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Taxi: Louie, Latka And The Cast List Of TV's Best Sitcom 1979-81

Entertainment | November 14, 2020

TAXI - "Latka's Cookies" which aired on February 05, 1981. (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images) DANNY DEVITO; ANDY KAUFMAN

Danny DeVito, Tony Danza, Judd Hirsch, Andy Kaufman, Jeff Conaway and Marilu Henner -- was there ever a better cast for a sitcom than Taxi? Throw in Christopher Lloyd and Carol Kane, both of whom joined the show after it was underway, and you've got a group of comedy all-stars suited to the show's downtown-New York, anything-goes mayhem. The talent delivered results: During its five-year run, Taxi won 18 Emmys, including three for best comedy.

In 1978, after The Mary Tyler Moore Show finished its seven-season run, James L. Brooks set his sights on a new project. Inspired by an article in New York magazine, entitled “Night Shifting for the Hip Fleet,” he was inspired to create Taxi. The show focused on the everyday lives of New York City cab drivers and their dispatcher who work for the Sunshine Cab Company. Each of the drivers considered the job only temporary, working the night shift while chasing their dreams. In one episode, “The Road Not Taken,” the characters reminisce about the choices that led them to their jobs as cab drivers.

The cast of Taxi. Source: (Pinterest)

Although the show was a comedy, it dealt with dramatic issues, including drug abuse, racism, sexual harassment, and grief. To create Taxi, the creators visited taxi companies in the early hours of the morning to study the drivers as they came off their shifts. They noted the aspirations that so many of the drivers had, and the notion of these lofty dreams became a driving force for the characters. However, as depressing as their lives can be, their camaraderie makes the reality of their individual situations bearable. That same camaraderie they had on the show followed them after filming, as they celebrated each Friday night after filming was complete.

ABC moved the show from its time slot following Three’s Company to make room for Too Close for Comfort. Eventually NBC made an offer for a full season, which allowed the show to reach the requisite 100 episodes to become syndicated. Unfortunately, the decline in ratings that began when ABC changed the time slot led to the end of the show.  

Judd Hirsch as Alex Reiger

Judd Hirsch. Source: (Pinterest)

Hirsch was initially hesitant to take the role as he was pursuing a career as a stage actor. Brooks knew he wanted Hirsch, who was acting in Chapter Two on Broadway at the time, but Hirsch was wary as he thought the show was not going to last. The studio was also hesitant to bring on Hirsch as he was a bit too expensive, but he had the comedic ability required for the role, and so Brooks was insistent.

Alex is the main protagonist in the show. He formerly worked in an office but lost his job because he was not a good game player, even though he was good at his job. He has a gambling problem that can occasionally get bad, and is divorced from Phyllis, who thought that he lacked ambition. He has a daughter with Phyllis, but Phyllis took custody of her after the divorce, despite the fact that Alex is a capable father. Of all of the characters on the show, Alex is probably the most grounded; when other characters have a problem, they turn to him for advice, and he is good at dealing with the aftermath when things fall apart. Alex accepts his life with a dry sense of humor and has no illusions about something better coming along.

Jeff Conaway as Bobby Wheeler

Jeff Conaway with Judd Hirsch. Source: (This Was Television)

Bobby Wheeler was originally intended to be a black character, and the creators had Conaway in mind for the character of John Burns. However, Conaway thought he was better suited for the role of Wheeler and managed to get the part after reading with Judd Hirsch.

Bobby Wheeler is a bit conceited and has come to New York to try to make it as an actor. He is a bit shallow and naïve, and fails to understand why he hasn’t made it as an actor. He is often the one Louie DePalma picks on, and he does have hopes that his career is going to be successful. He is signed by an agent, but it turns out that she only wants to use Bobby for sex. He gets cast in a pilot for a soap opera called Boise, but once the show goes into production, his role is recast, leaving his dreams unfulfilled. He is single, but is always looking. After the third season, Conaway was no longer a regular cast member, but did occasionally appear on episodes.

Danny DeVito as Louie DePalma 

Danny DeVito in his cage. Source: (Reddit)

DeVito, who was really impressed by the character of Louie DePalma, stepped easily into the role of DePalma during the auditions and got the role in part because he was so audacious and outrageous. Once DeVito got the role of the head dispatcher, he made it his own, even decorating the cage.

