|First appearance||"Give Me a Ring Sometime" (episode 1.01)|
|Last appearance||"Cheerful Goodbyes" (Frasier episode 9.21)|
|Portrayed by||Rhea Perlman|
|Spouse(s)||Nick Tortelli (divorced)
Eddie LeBec (widowed)
Annie Tortelli (daughter-in-law)
Santos Cabone (cousin)
Carla Maria Victoria Angelina Teresa Apollonia Lozupone Tortelli LeBec, commonly known as Carla Tortelli, is a waitress on the American television show Cheers, portrayed by Rhea Perlman. Outwardly, at least, Carla is a mean-spirited woman who expresses disdain for many (perhaps even most) people. She had four children with her then-husband Nick when the series started and eight children with three different men when it ended.
Carla appeared in all episodes of Cheers in 1982–1993 and guest-starred in "Cheerful Goodbyes", an episode of the spin-off Frasier. She has also appeared in "Cheers", an episode of St. Elsewhere; "Fear of Flying", an episode of The Simpsons, and the pilot episode of the short-lived spinoff The Tortellis.
According to Ted Danson, Perlman was the first person of all actors to be hired as part of a cast ensemble and then was cast as Carla Tortelli, "a wisecracking, cynical waitress". Before she starred as Carla, she worked once as a waitress in a New York City restaurant, serving meals like spaghetti and fish. Also, she was trained in the Bull & Finch Pub (now called Cheers Beacon Hill) by a waitress to prepare her character. Perlman previously appeared as Louie DePalma's (Danny DeVito) sweet and kind girlfriend, in contrast to tomboy Carla, on Taxi.
I think Carla's a lot of things I'd like to be. I'm not like her, but she's a person who's always got a wisecrack. I always think of something two hours later. But we're both earthy and practical. We're survivors. The character is well-written, but you always put a lot of yourself into it.—Rhea Perlman, The Associate Press, April 1983
Carla is "feisty", "worldly-wise", and highly superstitious. When the show premiered in 1982, she has four children to support, fathered by her ex-husband Nick Tortelli (Dan Hedaya): Anthony (Timothy Williams), Serafina (Leah Remini), Gino (Josh Lozoff), and Anne Marie (Risa Littman). During marriage, he was a deadbeat father and disloyal, unfaithful husband to Carla by cheating on her with other women.
As a Catholic, she has practiced neither birth control nor traditional beliefs of monogamous sex. In "Whodunit" (1985), as learned, when she attended high school, she was pregnant. She considers herself "most fertile".[p 1] In "Swear to God" (1988), when Sam vows to believe in God, Carla scaremongers Sam into avoiding violation of his oaths and further promiscuity in order to avoid superstitious events. Over time, she gives birth to four more children: Lucinda (Sabrina Wiener) fathered by Nick,[p 2] Ludlow, nicknamed Lud (Jarrett Lennon), by Frasier's mentor Dr. Bennett Ludlow (James Karen),[p 3] and twins Elvis (Danny Kramer) and Jesse (Thomas Tulak) by Eddie Lebec (Jay Thomas). All children turn out to be unruly, rotten, and spoiled. They defy whoever is substituting for their mother Carla, including babysitters, such as Cliff Clavin.
Carla was born to the Catholic family her father Benito and her mother (Sada Thompson[p 4]), whose maiden name was Mussolini. grew up in the Federal Hill section of Providence, Rhode Island. According to her mother, Carla was named after her grandmother's mule.[p 5] Carla has siblings: two sisters (younger Annette (also played by Perlman)[p 6] and Angeline) and two brothers (including Sal).[p 7]
She also has a nephew Frankie, to whom Lilith and Rebecca are attracted while he works as a temporary bartender for one time.[p 8]
As a waitress, she is more experienced than her nemesis Diane Chambers (Shelley Long), who has nice personality and upper-class traits, in contrast to Carla. In "Pick a Con... Any Con" (1983), Carla wants to bartend as Sam and Coach's experienced substitute, but Sam picks Diane, who never has done bartending before. Then she becomes frustrated when Diane spends too much time reading instructions about how to make a Bloody Mary and on making just one drink with the ingredients. When Sam berates Carla for not telling Diane she'd already prepared a big jug of Bloody Mary, Carla responds that she was waiting to see Diane make vodka.
