Melanie Chartoff considers herself an inventor, of characters and stories for the stage, page, screen, and the environment, having conceived and patented a water recycling device for home use.
After moving to Los Angeles in 1979 to create many roles on the late-night comedy series "Fridays," Melanie created the memorable Ms. Musso on Fox TV's "Parker Lewis Can't Lose," and voices Didi and Minka on Nickleodeon's "Rugrats" series, feature films, and the spin off of “Rugrats,” “All Grown Up.”. Featured on the '06 season finale of "Desperate Housewives," she's guest starred on many other hit series, such as ABC'S "No Ordinary Family," CBS's "Touched by an Angel," in an Emmy nominated episode with Kirk Douglas, and on "Ally McBeal."
Theatrically, in '01 she opened in “The Vagina Monologues” at the Apollo in Chicago. In '06, she co-starred in "Sunset Park," at the Zephyr Theatre in Hollywood to sold out houses, and began writing book, lyrics and performing her musical-memoir-in progress, excerpted from her life in progress, to support her various charities. She is currently prepping that show, “Fine Lines" for the Santa Monica Playhouse and larger venues Farewell Tour” for larger venues while she writes humor columns for the Huffington Post, The Jewish Journal, and Jewlarious, plus a food column for "One for the Table" online.
Melanie began her theatrical career while in high school in her hometown, New Haven, CT. At Yale University "I played a prostitute in 'The Threepenny Opera' before I even had breasts--quite a stretch!" After a role in the Children's Company at the prestigious Long Wharf Theatre, she parked her dreams of being a poetess/journalist, irrevocably smitten with acting. Melanie played every possible ingénue in northeastern summer stock theatres and at Adelphi University where she earned her BA in theatre arts. From there she worked her way to off-off-Broadway, to off-Broadway to Broadway itself in "Via Galactica" and "Scapino" with Jim Dale, narrator of the Harry Potter books. She also performed in "The Proposition," an improvisational musical revue with Jane Curtin, Fred Grandy and Josh Mostel, and in “Lovesong,” a revue of famous love poems set to music. Here you can hear her sing an excerpt of the James Agee poem “Open All Night” composed by Michael Valente.
In the late 70’s, between theatre engagements, Melanie moved her stand up act from New York’s famed Improvisation Club to the West Coast Club, while she guest starred on various televisoion series, in Paramount Pictures’ “American Hot Wax” with Jay Leno and Fran Drescher, and co-starred in the ABC Telefilm, “Can you Hear the Laughter” about the late Freddie Prinze. She also won acclaim for her performance costarring with Dyan Cannon in “Having It All,” directed by Ed Zwick.
The advent of "Fridays" brought Melanie national recognition, with appearances on Carson, Griffin and all the nighttime talk shows of the time. "It was great to hide radical points of view in humor--we got away with some pretty incendiary stuff, while having to trade in the gratuitous anatomical references we put in to keep the censors feeling productive and busy," she recalls. Her impression of Nancy Reagan was particularly notable and brought her to the attention of Rich Little, who cast her as the doting wife to his Ronnie on the comedy album "The First Family Rides Again." Patti Davis, preferring Melanie's impersonation of Mrs. Regan to her real mother, would bring Melanie to events where they were flanked by security personnel, even in the rest rooms.
Next, with Fred Willard, she hosted 120 episodes of "What's Hot, What's Not," Lexington Broadcast Co.'s flagship topical chat show, which predated FOX in its attempt to become the Fourth Television Network.
Resurrecting her "theater addiction," Melanie became the West Coast recreator of Broadway roles. She won a DramaLogue Award for her performance in the Huntington Hartford premiere of "March of the Falsettos" and played Prudence in the Coronet Playhouse's debut of Christopher Durang's "Beyond Therapy."
In the 1985 La Jolla Playhouse production of "Big River," Melanie created Mary Jane Wilkes and four other roles for the Des MacAnuff production. In the autumn of '87, she was Dot in the critically acclaimed West Coast premiere of Sondheim's "Sunday In The Park With George" at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre. She next starred with Carol Burnett and BIll Paxton in the mock miniseries "Fresno," a take off on “Dallas,” starred opposite George Segal in a CBS sitcom and then played the memorable Deborah, a kleptomaniacal bathhouse broad opposite Bruce Boxleitner in CBS' "Gambler III." She created the role of Ellen O'Connell in South Coast Repertory's world premiere, "On the Jump" by John Glore.
On the highly acclaimed premiere season of CBS' "Wiseguy," Melanie played Detective Lillah Warfield, McPike's romantic interest. Also she created the recurring role of Dr. Mary Kaiser, the love-starved psychiatrist, on the hit CBS series "Newhart." She then filmed "Wind On The Wire," a "country movie musical" starring Randy Travis, Chuck Norris and Burt Reynolds, which aired on ABC and TNN. She was one of George's sullen girlfriends on "Seinfeld" and testified against him on the "Final Seinfeld."
Vocally, she appeared in the L.A. Theatre Works' radio production of "Mastergate" with Walter Matthau and Ed Asner; singing and acting on "We Hold These Truths," a National Public Radio broadcast celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights with Asner, Richard Basehart, Jill Eikenberry, penned by Norman Corwin. Featured with Bill Shatner and Hume Cronym in "The Secretariat" on N.P.R., she was also heard in a performance there with Walter Cronkite on Millennium eve.
Her vocal roles as Didi and Minka on Nickelodeon's hit "Rugrats" have been memorialized in three major motion pictures produced by Paramount Pictures, and in a live stage show. She also voiced Aunt Nora in UPN's "Jumanji." Melanie played the role of Marsha Donnelly, mom of the brats on USA Cable's "Weird Science."
Offscreen, offstage and off the air, Melanie contributes to several child based charities and is an advocate of environmental causes. In 1986, Mayor Tom Bradley awarded her a Certificate of Appreciation for her work producing and co-hosting a concert for Los Angeles' homeless, and she has been thrice similarly honored for her work with the City of Hope. She created the "Halloween for Hope" masquerade event in 1987, which, for ten years, continued to be a highly successful fund-raiser for children with cancer. "It was intended to take the scariness out of Halloween for kids with cancer and the people who love them," she says. She works extensively with Save The Children and funds little girls in Appalachia and Nepal.
She is a member of M.O.S.T.E, a Los Angeles organization which matches professional women with at risk inner city girls in a mentoring program that opens their minds to the possibilities of bigger, better lives. She currently mentors Angelica, an exceptional teen girl from East Los Angeles. For information on M.O.S.T.E. go to moste.org.
Melanie teaches “Charismatizing Improvising™””School for the Shy” and “Choice of Voice” which empower students' unique 'presence' in all professional and social interactions, see Chartoffteaching.com. For information on presenting her workshops in your school or town, or for coaching by SKYPE, email her here.
Melanie is a member of PEN, PALA, IWOSC, and the Television Academy.
Los Angeles Voice and Commercial Representation:
VOX (310) 323-655-8600 x 4505
Merrily Kane (310) 820-0020