Childhood & Early Life
Debra Jo Rupp was born on 24 February 1951 in Glendale, California but was brought up in Boxford, Massachusetts as a Southern Baptist along with her two sisters by her conservative parents.
She attended the ‘Masconomet Regional High School’ in Boxford, from where she graduated in 1969. Though Debra wanted to study acting, her parents were completely opposed to the idea. Consequently, she was sent to New York to attend the University of Rochester, New York because at that time, the institution did not offer any theater instruction.
Luckily, in her freshman year, the university added a dramatics department. She took classes in acting and an active part in on-campus dramatic activities as a member of Drama House, a modest theater club cum venue.
Debra passed out in 1974 with a B.A. degree and immediately moved to New York to kick off her acting career as advised by her teachers.
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Arriving in New York City, Debra Jo Rupp busied herself with stage performances and also appeared in a number of commercials.
In 1980, she played the character of Helen, a cheating husband’s wife in ‘Second Verse’, a one-act comedy by Sharon Tipsword in a Nat Horne Theater drama festival.
It took her six years to land her first role on television; in 1980, she played the role of a topless dancer, Shelia, in ‘All My Children’, a daytime drama.
Debra played the part of a young bride in ‘The Middle Ages’, produced by A. R. Gurney in 1985 at the Olympia Dukakis-founded Whole Theater Company in Montclair, New Jersey.
Her performance as an unloved young wife in Arthur Laurents’, ‘The Time of the Cuckoo’, received a very good review from Walter Goodman of the New York Times.
Other noteworthy performances during this time include ‘Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune’, a two-character play by Terrence McNally and ‘A Girl's Guide to Chaos’ by Cynthia Heimel that got her critical acclaim from Al Hirschfield, the legendary caricaturist.
Throughout the decade of 1980s, Debra devoted herself to acting both on the stage as well as television shows. Finally, in 1988, she landed her first role in a feature film when she was selected to play the role of Miss Patterson, the timid secretary to Josh Baskins, played by Tom Hanks, in the comedy ‘Big’.
Returning to New York City in 1990, Debra performed as ‘Mae’ with Kathleen Turner in a Broadway production of ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre.
She acted in a number of TV shows in the early 1990s; ‘Davis Rules with Randy Quaid’, ‘Phenom’, ‘Family Matters’, ‘Blossom’, ‘L.A. Law’, being some of the more successful ones.
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1995 proved to be busy with roles in ‘The Jeff Foxworthy Show’, ‘The Invaders’, a Seinfeld episode, as well as stage performance, ‘Broken Bones’ at Hollywood's ‘Met Theater’.
Debra Jo Rupp received widespread recognition with her portrayal of Alice Knight in three seasons of television series ‘Friends’, but it was in 1998 that she received the most success with her role as the feisty Kitty Forman in ‘That '70s Show’, a popular comedy series.
She starred in the eleventh episode of ‘From the Earth to the Moon’, an Emmy Award’-winning television miniseries that was directed by Sally Fields and produced by Tom Hanks.
A versatile actor, Debra lent her voice to the character of Mrs. Helperman in ‘Teacher's Pet’, a ‘Disney’ animated series in 2000, and again for the movie version in 2004.
Her performance as a standup comic in ‘The Act’, a 2004 short film by Susan Kraker and Pi Ware received praise. The film was an official entry at the Sundance Film Festival and won several awards at film festivals in various countries. In the same year, Debra played the role of a nagging mother to Brad Hunt in ‘Lucky 13’, an independent feature film.
Rupp’s love for the theater kept bringing her back to Massachusetts and New York for off-Broadway and regional stage productions. In Michael Frayn's ‘Noises Off’ (2004), she played the role of Dotty Otley, while in ‘Ring Round the Moon’ (2006), she played a kooky mum, both in Massachusetts.
New Yorkers saw Debra as Valerie in ‘The Butcher of Baraboo’ in a Second Stage Theatre production directed by Judith Ivey in June 2007. She acted in a revival of ‘Morning's at Seven’, a 1939 Paul Osborn play in the ‘Berkshire Theatre Festival’ in August, the same year.
With the ‘That '70s Show’ having ended in 2006, Rupp appeared in an episode of ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’, a popular crime drama.
In 2007 and 2008, she acted in two films; ‘Kickin It Old Skool’ and ‘Jackson’ as well as a daytime TV show, ‘As the World Turns’. The roles she played were diverse and indicative of her versatility. She had two theater roles in Massachusetts in 2008; ‘A Flea in Her Ear’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.
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In 2012, she played the role of Ruth in ‘She Wants Me’, a romantic comedy and also starred in ‘Dr. Ruth – All the Way’ as ‘Dr. Ruth Westheimer’ for the Barrington Stage Company.
In 2017, Debra starred in ‘The Cake’, a Bekah Brunstetter's play about a North Carolina Southern Baptist baker who has to bake a cake for a surrogate niece’s wedding. Della, the conservative character played by Rupp has to overcome her social boundaries as her niece is getting married to another woman.