"Seek not the good in external things. Seek it in thyself." - Epictetus

Danny DeVito: “My mother used to shrink me and trap me in a jar”

When Danny DeVito arrived for this interview Monday morning, he did so holding a cup of coffee and a rain-soaked magazine over his head, shaking off the January chill. The magazine he held was an issue of Country Living, a special edition titled “Big Ideas for Small Spaces.” That title is particularly triggering for DeVito, whose childhood was marked by witchcraft, shame, and torment. “You get to a place where you finally feel like you’re okay – like you’re managing,” he said. “And then you see a simple magazine and your life is upended.”

DeVito’s 51-year career would seem outwardly successful, his public life positive and uncontroversial. However, lurking beneath the surface is a lifetime of emotional turmoil. Today DeVito decided to come clean in this shocking tell-all. The decision was not made lightly. “I questioned even coming here,” he said. “But then I opened my mailbox and found this,” – he shook rain droplets off his copy of Country Living – “and that was the last straw.”

His young life in Asbury Park, New Jersey seemed perfectly normal to outsiders. But his mother was hiding a dark secret. “She was a witch,” he said. “She came from a notorious group of Italian sorcerers and wanted to raise me into the life. When I refused, things got bad.” When asked for specifics, DeVito began to choke up. 

His reply came in short bursts of sobbing speech. “She had this…special way of punishing me when
ever I refused to go along with her devious penchant for witchery. She would shrink me and place me inside a jar. She’d seal the jar up and leave me there for hours. Once, she put a spider outside the jar just to terrify me further. I was afraid it would get into the jar somehow and eat me.”

For most, the idea of a Hollywood actor with a household name stuck inside a jar, banging fruitlessly on the glass and howling for help, would seem hard to believe. DeVito insists it’s what happened, and he has carried the trauma with him well into his adult life. “I gotta tell you,” he said, “when I first went on set to start filming Twins, I thought Arnold Schwarzenegger was gonna eat me. I saw those big Austrian jaws, that 'I eat nails for breakfast' smile, and I just thought, ‘I’m done. It’s all over for me.’ In a heartbeat, flashbacks of that spider, tapping away on the outside of my jar, just came spilling back into my head. I freaked out, man. I freaked out.”

His story did not end in tragedy. At the age of 18, he was finally able to leave his home and pursue a career in acting. Though his mother attempted to cast another spell, DeVito dodged the blast of shrinking energy on his way out the door. It was the difference between freedom and slavery; normal size and micro size. “I think if I didn’t pack a bag and run right then and there, she might have kept me in the jar forever.”

Today, DeVito is a new man. “I’ve been seeing a therapist, and I haven’t been shrunk since I left home. But sometimes I think it was my fault. Sometimes I look in the mirror and I feel like I deserve the jar.” It has certainly been an uphill battle for the actor, but he has resolved to never give up. “The real blow came when I did some research and found that I’m not the only one who had to live like that. People are shrunk every day throughout the world, but it’s never talked about because we don’t see these people. We probably step on them on our way into the kitchen, we shred them when we mow the lawn.”

Now, DeVito dedicates the part of his life not associated with acting, to seeking justice. “I’m sticking up for the little guy, literally. I want every little squirt banging away inside their parent’s jar, thinking all hope is lost, to know that there’s always tomorrow. Through our pain, but also through our perseverance, we are all connected, together as one. It’s a small world after all.”

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