Acting since the ‘80s, Debra Jo Rupp got her start in theater. But the role that she has become most recognizable for is that of Kitty Forman, wife of Red Forman and mother to teenager kids Eric and Laurie, on the ‘90s sitcom That ‘70s Show.
Since the series, which was released in 1998, was set in the ‘70s, the costumes, make-up, and storylines were from that decade. But Rupp, now 68, actually looks much different in real life, preferring to sport a longer hairdo than her famous character. Her distinctive voice, however, remains, making her a successful voice actor as well.
There’s likely a lot you don’t know about Rupp, despite her lengthy career that has included appearances in some major movies and iconic TV series.
10She Was On Friends
You might remember it, but Rupp actually appeared multiple times during the third, fourth and fifth seasons of the popular ‘90s sitcom Friends. Who was she? She played Alice Knight-Buffay, the much older wife of Phoebe’s half-brother, Frank Jr., who was played by Giovanni Ribisi.
She was actually a major part of the plot as it was her age that made it necessary for Frank to ask Phoebe to be their surrogate so the couple could have children. As the story goes, she was Frank’s home economics teacher and called him her best student.
9She Was In Big
Rupp had a small role in the iconic 1988 film Big, which starred Tom Hanks and featured the memorable giant floor piano scene. She was the timid secretary Miss Patterson.
Now 68, Rupp would have been in her 30s at the time that the movie came out. It was her first big film role: the comedy about a young boy who makes a wish to become an adult (or “big,” as the title says) was a massive commercial success and even received two Academy Award nominations.
8Her Parents Didn’t Want Her To Act
Supposedly her parents were so against Rupp pursuing acting that they purposely sent her to the University of Rochester in New York because it didn’t have a theater department. Rupp grew up in Glendale, CA and was later raised in Boxford, MA.
As luck and irony would have it, the University of Rochester added a Drama department during Rupp’s freshman year there which she promptly joined. She participated in the Drama House, a theater club and venue at the educational institution.
7Her First TV Role Was As A Topless Dancer
While it might be tough to imagine Rupp in risqué roles since most of us know her best as the conservative mom on That ‘70s Show, every actor has paid their dues. And after doing some work on stage and in commercials, Rupp got her first television acting job in the soap opera All My Children.
In the 1980 episode, she played a topless dancer named Sheila. Of course she wasn’t actually seen topless on screen since it’s daytime TV, after all.
6She Has A Long List Of Stage Credits
While she gets recognition in Hollywood for her TV and movie roles, Rupp has actually appeared extensively on stage. She received particular acclaim from a New York Times reviewer for her off-Broadway performance in 1986 in The Time of the Cuckoo.
Other notable stage appearances include Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, A Girl’s Guide to Chaos (the role that put her on the map), and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, in which she appeared in 1990 alongside Kathleen Turner. She played Mae (Sister Woman).
5She Worked As A Bookkeeper
Even after achieving success on stage, Rupp was realistic about the ups and downs of acting and continued to work part-time as a bookkeeper. Part of this was also a promise she made to her mother that she would never become a waiter in New York while seeking out acting gigs.
She viewed “learning computers,” which was a new technology back then, of course, as a skill she could fall back on should the acting thing not work out in the end.
4She Was In Seinfeld
Rupp joins a long list of well-known actors who appeared on Seinfeld before they were really famous in Hollywood. She actually appeared in two episodes, both times as Jerry’s eccentric booking agent Katie.
She was on that series in 1995 and 1996 at the same time that she played Jeff Foxworthy’s sister-in-law Gayle on The Jeff Foxworthy Show and in the sci-fi miniseries The Invaders, alongside Scott Bakula. At the same time, she was also still working on stage, and appeared in a dark drama about spousal abuse called Broken Bones.
3Kitty Forman Is Her Most Successful Role To Date
Despite acting since the ‘80s, it was the role of Kitty Forman that really got Rupp noticed by the masses. She snagged that role in 1998 and played Eric Forman’s doting mom throughout the entire series’ run, through to 2006.
Kitty was the typical ‘70s housewife who ruled the roost despite having a difficult relationship with her rebellious teenage daughter. But she was the welcoming mom who had no problems when Eric’s friends all came and went as they pleased.
2She Played Dr. Ruth
Rupp played the famous sex therapist and media personality Dr. Ruth Westheimer in a play called Dr. Ruth – All the Way that appeared on the St. Germain Stage of the Barrington Stage Company. She reprised that role again off-Broadway in Becoming Dr. Ruth.
It was a one woman show but Rupp had to capture Dr. Ruth’s signature German and Jewish accented voice and recognizable manner and cadence in speech. Dr. Ruth has a fascinating story as a Holocaust survivor who went on to have a successful radio show, host several TV shows, and author 45 books.
1She Never Married
Rupp, now 68, never married and has never had children. She has been relatively discreet about her personal life, preferring to stay out of the spotlight when it comes to that.
In fact, you’d have a difficult time finding anything out about her personal life, including any past dating history or other details. Worth about $6.5 million today, she owns two homes in Los Angeles as well as Massachusetts. It’s likely that she is either happy on her own or prefers to keep her private relationships private.