Debra Jo Rupp

Debra Jo Rupp (born February 24, 1951) is an American actress, best known for her roles as Kitty Forman on the Fox sitcom That '70s Show and Alice Knight-Buffay on the third, fourth and fifth seasons of Friends. She voiced Mary Helperman in the animated series Teacher's Pet and its sequel film, as well as playing timid secretary Miss Patterson in Big (1988).[1]

Debra Jo Rupp
Born (1951-02-24) February 24, 1951
ResidenceLos Angeles, California, U.S.
Lee, Massachusetts, U.S.
Years active1980–present

Early life

Rupp was born in Glendale, California in the family of Margaret A. Williams Rupp and John E. Rupp Jr. and raised in Boxford, Massachusetts, where she attended Masconomet Regional High School, graduating in 1969. She has two sisters Robin Lee Rupp and Rebecca Louise Rupp.

Debra always dreamed to be an actress, but her parents were firmly opposed to the idea. They even sent her to the University of Rochester in New York because it offered no theater classes. But the school added a Drama department in Rupp's freshman year. On campus, she was an active member of Drama House, a small theater club and venue. After graduation with a B.A. degree in 1974, she moved to New York to begin her acting career.



Rupp left Massachusetts in 1979 to pursue an acting career in New York City. She frequently performed on stage and appeared in commercials before winning her first television role in 1980 as Sheila, a topless dancer, on the daytime drama All My Children.[2] Earlier in the same year, Rupp played Helen, the wife of a cheating husband, in Sharon Tipsword's one-act comedy Second Verse, produced as part of a play festival at New York's Nat Horne Theater.[3]

Another notable stage performance was as the young bride Eleanor in the 1985 production of A. R. Gurney's The Middle Ages at the Whole Theater Company, established by Olympia Dukakis in Montclair, New Jersey.[4]

She garnered praise from Walter Goodman in a New York Times review of one of her many off-Broadway performances: as June Yeager, a young wife who feels she is never "loved enough", in the 1986 York Theater Company production of Arthur Laurents' dramatic play, The Time of the Cuckoo[5][6] staged at the Church of the Heavenly Rest in New York's Upper East Side.

Rupp's list of stage credits includes appearances in Terrence McNally's Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune and Cynthia Heimel's A Girl's Guide to Chaos, the Broadway role which propelled her career forward. She originated the role of Cynthia in 1986, a character based on Heimel's observations made during her stints as a columnist for Playboy and The Village Voice. Directed by Wynn Handman and sharing the stage with Rita Jenrette, Rupp's performance as Cynthia was immortalized by legendary caricaturist Al Hirschfeld and described in a New York Times review as "an appealing mixture of pluck and pathos."[7] In his review of Chaos, New York Newsday theater critic Allan Wallach called Rupp “a real find.”[8]

In early 1987, Rupp was featured in an article written by Enid Nemy for the "Broadway" section of The New York Times. Entitled "New York is beckoning, but first, Los Angeles", the interview revealed how Rupp's success in the theater so soon after her arrival in New York City had scared the young actress enough to take time off from acting for several years. After returning to the stage, Rupp explained, she was often cast as an ingénue, but after her portrayal of Cynthia in Chaos, she began getting calls to audition in Los Angeles for "really crazy neurotic" parts in television pilots. She was realistic about the unpredictability of an acting career, and since she had promised her mother she would never wait tables when she left for New York, she had not given up her part-time work as a bookkeeper and was "learning computers" as something to fall back on.[9]

Rupp continued to devote herself to acting full-time through the 1980s and performed in numerous regional stage productions. One such production was Sherry Kramer's Wall of Water in New Haven, Connecticut, at the Yale Repertory Theatre's Winterfest play festival of 1988.[10] She guest-starred on numerous television shows, including Kate & Allie, Spenser for Hire, and The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd. In 1988, Rupp landed her first feature-film role as Miss Patterson, the timid secretary of Tom Hanks' Josh Baskins, in the comedy Big.[1]


In 1990, Rupp returned to New York City to perform in a Broadway stage production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Kathleen Turner at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre. In it, Rupp portrayed Mae (Sister Woman).[11] Her television work during the early 1990s included recurring roles as Ms. Higgins on the television Davis Rules with Randy Quaid, and as Sister Mary Incarnata on Phenom with Judith Light, as well as guest roles on Blossom, Family Matters, L.A. Law, and ER.[1]

In 1995, she began her stint as Jeff Foxworthy's sister-in-law Gayle on The Jeff Foxworthy Show, and also appeared in the science fiction miniseries The Invaders with Scott Bakula, portrayed Jerry Seinfeld's eccentric booking agent Katie on an episode of Seinfeld (a role she reprised in 1996), and performed on stage as Meg in Broken Bones, a dark drama about spousal abuse by Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan, as part of a one-act play festival at Hollywood's Met Theater.[12] She also provided the voice of Lana Lionheart in the "MGM Sing-Alongs" Videos back in 1997.

