Cheers, Dad!

updated 09/16/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/16/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE THAT PLACE where everybody knows your name. But wait a minute. Who is that little old bushy-eyebrowed guy, third bar stool from the left?

In fact, that particular Cheers regular, though largely silent, does have a familiar moniker: it's Perlman, Phil Perlman, and if that rings a bell it's because he's the real-life father of actress Rhea Perlman, who plays the bar's evil-tongued, ever-fertile waitress, Carla.

If you think that bald-faced nepotism's at work here, well then, as Carla might say, why don't you just go suck a tail pipe? For the record, it was four and a half years ago when the elder Perlman was visiting his daughter on set that then assistant director Tom LoFaro offered Phil a role—as an extra. "I said, 'Oh, okay, sure,' " says Phil. "I liked it. And that was my downfall."

Actually the job sparked something of a second career for the 72-year-old onetime doll and toy-part salesman, who emigrated from Poland in 1922. On retiring five years ago, Phil and Adele, his wife of 45 years, packed up their Brooklyn belongings and moved to Los Angeles to be closer to the family: Rhea (wife of actor and director Danny DeVito), 41, daughter Heide (a TV writer-producer), 38, and four grandchildren, ages 2 through 8. Phil also has had small parts in three of son-in-law DeVito's films and became a card-carrying member of the Screen Actors Guild. "It's great that he's having such a ball," says Rhea. "He's probably the real actor in the family."

Candor, thy name is Phil. "I really don't know that much about this craft," he confides. "Rhea will tell me, 'When I say this line, Dad, don't giggle. Be as straight-faced as you possibly can.' " If not yet a seasoned craftsman, Rhea's dad is at least picking up the lingo. What about his own performances? "After they're done I always think I could have done better," says Phil. "That—and I'd like to have more hair."

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