Danny DeVito

Ruthless People

Tom Zimberoff
8 min readApr 17, 2024


©1986 Tom Zimberoff / May not be copied, reproduced or altered in any way whatsoever / All Rights Reserved

Looking at my portrait of Danny DeVito, if I had panned my lens slightly to the left, you would have seen dozens of people hurling themselves off the end of the Santa Monica Pier, splashing madly into the sea thirty feet below, trying to gather more than two million dollars in loose bills floating to the surface from a ratty Ford coupe that had plunged off and sunk seconds earlier. A parade of cop cars in hot pursuit came to a screeching halt behind them. Then they got ready to do it all over again — well, at least part of it: take two.

I was visiting the set of Ruthless People, a 1986 movie starring DeVito, Bette Midler, and Bill Pullman (in his screen debut), to photograph DeVito for a feature story in Time.

First things first, visiting members of the press have to kiss the boss’s ring. So Danny’s publicist introduced me to director Jerry Zucker, one of three co-directors — that’s unusual — on this movie. He was getting ready to shoot the scene I just described. With his blessing, I was ushered over to meet Danny in his dressing-room trailer. Because I was on a deadline, I whisked him away for our portrait, reserving introductory remarks for our walk toward a stairway leading down to the beach from the pier. On the way, I grabbed Danny’s folding cast-member chair (with his name stenciled on the back) and, well, I hope nobody got bent out of…