No Religious Ballyhoo in Her Family

Here's the news shocker of the day: Rhea Perlman's favorite foods are French fries and potato chips. Not only that, she actually eats them. Not only that, she's so tiny she wears a size minus-4. (We exaggerate because we can.)

Perlman is eating fries at this very moment, and we are trying hard not to cause her physical harm. We notice an ally at the next table in tiny Alison Grady Urich, who's celebrating her first tooth with her dad, Robert. Precocious little bundle that she is, Alison is homing in on Perlman's fries and doubtless wondering how the actress keeps her girlish figure.

"I'm a nervous wreck," Perlman explains with a hoot. That works for us. It's the new Beverly Hills diet for anyone who's hungry for a New Year's resolution: stress. Besides the fries, we are dining on dueling salads at the Farm restaurant on Beverly Drive, not far from the Canon Theatre where Perlman is starring in Alfred Uhry's play about pride and prejudice among Southern Jews, "The Last Night of Ballyhoo." Perlman plays a Jewish mother in Atlanta who lords her family's German heritage over a Russian Jew from New York.

Which couldn't have been further from Perlman's own experience growing up as a nice Jewish girl in Brooklyn.

"My family is from Russia and Poland," she says. "We never had that thing with the German Jews. I'd never heard of that before. When I saw the play, I was really shaken and shocked and amused that this existed.

"Any Jewish person calling another Jewish person a kike, I mean, wow. I didn't grow up with that. When I heard that in the play the first time, I went, 'Oh, my God.' "

In the melting pot Perlman calls her family, religious identity is a catholic stew. That is, her husband, Danny DeVito, was brought up as a Catholic, and the family celebrates holidays on both sides of the aisle. They have Passover and Easter, Hanukkah and Christmas. Which, of course, means a mother lode of gifts for the three mini-DeVitos--Lucy, 15, Gracie, 13, and Jake, 11 (a fine scam we remember fondly from our own childhood). "Our kids are not Jewish, and they're not Catholic. They're not Episcopalian. They're not Buddhist. They're not anything.

"We do all the holidays to keep the traditions and the culture going, but I truly don't have a great feeling about any particular organized religion, and I don't think it's right to impose one on my kids. I feel like I'm bringing them up to be good people, and that's what it's about."

Irene Lacher's Out & About column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays on Page 2.

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