Carla treats regular customers with disdain and mostly negative sarcasm, including Norm Peterson, Cliff Clavin, and Frasier Crane. In "Woody Goes Belly Up" (1985), Carla constantly insults despondent Frasier, who comments over losing Diane, with remarks. In "Cliffie's Big Score" (1986), Carla refuses at first to dance with Cliff for a ballroom dance until he promises her a VCR. Unfortunately, Carla is given Cliff's substitute, a hippie. At the car, when Cliff inadvertently tells her that he was torn between her and Diane, Carla tricks him into assuming that Diane is attracted to him. Moments later, Cliff attempts to seduce Diane, but Diane kicks him out of the car and then leaves him stranded. In "Sam Ahoy" (1989), while Sam, Carla, and Norm are in danger of being killed by either a planted bomb in a sailboat or sharks, Carla suggests that someone be thrown into the sharks, so she and Sam would be able to escape. Norm responds with frown, "I never liked you, Carla."
A devoted and often-disappointed Boston Red Sox fan,[p 9] she became friends with Sam Malone (Ted Danson) and Coach Ernie Pantusso (Nicholas Colasanto) during Sam's baseball days at least five years before the show started[p 10] and came to work for him at Cheers when Sam retired from baseball and then bought the bar for ownership..
Romance and children
Nick Tortelli and their children
In "Father Knows Last" (1983), Nick impregnated Carla with Lucinda, incorporated by Rhea Perlman's pregnancy (which happened earlier in the first season). Since Nick cannot raise her, leaving the baby without a father, Carla ends up receiving charity from bar patrons for her and her baby. In "Lil Sister Don't Cha" (1983), Lucinda is born. In "Battle of the Exes" (1984), Carla and Sam pose as a couple to spite Nick at his wedding with Loretta (Jean Kasem). Nick becomes jealous and then, after the wedding, begs her to be part of his life again. She refuses and then "prefers" Sam over him. When Nick leaves, Carla admits to Sam that she still has feelings for Nick. Then Carla and Sam finally embrace but then end up embarrassed, so they assure that they are still friends.
In "Little Carla, Happy at Last" (1987), Carla lets Anthony (Timothy Williams) and his wife Annie (Mandy Ingber) stay in her house after they were kicked out by Nick and Loretta. In "Slumber Party Massacred" (1988), Carla kicks them out of the house for having a child at their young age, making her the grandmother. In "Loathe and Marriage" (1993), Serafina (Leah Remini), who was previously rebellious in "Unplanned Parenthood" (1991), is pregnant with a child of her fiancé, retired officer Pat McDougall (Dennis Cockrum), and plans marriage with him, both which Carla accepts. At the wedding, Nick shows up along with his wife Loretta for his daughter Serafina, who invited them, despite bad things that Nick caused in the past. Carla wants to kick Nick out, but Serafina tells her biological parents to make amends with each other and not to spoil the wedding. Nick and Carla decide to do so for Serafina's sake.
Ludlow Sr. and Jr.
In "Whodunit?" (1985), Carla seduces Dr. Bennett Ludlow (James Karen), Frasier's mentor, and then regrettably becomes pregnant with Ludlow (incorporated by another of Perlman's pregnancies). Bennett proposes a marriage, but Carla turns him down.
In "I Kid You Not" (1989), Bennett Ludlow, Jr. (Jarrett Lennon), and who is bad at sports, whom Carla nicknames "Lud", befriends Frasier and Lilith and then enjoys his suitable activities, like opera and a foreign film, with them. Feeling bad for taking away her time with Ludlow, the Cranes invite her for dinner at the seafood restaurant. At the restaurant, Ludlow dislikes the food, so Carla tries to escort him, but the Cranes disallows in hopes that Ludlow will eventually like it. Ludlow burns Frasier's shoes, tarnishing his ties with Frasier. Carla is pleased that Ludlow is a rotten Tortelli and then takes him out for hamburgers. Ludlow appears briefly in two more episodes: "Unplanned Parenthood" (1991) and "Rich Man, Wood Man" (1992).
