A feisty brunette with a knack for light comedy and musicals, Joyce DeWitt rose to fame in the mid-1970s as Janet Wood, the headstrong and seemingly normal roommate of John Ritter and Suzanne Somers' odd trio on the innuendo-heavy sitcom, "Three's Company" (ABC, 1977-1984). A theater performer since childhood, she headed out to Los Angeles after college to make her way in show business, but struggled until landing her role on "Company." An acrimonious relationship with Somers lead to DeWitt abandoning Hollywood for the relative calm of the stage, where she remained for much of the next three decades, aside from occasional TV appearances. The enduring popularity of "Company" in reruns, however, assured DeWitt some degree of lasting fame.
Born Joyce Anne DeWitt in Wheeling, WV on April 23, 1949, she and her three siblings were raised by parents Norma and Paul DeWitt in Speedway, a suburb of Indianapolis, IN. She developed an interest in acting while in high school and, despite her father's objections, majored in theater at Ball State University in Muncie, IN. A master's degree in Fine Arts from UCLA soon followed, and by the early 1970s, DeWitt was juggling numerous TV and film auditions with work as a legal secretary and occasional house painter. Guest shots on various series preceded her big break when ABC offered her a choice of two comedy pilots. DeWitt read both and chose "Three's Company" - a wise decision, since the latter unnamed series never made it to air, and the former was one of the biggest hits of the decade.
DeWitt's Janet served as an anchor of normalcy for the show's characters. Where John Ritter's Jack Tripper operated on pure zany libido, and Suzanne Somers' Chrissy Snow floated by on naiveté, Janet was no-nonsense to a fault; frequently pulling her friends down to earth when their schemes threatened to upset the (relative) calm of their apartment life. DeWitt brought a perky charm to her performance, but she was all but overshadowed by the response from male viewers to Somers' physical appeal. In time, that attention would go to Somers' head, and by its fifth season, the blonde bombshell was refusing to appear at tapings because her demands for pay increases went unmet. Such behavior was galling to Ritter and DeWitt, who eventually refused to work with her. All three would continue to act on the show, but not appear together in scenes until Somers was fired at the end of the season. She was soon replaced by Jenilee Harrison as Chrissy's cousin, and later Priscilla Barnes, who became a lifelong friend to DeWitt.
The experience on "Three's Company" left a bad taste in DeWitt's mouth in regard to Hollywood, and despite the popularity of the show, she slowly extricated herself from the community to concentrate on national and regional theater. There were a handful of guest shots on episodic series, as well as a stint as the spokesperson for L'eggs hosiery in the 1970s; the latter was predicated on her fondness for wearing pantyhose or tights during her stint on the series. By the late 1980s, she had disappeared entirely from television and features, which inevitably lead to several rounds of "where are they now?" features on entertainment news programs. The answer, invariably, was that DeWitt was busy on stage in a variety of comedies, dramas and musicals.
Eventually, DeWitt began making appearances on screen again in the late 1990s. There was even a rare lead in the independent feature "Spring Fling!" (1995), which cast her as a teacher who finds herself in a romance with an old boyfriend while leading a group of boys on a field trip. In 2003, DeWitt served as co-producer and on-screen host for "Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Three's Company" (NBC), a fairly sour take on the drama that ensued between Somers, her co-stars and the network during the series' first five seasons. The film's viewpoint was quite lopsided: DeWitt (played by Melanie Deanne Moore) was portrayed as a hard-working, infinitely patient trooper, while Somers (Jud Tylor) was a voracious social climber fueled by her near-berserk manager-husband, Alan Hamel (Christopher Shyer). Most critics, who found the project somewhat lacking, were not surprised to see that neither Ritter nor Somers were associated with the project.
For much of the new millennium, DeWitt was busy on stage in productions of "Dinner with Friends" and "The Last Night of Ballyhoo" in Canada and other stage work, as well as occasional TV appearances. She returned to the glare of the spotlight in September 2003 when her beloved co-star, John Ritter, died suddenly of a heart attack brought on by a genetic tearing of the aorta. She, along with Somers, paid tribute to the actor in live interviews on various programs. Then, after a calm of six years, she made headlines in 2009 for an arrest for suspicion of DUI in El Segundo, CA, after driving past a police barricade during the fourth of July weekend.