Louie tries to make life miserable for everyone around him, but this is merely a mask for a desire to be loved, and he does occasionally help out his coworkers. He lives with his mother, who was played by DeVito’s own mother in two episodes. His immoral behavior runs the gamut, from bullying, to spying on Elaine while she is getting dressed, to stealing from the company, and DePalma is proud of his immorality. He does win love in one way though: in 1999, TV Guide named the character #1 on its list of 50 Greatest TV Characters.  

Marilu Henner as Elaine O’Connor Nardo

Marilu Henner. Source: (IMDb)

When they were casting the part of Elaine, they were initially looking for a 33 year-old Italian New Yorker to play the role of the aspiring art dealer. Henner was not the type they were looking for as she was a Polish-Greek 25 year-old from Chicago. However, she was able to hold her own against the predominantly male cast, which helped her to land the role. A single mother, Elaine spends much of her time with her children. She straddles the world two worlds as she tries to gain acceptance into the art world. Like the other characters, she does not imagine that she will be driving a cab forever, seeing the job as a stepping stone to the life she imagines.  

Tony Danza as Anthony Mark “Tony” Banta

Tony Danza. Source: (Bitter Empire)

James L. Brooks discovered Tony Danza while Danza was in the boxing ring and his role as Tony Banta was his first acting role. Danza’s character was originally going to be named Phil Ryan, an Irish heavy weight, but Brooks decided to name him Tony Banta instead. According to the producer Ed Weinberger, they chose the name because they were concerned Danza wouldn’t remember to answer to the name “Phil”. Banta, the first Vietnam veteran regular character in a show, dreamed of boxing, but was unsuccessful as a boxer, and Louie even bet against him, winning a lot of money. Banta lost his boxing license because he had been knocked out one too many times.  

Christopher Lloyd as Reverend Jim “Iggy” Ignatowski

Christopher Lloyd. Source: (IMDb)

Christopher Lloyd, who had acted with Danny DeVito in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, was not an original cast member, first appearing as a guest on the episode “Paper Marriage.” After that episode, in the second season, Reverend Jim became a regular. For the audition, Lloyd showed up in a denim jacket a friend had found while working in the shrubbery around his house; Lloyd didn’t wash or shave prior to the audition either. Once cast as the ‘60s relic, Lloyd used his own clothes as Reverend Jim. Revered Jim had been a Harvard student, but an unfortunate bite of a drug-laced brownie led him to become the spacey Reverend Jim. His character did have occasional insights and did have unexpected talents.

Andy Kaufman as Latka Gravas

Andy Kauffman. Source: (Sitcoms Online)

Prior to being cast as Latka, Kaufman was a stand-up comedian with a character named “Foreign Man.” This character is the one that became Latka Gravas, and Kaufman had stipulations in his contract. He only had to work two days a week. Kauffman also managed to secure a contract for his alter-ego, Tony Clifton, not as a character, but as an actor. “Tony Clifton” was fired from the show.

The character of Latka was born somewhere in Eastern Europe and worked as a mechanic. He often misunderstands American culture and frequently quit his job in frustration. However, he always returned. He is a lovable character. He also suffers from multiple personality disorder.

Carol Kane as Simka Gravas

Andy Kaufman with Carol Kane. Source: (Closer Weekly)

Simka, who becomes Latka’s second wife, is from the same country as Latka. Kane’s rehearsal style was quite different from Kauffman’s and their disagreements helped to create the on-screen chemistry between the two. Simka and Latka managed to create a fake Slavic language. Carol Kane won two Emmys for her performance as Simka.

Tags: Andy Kaufman | Carol Kane | Cast Lists From Popular TV Shows | Christopher Lloyd | Danny DeVito | Jeff Conaway | Judd Hirsch | Marilu Henner | New York City | Taxi | Tony Danza | TV In The 1970s

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Cyn Felthousen-Post

Writer

Cyn loves history, music, Irish dancing, college football and nature. Social media is also her thing, keeping up with trends and celebrities with positive news. She can be found outside walking or hiking with her son when she's not working. Carpe diem is her fave quote, get out there and seize the day!