In two-part episode "Never Love a Goalie" (1987), Carla meets the Boston Bruins ice hockey player, Guy "Eddie" LeBec (Jay Thomas), who has an endless winning streak and a French Canadian background, and then begins to date him. However, because of their relationship, Eddie's streak unfortunately comes to an end. Since both are superstitious, they end their relationship in order to avoid ruining Eddie's ability to play. Nevertheless, they reconcile shortly thereafter and promise to break up repeatedly before every game to avoid the "curse". In "Home Is the Sailor", Carla is revealed to be several months pregnant with Eddie's twins (incorporated by another of Perlman's pregnancies). In two-part episode "Little Carla, Happy at Last", Carla and Eddie wed. She almost quits her waitressing job because Eddie said that he would take care of her financially. However, the Bruins released him from his contract due to his age and declining athletic performance, and he could not find another team. In "Airport V" (1988), Eddie ends up as a penguin mascot for a traveling ice show in another state. Later in the 1987–88, Carla gives birth to their twin boys, named Elvis and Jesse.
In "Death Takes a Holiday on Ice" (1989), Eddie was killed by an ice resurfacer when he saved the life of another member of the ice show. At the funeral, it was revealed that he had concurrently another wife Gloria with twins, as well. Carla changes her surname back to Tortelli to avoid being confused with the other "Mrs. LeBec". The demise of Jay Thomas's character Eddie LeBec has been claimed to stem from Thomas's comments "about" Perlman in a radio show. However, Thomas denied this and declared that he was referring only to the Carla character. Despite Ken Levine's praise on Thomas's acting and pairing of Eddie and Carla, Eddie was written out of the show because Perlman thought that the pairing would make her "not part of the people in the bar."
In "Affairs of the Heart" (1983), Carla dates Hank (Don Amendolia), a sweet intelligent man, despite her reluctance. However, she learns that Hank has a heart problem and that any excitement, like sex, would put him at fatal risk. She dumps Hank but then calls him her "best" boyfriend whom she ever had. In "Head Over Hill" (1991), Carla tries to pull a vengeance on John Allen Hill (Keene Curtis), Sam's upper-class rival, owner of the restaurant Melville's, and co-owner of Cheers, on Sam's behalf. However, she ironically ends up sleeping with him. Since then, she has on-and-off sexual encounters with John. In "Feelings... Whoa, Whoa, Whoa" (1992), she comes into terms of her feelings for John, but she and John find each other incompatible except in bed.
In her only episode of Frasier, "Cheerful Goodbyes" (2002), according to her, two of Carla's sons are imprisoned and her house is on the verge of foreclosing. She is relieved that Cliff will be retiring into Florida. However, in his retirement party, influenced by his friends' farewell comments, Cliff decides to stay in Boston, much to her dismay. She attempts to attack him with a harpoon but is restrained by others.
Carla Tortelli was voted a favorite character by eight percent of 1,011 people, who were surveyed in 1993 by the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press (now Pew Research Center). She was ranked No. 66 out of Bravo's The 100 Greatest TV Characters of all-time. Steve Craig of the University of North Texas noted that she "lacks the charm, warmth, and demureness of the feminine ideal" and is a ridicule of anti-feminism for her "un-ladylike" promiscuity. Bill Simmons, previously of ESPN, praised her in episodes that do not mainly focus on her.
Heather Hundley noted that the series sends a "double standards" about men and women, involved in promiscuity. She noted that the series portrays Sam Malone as heroic, who never suffers from negative consequences of his promiscuity, while it portrays Carla as "nymphomaniac", who regrets her own promiscuities for out-of-wedlock pregnancies and wrong lovers. She finds the series's portrayal of premarital sex "negative and unhealthy", especially for omitting other dangers of promiscuity, like sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS.
Rhea Perlman won Emmy Awards as an Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series in 1984, 1985, 1986, and 1989 for her portrayal of Carla. She was honored as the Best Supporting Actress (Comedy) by Viewers for Quality Television in 1985 and the "Funniest Supporting Actress" by the American Comedy Awards in 1989. Simon Cocks from Television Addiction website called her "the show's weak link" and was "irritated [by] her [a]nd her constant insensitive and unfunny remarks[.]"
- Bjorklund, Dennis A. Cheers TV Show: A Comprehensive Reference (e-Book ed.). Praetorian Publishing.
- Hundley, Heather (2005). "Sex, Society, and Double Standards in Cheers". In Winn, J. Emmett; Brinson, Susan L. Transmitting the Past: Historical and Cultural Perspectives on Broadcasting. The University of Alabama Press. pp. 205+. ISBN 0-8173-1453-9.
