pomp, circumstance and celebrity appearances – much of which you can see here.

Thirty years later, Devito returned to his hometown roots at the 2017 Asbury Park Music + Film Festival, receiving the event’s first-ever ‘Paramount Award,  recognizing his excellence in the arts and contributions to local communities. The city itself celebrated the appearance by declaring that his birthday, November 17, would forever be celebrated as “Danny Devito Day” in Asbury Park.

*Footage from the Throw Momma from the Train Movie Premier Party in Danny Devito's Hometown Asbury Park NJ at the Berkeley Carteret Hotel Asbury Park NJ 2016 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY VACCARO FAMILY

The article below, written by Paul Willistein of Allentown’s Morning Call, recalls the premiere and provides insight to Devito’s directing debut:


December 11th, 1987 - PAUL WILLISTEIN, The Morning Call

For his feature-movie directorial debut, Danny DeVito chose the improbably named "Throw Momma From the Train." The awful thought contained in the title of the movie - which turns out to be a sweet and sentimental comedy - sums up the kinds of characters DeVito has played.

They've been feisty little guys - not surprising since DeVito is barely 5 feet tall. They've been guys who felt the world owed them a living - or at least another good 10 inches in height. Guys who looked like they crawled out from underneath a rock. Guys who'd kick you in the shin. Guys who - as co-star Billy Crystal described DeVito's "Throw Momma" character, Owen Lift - "look like a troll that should be dangling from your rear-view mirror."

DeVito could care less about appearances. After all, he's not only a sought-after actor, he's now a sought-after director. "Throw Momma from the Train," which had its world premiere Monday night in his hometown of Asbury Park, N.J., is just the first. More premieres of DeVito-directed movies are on the way.

In the meantime, DeVito and his wife, "Cheers" star Rhea Perlman, debuted Jake Daniel Sebastian on Oct. 30, joining their other children, Lucy, 4 1/2 , and Gracie, 2 1/2 .

Where movies are concerned, DeVito likes to keep it all in the family.

DeVito and Perlman are to co-star in their first feature movie production, a comedy for Paramount. Written by Rhea's sister Heidi, it's based on a true story. Perlman will play an American on a European vacation. DeVito's the Italian she brings home as a husband.

DeVito's nephew, Peter Luchia, suggested a remake of Fritz Lang's "Scarlet Street," starring Edward G. Robinson. That film was a remake of Jean Renoir's 1931 "La Chienne." DeVito has just gotten the rights to it and is developing it at Warner Bros. Also, DeVito will act and direct in "War of the Roses" for 20th Century Fox, a Jim Brooks production.

And the third installment of the "Romancing the Stone"/"Jewel of the Nile" series - said to be set in the Far East - is planned. DeVito would again star opposite his friend Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner.

"You know how it is with projects," said DeVito. "You develop and hope for the best and that they'll come to the surface."

"Throw Momma From the Train," from Orion Pictures, surfaces today. And Owen Lift is another memorable DeVito character. "Owen is a lot different than the roles I've been playing, except for Martini in 'Cuckoo's Nest,' which was prior to Louie on 'Taxi,' where it all began - this diabolical man with the heart of brass that you love to hate." DeVito won an Emmy for his Louie DePalma role on "Taxi."

DeVito has since played variations on a despicable theme, notably "Romancing the Stone" and "Jewel of the Nile;" opposite Bette Midler in "Ruthless People," and with Richard Dreyfuss in "Tin Men." DeVito doesn't overemphasize his abilities, however. The characterization has to be present in the script to begin with, he said.

"I don't know if I could have made Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro's role in 'Taxi Driver') someone you'd want to carry home with you. It might even be a greater task even for Danny DeVito, that little teddy bear."

Owen Lift, a hostage in his mother's house, was different. DeVito found in him "a child-like quality." "Throw Momma" is a dark comedy - comedy noir, if you will - in which DeVito vows to kill his mother because he can't stand her nagging. Although DeVito feels there's a time in every man's life when he might look askance at mom, he said, "Personally, I really don't relate that way to my mother. She's a sweet 83-year-old and I love her dearly."

DeVito's interest in directing goes back to 1973 and "The Sound Sleeper," a 16mm black and white short he wrote and produced with his wife. It won first prize from the Brooklyn Arts and Cultural Association and a grant from the American Film Institute to make a 35mm short, "Ministrone," which was shown twice at the Cannes Film Festival.

Under his own New Street Productions, DeVito has directed a feature-length drama, "The Ratings Game," for Showtime/The Movie Channel. He also directed several episodes of "Taxi," the pilot of Mary Tyler Moore's TV show, "Mary," an episode of "Amazing Stories" and two short films, "What A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening" and "The Selling of Vince DeAngelo."

I asked DeVito what movie directors have influenced him.

"I love cinema and there are many, many great directors. The directors I have worked with have all influenced me in various ways. When you're spending three months with somebody - Milos Foreman ("Cuckoo's Nest"), Barry Levinson ("Tin Men"), some things rub off on you invariably.

"Film makers I haven't worked with - of course, you have Alfred Hitchcock, who's a great force in the cinema, Martin Scorcese, who's one of the masters of our time. Also, Stanley Kubrick, who is a supreme film maker. Of course, I would guess somebody will see a little DeSica and Fellini in my films.

"Every film I make is an Italian movie. That's the way I look at it. I really feel like this ('Throw Momma') is an Italian movie. This movie is because, you see, when I chose 'Throw Momma From the Train,' there were certain elements in it that I wanted to explore.

"I didn't want to make a candy-colored comedy. When you see it, it's a Modigliani-colored comedy. The walls are the reds that he used. The clothing that we chose were all out of Modigliani's canvas."

"Throw Momma on the Train" has a bright, cartoonish look - not unlike the Coen Brothers' "Blood Simple" and "Raising Arizona." That's because Barry Sonnenfeld, cinematographer for "Throw Momma" also lensed the Coen movies. Sonnenfeld was DeVito's first choice.

"The stylistic things I'm attracted to in the cinema I found I related greatly to 'Blood Simple' and 'Raising Arizona.' I love to move the camera. I like to see it from different points of view. It was right up Barry's alley."

DeVito depends on his wife's opinions. "I don't bring Rhea to any of the dailies and I usually keep her in the cold until I'm ready to bring her in. She's very perceptive. She's kind of an ace in the hole. I show Rhea the work we've put together, the first assembly, and then keep her away until I re- edit."

As for balancing acting and directing, DeVito said he wants to be on the screen "a little more than Hitch," referring to Hitchcock's brief appearances in his own films. "I can't just be satisfied with getting on a bus.”

Stacy Cannamela