Many people remember Danny DeVito as a dispatcher in Taxi, a heavily made-up Penguin in Batman Returns, or as the smarmy gossip writer in LA Confidential. However, many people don’t realize he’s also a producer — and one of his most prominent credits was Pulp Fiction.
Danny DeVito had a company called Jersey films that made not only Pulp Fiction but a host of other smart movies from the 1990s. This is how he met Quentin Tarantino and helped him get Pulp Fiction made.
How ‘Pulp Fiction’ got started
In 1992, Quentin Tarantino was only just starting to get known on the strength of his debut feature Reservoir Dogs, about a heist gone wrong. Before that made his name, he already had the idea for Pulp Fiction, with three interweaving crime stories, and he wanted to make that his second feature, according to Vanity Fair.
Tarantino famously worked in a video store, watching all myth and manner of movies, and he’d hit upon his omnibus idea:
“The ones you’ve seen a zillion times—the boxer who’s supposed to throw a fight and doesn’t, the Mob guy who’s supposed to take the boss’s wife out for the evening, the two hitmen who come and kill these guys.”
The script was inspired by hard-boiled stories from the likes of legendary writers like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, who wrote for pulp magazines — hence the name, Pulp Fiction.
Tarantino and co-writer Roger Avary hammered together the stories. Now Tarantino just had to find somebody to buy it.
How Danny DeVito got involved with ‘Pulp Fiction’
In 1991, Tarantino met producer Stacey Sher, whose producing partner was Danny DeVito, and Sher introduced the two.
“I listened to him for about 10 minutes, thinking, I may be meeting someone who talks faster than Martin Scorsese,” DeVito recalled. “I said, ‘I want to make a deal with you for your next movie, whatever it is.”
The “whatever” was Pulp Fiction. When DeVito got the script, he swooned. He took it to Miramax, the leading indie film distributor at the time.
Before you could say “royale with cheese,” the movie transformed the industry, spawning hundreds of imitators and helping to explode the independent film scene.
But Danny DeVito’s work with Pulp Fiction wasn’t his only contribution as a producer. His and Sher’s company Jersey Films got its start making Hoffa, with DeVito directing Jack Nicholson as Jimmy Hoffa, the notorious teamsters leader who got mixed up in many a nefarious scheme until he mysteriously vanished in 1975, and his body was never found.
DeVito’s other producing credits included Reality Bites and Get Shorty, one of the best Hollywood-on-Hollywood films, and another movie that reinvigorated the career of John Travolta.
Later movies included the underrated Gattaca, as well as Matilda and Out of Sight.
What are Quentin Tarantino and Danny DeVito doing now?
Tarantino is basking in the glow of the success of Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, his “what if” twist on the infamous events of August 1969 when Charles Manson’s followers headed toward the Hollywood hills.
He’s now debating what his tenth and supposedly final movie will be, and he’s kicking around the idea of a Star Trek feature.
Meanwhile, DeVito, who recently reunited with Tim Burton in the Disney remake of Dumbo, will again revive past pop culture by appearing in the sequel to Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, where his grumpy old man gets transformed into Dwayne Johnson.
And while all this is going on, the man DeVito once made a movie about, Jimmy Hoffa, is a major figure in The Irishman, where he’s played by Al Pacino. The director is the fast talker whom DeVito compared Tarantino, Martin Scorsese.