She appeared in several episodes of Friends as Alice Knight, a home economics teacher who fell in love with and married Phoebe Buffay's (Lisa Kudrow) much younger half-brother, Frank Jr. (Giovanni Ribisi). (Rupp had previously appeared with Kudrow in the 1997 independent film Clockwatchers.)[1]

In 1998, she began her role as Kitty Forman in the comedy series, That '70s Show, her most successful role to date. She also portrayed Marilyn See, wife of astronaut Elliot See, in episode 11 of the Emmy Award-winning television miniseries From the Earth to the Moon, produced by Tom Hanks and directed by Sally Field.[1]


Her distinctive voice was heard as the character of Mrs. Helperman in Disney's animated series Teacher's Pet in 2000, and again for the 2004 movie version. She starred as a stand-up comic with a secret in the highly acclaimed independent short film The Act, directed by Susan Kraker and Pi Ware, and received praise for her performance. The short film was an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival and won several awards at film festivals around the world.[13] In 2004, she played Brad Hunt's nagging mother in Lucky 13, a full-length independent film starring Lauren Graham. She returned to All My Children for one episode in December 2005, playing a homeless woman named Victoria.[1]

Rupp has often returned to Massachusetts and New York to appear in regional and off-Broadway stage productions. In 2004, she played Dotty Otley in Michael Frayn's Noises Off at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Massachusetts.[14] In 2006, she appeared on stage in Pittsfield, Massachusetts as a kooky mother in French playwright Jean Anouilh's comedy Ring Round the Moon at Barrington Stage Company.[15]

New York theater-goers saw Rupp return to the off-Broadway stage in June 2007, as Valerie in the Second Stage Theatre production of Marisa Wegrzyn's The Butcher of Baraboo, directed by Judith Ivey.[16][17][18][19] Two months later, she performed in the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, as Ida Bolton in a revival of Paul Osborn's 1939 play, Morning's at Seven.[20][21][22]

That '70s Show ended in 2006. Rupp appeared soon after in a dramatic television role as the wife of a murdered pharmaceutical CEO, on the crime drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. In the episode, entitled "Infiltrated", Rupp's character desperately attempts to hide her slain husband's past sexual abuses. In early 2007, the feature film Kickin It Old Skool was released, in which Rupp was cast as Jamie Kennedy's mother. In 2008, she appeared as a restaurant owner who helps two homeless men in the comedy-drama-musical, Jackson, written and directed by J. F. Lawton. In the same year, she returned to daytime television in a guest role on As the World Turns.[1]

Massachusetts theater-goers saw Rupp onstage in 2008, playing Olympia in Georges Feydeau's 1907 farce A Flea in Her Ear, at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown, and as Miss Maudie in To Kill a Mockingbird at the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield.[23]

In 2012, Rupp portrayed Ruth in She Wants Me, an independent romantic comedy. In June and July 2012, Rupp starred as Dr. Ruth Westheimer in "Dr. Ruth – All the Way" on the St. Germain Stage of the Barrington Stage Company.[24] She reprised the role Off-Broadway in Becoming Dr. Ruth.[25] She provided the voice of Mrs. Snowman in one of Fred Meyer's commercial ads in 2013.

