Petite and relentlessly perky actress Debra Jo Rupp became one of the most familiar faces on television with roles that capitalized on her matronly, yet frequently madcap, persona. After garnering strong notices in several performances on and off-Broadway in the late-1980s, she began racking up steady appearances on series such as "Kate & Allie" (CBS, 1984-89), as well as in major feature films, including the Tom Hanks comedy "Big" (1988). Although regular cast work on a successful series initially eluded her, Rupp gained recognition with memorable recurring roles on hit comedies such as "Seinfeld" (NBC, 1990-98) and "Friends" (NBC, 1994-2004). She at last found a stable home on a long-running series when she joined the ensemble cast of the comedy "That '70s Show" (Fox, 1998-2006). Surrounded by a talented cast of veteran actors and fresh faces, Rupp played the standard sitcom mom with a wonderfully manic twist in a show that lovingly looked back at a kinder, gentler decade. The actress maintained her profile on TV and film after "That '70s Show" finished its run, although her regular role on the sitcom "Better with You" (ABC, 2010-11) failed to become the next hit series she had hoped for. Whether she was playing an inept talent manager, the "older woman" in a May/December romance, or the high-strung mother of a promiscuous 1970s-era teen, Rupp brought undeniable energy and impeccable comic timing to every character she inhabited.
Debra Jo Rupp was born on Feb. 24, 1951 in Glendale, CA, but soon moved East with her family to Boxford, MA, where she attended Masconomet Regional High School. She attended New York's University of Rochester and earned a bachelor's degree in 1974, before the aspiring thespian made the leap to the Big Apple in pursuit of an acting career. Initially working as an accountant to support herself, Rupp began picking up roles and kudos for her stage work. Notable was a 1986 off-Broadway production of playwright Arthur Laurents' "The Time of the Cuckoo," followed by a career-boosting role as the lead in author Cynthia Heimel's "A Girl's Guide to Chaos" that same year. With her profile raised by the critical raves she was receiving, the young actress soon heeded the siren call of television and made the transition back to the West Coast. Rupp's earliest TV credits came in the late-1980s, with small parts "Kate & Allie" (CBS, 1984-89), "Spenser for Hire" (ABC, 1985-88), and "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd" (NBC, 1987-1991).
In 1988, Rupp appeared again off-Broadway in a long-running production of Terrence McNally's "Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune," in addition to making her feature film debut as Tom Hanks' secretary in the hit comedy "Big" (1988). She then went on to take her first bow on Broadway as Mae alongside Kathleen Turner and Charles Durning in the Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" in 1990. A role in the TV movie "Mothers, Daughters and Lovers" (NBC, 1989) and a guest turn on the penultimate season of "Newhart" (CBS, 1982-1990) came before Rupp's recurring character on the soon-cancelled single dad sitcom "David Rules" (ABC, 1991-92). A small role in the Meryl Streep/Goldie Hawn/Bruce Willis supernatural comedy "Death Becomes Her" (1992), as well as more guest appearances on such series as "Evening Shade" (CBS, 1990-94) and "Family Matters" (ABC, 1989-1998) kept Rupp in the public eye until she snagged another recurring role, playing Sister Mary Incarnata, the Catholic school teacher of a tennis prodigy, on the ABC sitcom "Phenom" (1993-94).
As short-lived as "Phenom" was, Rupp nonetheless managed to rack up extensive additional credits during that time, appearing in the TV-movies "The Odd Couple: Together Again" (CBS, 1993), the Kenny Rogers vehicle "MacShayne: Winner Takes All" (NBC, 1994) and its sequel, as well as guest spots on "L.A. Law" (NBC, 1986-1994) and other network series. When "Phenom" ran out of steam, the increasingly ubiquitous Rupp continued her TV guest shots, including a hilarious turn as Jerry's ditzy, ineffectual manager for two episodes of "Seinfeld" (NBC, 1990-98). Simultaneously, Rupp was teased with regular roles on a pair of barely-seen sitcoms. First came the tepid workplace comedy "The Office" (CBS, 1995) - not to be confused with the hugely successful later NBC show of the same name - and the romantic comedy "If Not for You" (CBS, 1995). Never out of work for long, she kept busy with more guest spots, including a recurring role on "The Jeff Foxworthy Show" (ABC, 1995-97). Rupp reappeared on the big screen with supporting roles in the Steve Martin-led adaptation of the classic TV comedy "Sgt. Bilko" (1996), followed by a turn alongside Lisa Kudrow, Toni Collette, and Parker Posey as bored office temps in the indie comedy "Clockwatchers" (1997).
