“Tinseltown’s Tiny Terror,” as Time once nicknamed him (he has called himself “the five-feet guy”), has also had an extraordinarily long, successful career as a producer, director and actor in indies and big-budget films, most recently as Max Medici in Tim Burton’s “Dumbo,” a reimagining of the 1941 Disney classic, which opens next week.
“Danny’s just got a good Felliniesque spirit about him that makes you want to be around him,” says Mr. Burton, who has directed the “DeVito trilogy’’ of the actor as top-hatted ringmasters in “Batman Returns,” “Big Fish” and now “Dumbo.” (Mr. Burton says that the film, featuring a very woke circus and an adorable C.G.I. blue-eyed baby elephant, won’t upset those who swore off circuses because of elephant abuse, noting, “As a child, I felt very uneasy about the circus for that reason.”)
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Michael Keaton, who has a dastardly turn in “Dumbo” as an archcapitalist, says he marveled that when Mr. DeVito played Oswald Cobblepot, better known as the Penguin, in the 1992 film “Batman Returns,” he created an entire garden outside his trailer, with beautiful hedges, potted plants, a chair and a table for water, where he presided, doing “his Danny thing, his Jersey funny, irreverent thing.”
Robert De Niro, who met Mr. DeVito in an equity picket line in the rain at a theater in the Village when they were in their mid-20s, admired his fellow Italian so much that he called to ask him for tips before he directed “A Bronx Tale.”
Basically, Mr. De Niro tells me, Mr. DeVito’s advice boiled down to: “Don’t worry.”