Personal life

She has two homes, one in Lee, Massachusetts where she stays when she is doing theatrical projects in New York and another one in Los Angeles where she stays during television and film projects. She has never married and has no children. She has mentioned through an interview that she is a Methodist.[26]



Year Title Role Notes
1988 Big Miss Patterson
1988 Robots R. Jane Direct-to-video
1992 Death Becomes Her Psychiatric Patient
1996 Sgt. Bilko Mrs. Hall
1997 MGM Sing-Alongs: Searching for Your Dreams Lana Lionheart Short film; voice role
1997 MGM Sing-Alongs: Having Fun Lana Lionheart Short film; voice role
1997 MGM Sing-Alongs: Friends Lana Lionheart Short film; voice role
1997 MGM Sing-Alongs: Being Happy Lana Lionheart Short film; voice role
1997 Clockwatchers Barbara
1998 Senseless Fertility Clinic Assistant
2004 Teacher's Pet Mrs. Mary Lou Moira Angela Darling Helperman Voice role
2004 Garfield Mom Rat Voice role
2004 The Act Rosy Marconi Short film
2005 Lucky 13 Mrs. Baker
2006 Spymate Edith
2006 Air Buddies Belinda Direct-to-video; voice role
2007 Kickin' It Old Skool Sylvia Schumacher
2008 Jackson Nice Lady
2010 She's Out of My League Mrs. Kettner
2011 Spooky Buddies Zelda Direct-to-video; voice role
2012 She Wants Me Ruth Baum
2012 Congratulations Nancy Riley
2013 Super Buddies Cow Direct-to-video; voice role
2014 The Opposite of Sex Tracy
2017 Fair Market Value Carol Coogan
2019 The Social Ones Sheila Berger


Year Title Role Notes
1987 Spenser: For Hire Helen Episode: "Gone Fishin'"
1987 Kate & Allie Toy Store Clerk Episode: "The Nightmare Before Christmas"
1988 The Equalizer Marge Episode: "Regrets Only"
1988 The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd Waitress Episode: "Here's What Happened to That Earring You Lost"
1989 Mothers, Daughters and Lovers Lottie Television film
1989 Newhart Irene Sadler Episode: "Ramblin' Michael Harris"
1990 Grand Cheryl Ann Episode: "The Pretty Good Mother"
1991 Davis Rules Ms. Higgins Recurring role; 10 episodes
1991–1994 Empty Nest Danielle / Dr. Simmons / Claire Guest role; 3 episodes
1991 Civil Wars Florence Herrigan Episode: "Have Gun, Will Unravel"
1992 A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story Alice Television film
1992 Blossom Lucy Robinson Guest role; 2 episodes
1993 Family Matters Miss Connors Episode: "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad House"
1993 Evening Shade Mrs. Holloway Episode: "Teaching Is a Good Thing"
1993 In the Line of Duty: Ambush in Waco Dorrie Television film
1993–1994 Phenom Sister Mary Incarnata Recurring role; 6 episodes
1993 The Odd Couple: Together Again Plaza Asst. Manager Television film
1993 L.A. Law Gretchen Tomba Episode: "Pacific Rimshot"
1994 MacShane: Winner Takes All Alice Television film
1994 The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. Ms. Plowright Episode: "Stagecoach"
1994 MacShane: The Final Roll of the Dice Alice Television film
1994 Hearts Afire Brenda Swain Guest role; 2 episodes
1994 Diagnosis: Murder Dr. Nora Stebbings Episode: "The Busy Body"
1995 The Office Beth Avery Recurring role; 6 episodes
1995 ER Mrs. Dibble Episode: "Men Plan, God Laughs"
1995–1996 Seinfeld Katie Guest role; 2 episodes
1995 If Not for You Eileen Recurring role; 7 episodes
1995 The Invaders Rita Guest role; 2 episodes
1995–1996 The Jeff Foxworthy Show Gayle Recurring role; 9 episodes
1996 High Incident Guest role; 2 episodes
1996 Caroline in the City Melody Episode: "Caroline and the Red Sauce"
1997 Crisis Center Marilyn Recurring role; 4 episodes
1997–1998 Friends Alice Knight Buffay Recurring role; 6 episodes
1997 7th Heaven June McKinley Episode: "See You in September"
1997 Touched by an Angel Mayor Risa Hoigard Episode: "Jones vs. God"
1997 Over the Top Rose Episode: "Pilot"
1998 From the Earth to the Moon Marilyn See Television mini-series
1998 To Have and To Hold Margaret Jarrod Episode: "Pilot"
1998–2006 That '70s Show Kitty Forman Main role; 200 episodes
2000–2002 Teacher's Pet Ms. Mary Lou Moira Angela Darling Helperman Recurring role, 11 episodes; voice role
2001 The Hughleys Karen Clark Episode: "Daddy's Lil' Girl"
2004 The Tracy Morgan Show Ms. Laneworthy Guest role; 2 episodes
2005 Robot Chicken Kitty Forman Episode: "Gold Dust Gasoline"; voice role
2005 All My Children Victoria Episode: #1.9266
2006 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Debra Hartnell Episode: "Infiltrated"
2008 As the World Turns Edna Winklemeyer Recurring role; 4 episodes
2010–2011 Better with You Vicky Putney Main role; 22 episodes
2013 Hart of Dixie Besty Maynard Episode: "Where I Lead Me"
2014 Cuz-Bros Merle Television film
2015 He's With Me Alice Adams Guest role; 2 episodes
2016 Pearl DeeDee Television film
2017 Elementary Sheriff Malick Episode: "Crowned Clown, Downtown Brown"
2017 NCIS: Los Angeles Ginger Episode: "Old Tricks"
2017–2018 The Ranch Janice Phillips Recurring role; 10 episodes
2017–2018 This Is Us Linda Guest role; 4 episodes
2018 I Feel Bad Griff's Mom Episode: "My Kid Has to Grow Up"