From primary sources:
- "Whodunit?", season 3. Diane: "When you were in high school, and you took Hygiene, did you cut the 'How Not to' lecture?" / Carla: "I had to; I was pregnant."
- "Father Knows Last", season 1
- "Whodunit?", season 3
- "Honor Thy Mother", season 9
- Bjorklund, pp. 199-200
- "Little Sister Don't Cha", season 2
- "Honor Thy Mother", season 10
- "Get Your Kicks On Route 666", season 10
- "The Tortelli Tort", season 1
- "Truce or Consequences", season 1
From non-primary sources:
- Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian (2000). "Fear of Flying". BBC. Retrieved August 19, 2010.
- Danson, Ted (2003). Setting the Bar: A Conversation with Ted Danson (DVD). (Interview). Paramount Pictures. Cheers: The Complete First Season.
- Scott, Vernon. "Series Producers Working Now to Get `Cheers'." Telegraph Herald [Dubuque, Iowa] 11 July 1982: 20. Google News. Web. 05 April 2012.
- Buck, Jerry (April 24, 1983). "Rhea Perlman Mixes Real Life with Series". The Press-Courier (Oxnard, California). TV Week, p. 7. Retrieved July 23, 2012, at Google News Archive. Check date values in:
- Kerr, Peter (November 29, 1983). "NBC COMEDY 'CHEERS' TURNS INTO A SUCCESS". The New York Times. Retrieved November 16, 2012.
- "Real Life Cheers Bartender Laid Off". CBS News. Associated Press. March 10, 2009. The waitress who trained Rhea Perlman was eventually fired for berating a customer for "leaving a $1 tip on a $100 bill".
- Raftery, Brian (October 2012). "The Best TV Show That's Ever Been". GQ. Retrieved September 27, 2012.
- "Cheers star unlucky". Ottawa Citizen. Associated Press. January 24, 1986. p. D15.
- Buck, Jerry (January 23, 1983). "Cheers provides tough education". The Modesto Bee. Associated Press. p. 3, TV Magazine. Retrieved August 24, 2012, at Google News Archive. Check date values in:
- Hundley, p. 217
- "Cheers! They're baby girls". The Gainesville Sun. 29 March 1985. p. 2A.
- "Cheers starts 6th season with new co-star". Fort Scott Tribune (Fort Scott, Kansas). August 17, 1987. p. 5.
- Raftery, Brian (October 2012). "The Best TV Show That's Ever Been". GQ.
- Levine, Ken (July 21, 2006). "The kiss of death for Eddie LeBec". ...by Ken Levine.
- "In memory of David Lloyd". ...by Ken Levine. November 11, 2009. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
- Mills, Kim I. "TV viewers glad Sam stayed single." The Sunday Gazette [Schenectady, NY] 2 May 1993: A3. Google News. Web. 21 Jan. 2012. The margin of error in the survey was ±3, according to the polls. In this web edition, scroll down to see the title of the headline.
- "The 100 Greatest TV Characters." Bravo, 2004. Internet Archive Wayback Machine. Web. 10 Feb. 2012. Archived from the original.
- Craig, Steve. "Selling Masculinities, Selling Femininities: Multiple Genders and the Economics of Television." The Mid-Atlantic Almanack 2 (1993): 15–27. Internet Archive Wayback Machine. 1–21. Web. January 14, 2011.
- Simmons, Bill (February 21, 2002). "Page 2: Dear Sports Guy...". ESPN. Archived from the original on December 10, 2008. Retrieved June 20, 2012.
- Hundley, p. 219
- Hundley, p. 207
- Hundley, p. 218
- Bjorklund, pp. 458-459, 461.
- "The Ratings Game - CBS Eked Out a Win, but NBC Takes the Top Honors in the Quality Poll". The Seattle Times (4th ed.). The Associated Press; Knight Ridder. April 22, 1985. p. B1. Record no. 20902. The Cosby Show topped as the "Best Regular Series" in the survey of 36 critics.
- "Lifetime American Comedy Awards to Hepburn, Skeleton". The Modesto Bee (Modesto, California). Associated Press. May 24, 1989. p. D3.
- Cocks, Simon (8 August 2012). "TV Review: Cheers – Seasons 6 to 11". Television Addiction.