In one of her more high-profile television roles up to that time, Rupp reteamed with Kudrow during the 1997-98 season of the hit sitcom "Friends" (NBC, 1994-2004), as Alice, the much older girlfriend - and later, wife - of Phoebe's (Kudrow) younger brother, Frank, Jr. (Giovanni Ribisi). The dimwitted and quirky Frank, Jr.'s devotion to Alice - 20 years his senior - provided some of the season's biggest laughs and hilariously awkward moments, exemplified by their spontaneous on-camera make-out sessions. When Kudrow became pregnant in real life, the show's writers came up with one of TV's more ingenious work-arounds for such a situation by having Phoebe become the surrogate mother for the odd couple's eventual triplets. Fresh off her run on "Friends," Rupp was featured in the Sally Field-directed "The Original Wives Club" installment of the acclaimed 12-part miniseries essaying the early years of NASA, "From the Earth to the Moon" (HBO, 1998), hosted and co-produced by Tom Hanks. That same year, she was featured in the Penelope Spheeris-directed "Senseless" (1998), an uninspired comedy starring Marlon Wayans and David Spade.
As Kitty Foreman, hardworking nurse, loving wife of Red (Kurtwood Smith) and overly cautious mother of Eric (Topher Grace), Rupp at last found a long-lasting role worthy of her considerable talents on "That '70s Show" (Fox, 1998-2006). Kitty may have come from the mold of the traditional sitcom mom, but she broke it as well. Prone to high-pitched pleadings and moments of harried hysteria handled masterfully by the actress, it was nonetheless clear that the devoted and somewhat naive Kitty was the glue that held the Foreman family together. Nostalgic without being stale, the well-written show allowed the older generation of actors to shine alongside the series' young leads, many of whom - in particular Grace, Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis - would go on to achieve major stardom. During her eight-season tenure on "That '70s Show" she continued to make sporadic guest appearances on other series, in addition to projects such as the Sunday comics adaptation "Garfield" (2004), starring Bill Murray as the voice of the eponymous cat, in which Rupp voiced a motherly rat, of all things.
When "That '70s Show" came to an end, Rupp moved forward with a 2006 guest turn on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 1999- ), followed by a supporting role in the Jamie Kennedy break-dancing comedy "Kickin' It Old Skool" (2007). In a move that surprised some, she next picked up a recurring role on one of the few remaining daytime soaps, "As the World Turns" (CBS, 1956-2010) in 2008, and later returned to the big screen with a supporting turn in the teenage romantic comedy "She's Out of Your League" (2010). Looking to land a regular spot on another successful show, she joined the cast of the sitcom "Better with You" (ABC, 2010-11), as the mother of two daughters, each at different stages of their respective relationships. Unfortunately, the romantic comedy struggled in the ratings from its premiere and was cancelled after its first season.
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Guest starred on "Kate & Allie" (CBS) and "Spenser: For Hire" (ABC)
Appeared in episodes of "The Equalizer" (CBS) and "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd" (NBC)
Made feature debut in Penny Marshall's "Big"
Had supporting role in the TV-movie "Mothers, Daughters and Lovers"
Starred as Mae in the Broadway revival of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof", starring Kathleen Turner
Had a recurring role on the ABC comedy series "Davis Rules"
Was featured in the fact-based TV-movie "A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story"
Had a recurring role as Sister Mary Incarnata on the ABC sitcom "Phenom"
Acted in two "NBC Friday Night Mystery" movies, "MacShayne: Winner Takes All" and "MacShayne: Final Roll of the Dice"
Played Jerry's manager on "Seinfeld"
Was a regular on the short-lived CBS sitcoms "The Office" and "If Not for You"
Appeared on the Hollywood stage in "Broken Bones", a one-act play presented as part of "Act One '95 Evening B"
Had a recurring role on the ABC sitcom "The Jeff Foxworthy Show"
Played the wife of Dan Aykroyd's oblivious character in "Sgt. Bilko"
Featured in the office-set independent film "Clockwatchers", featuring Lisa Kudrow
Appeared in the Penelope Spheeris comedy "Senseless"
Played Eric Foreman's overprotective mother Kitty in a regular co-starring role on "That '70s Show" (Fox)
Voiced Mrs Helperman in "Disney's Teacher's Pet: The Movie"