  1. Debra Jo Rupp on IMDb
  2. Erica Brown, "AMC Nabs Rupp for Guest Role",; accessed September 24, 2017.
  3. Michiko Kakutani, "Stage: 5 of the 'Best' Short Works at the Nat Horne", The New York Times, March 22, 1980; retrieved January 22, 2008.
  4. Alvin Klein. "The Middle Ages at the Whole Theatre", The New York Times, April 7, 1985; retrieved January 22, 2008.
  5. Walter Goodman, The Time of the Cuckoo Opening Night Cast Archived 2007-10-19 at the Wayback Machine,; accessed September 24, 2017.
  6. "Stage: Michael Learned in Time of the Cuckoo" (January 21, 1986), The New York Times; retrieved January 22, 2008.
  7. Stephen Holden, "Stage: Cynthia Heimel Comedy, 'Guide to Chaos", The New York Times, December 14, 1986.
  8. Allan Wallach, "A Girl's Guide to Men and Sex in the '80s" (December 12, 1986), New York Newsday; retrieved February 24, 2008.
  9. Enid Nemy, "Broadway: New York is beckoning, but first, Los Angeles:, February 20, 1987, The New York Times; retrieved January 22, 2008.
  10. Alvin Klein, "4 Comedies on the Bill in Yale Rep Winterfest Series", The New York Times, January 24, 1988; retrieved February 24, 2008.
  11. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Cast and Crew,; accessed September 24, 2017.
  12. Hoyt Hilsman, "Act One '95 Evening B Review" Daily Variety, June 7, 1995.
  13. The Act,; accessed September 24, 2017.
  14. Alicia Blaisdell-Bannon, Entertainment Reviews: "Cast, energy propel 'Noises'" Archived 2012-06-30 at, Cape Cod Times, July 8, 2004.
  15. Review by Frances Benn Hall for Archived November 15, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  16. "The Butcher of Baraboo Opening Night Cast, Lortel Archives at the Internet Off-Broadway Database". Archived from the original on 2012-10-11. Retrieved 2013-09-10.
  17. Matthew Murray, The Butcher of Baraboo: Theater Review,, June 11, 2007.
  18. Jason Zinoman, THEATER REVIEW: "That Nice Midwestern Mom, the One Who's Handy With a Knife",, June 12, 2007.
  19. Mark Blankenship, The Butcher of Baraboo review,, June 12, 2007.
  20. Elyse Sommer, The Berkshire Theatre Festival's Summer 2007 Season, Curtain Up Reviews, August 24, 2007.
  21. J. Peter Bergman, Review Archived 2011-07-07 at the Wayback Machine,, August 5, 2007.
  22. James Yeara, Review: Lovely Senior Moments Archived 2007-10-17 at the Wayback Machine, Metroland/net, August 9, 2007.
  23. "Reviews". 2008-10-24. Archived from the original on 2014-01-13. Retrieved 2013-09-10.
  24. Archived June 30, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  25. Rooney, David (29 October 2013). "'Becoming Dr. Ruth,' With Debra Jo Rupp, at Westside Theater" via
  26. "Well-Known Methodists, just to name a few..." Archived from the original on September 15, 2012.
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