Before playing the role of a waitress on Cheers, Rhea Perlman was a real waitress in NYC
Image credit: The Everett Collection
She had lots of children, no husband, a cynical sense of humor and a big crush on her workplace boss in the hit sitcom Cheers. Her name was Carla Tortelli.
Rhea Perlman played the role of Carla for 11 seasons. You may remember Carla for her many one-liners or for slinging drinks as a waitress at the Boston pub. Perlman was different from her character's personality in many ways, but they shared one thing in common: they both had work experience as a waitress.
"I'd love to have Carla over for dinner," Perlman said in a 1986 interview with the Press Journal. "She's not a one-dimensional character at all. She's shown all sides of herself on the show. The good, bad, loving, angry, helpful and insecure."
Perlman was big on being able to show the many sides of her character. In real life, Perlman was doing it all: She was an actress with a full-time gig, she performed on Broadway, she was the wife of Danny DeVito, a mother of three and so much more.
"People are complicated," Perlman said. "For example, I don't always have quick answers. I'm not wise-cracking like Carla is, but there must be a part of me that likes to do that. She has a groundedness in her family, and we are similar that way. You just can't do a part for five years and not have her be part of you."
Carla is known for having a big-time crush on Sam Malone, played by Ted Danson. In real life, the actress was married to Danny DeVito. At the time, DeVito was making headlines with Taxi.
Perhaps the biggest reason Perlman felt connected to her Cheers character was because they both worked as a waitress. She worked at Rainbow Grill, formerly located at the top of the RCA Building in New York City. Today this building is known as 30 Rockefeller Plaza and is home to NBC.
Despite being a waitress on TV, Perlman's real waitressing days weren't the type of memories she would have cared to relive.
According to a 1983 interview with Wichita Falls Times, one of her most embarrassing moments as a waitress came when she was serving David Rockefeller and a few of his friends.
With Perlman's arms heavy from carrying plates of food and drinks up three flights of stairs, she was unable to hang on. The actress said she spilled spaghetti and other items all over Rockefeller and his friends. This moment sounds like it would be straight out of an episode of Cheers and a moment that Carla may have even called a win.
"I think Carla's a lot of things I'd like to be," Perlman said. "I'm not like her, but she's a person who always has a wisecrack. I always think of something two hours later. But we are both earthy and practical. The great thing about a TV show is that each week you get to develop the character a little bit more."
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