John O’Hurley played one of the most memorable secondary characters on the hit series "Seinfeld" and won legions of fans with his portrayal of Elaine’s inane boss J. Peterman. He first signed onto the hit series in the show’s sixth season, making a surprise appearance during the sixth season finale in 1995 and growing into a recurring character who was featured in 20 subsequent episodes.
The Peterman that Seinfeld fans came to know was a highly fictionalized version of a coat catalogue manufacturer by the same name, and O’Hurley’s absurd and overly romanticized stories of the influences of various garments became a staple of his character.
In an interview with ABC News, O’Hurley looks back at the surprises that followed him during his time both during and after the show.
The humor that he first wrote off as “not funny”
O’Hurley recalled how his agent arranged for him to have an audition for a guest spot on Seinfeld the day after a different series he had been working on was cancelled. And in spite of the seemingly perfect timing, O’Hurley said that he was less than impressed by the script at the table read.
"It was a very funny show but it didn't read funny," O’Hurley said.
"It wasn't about one-line jokes. It was all about the story. It was a comedic story rather than one-line jokes, so for Seinfeld you had to watch the whole episode and see the three subplots," which he explained was not always an option.
"They were the most disorganized show on television the end of the show had not been written by the time of the table read," he said.
Some of his favorite scenes never made it to air
The actor, who won the first season of "Dancing With The Stars" following a contested ‘grudge match’ and then later hosted "Family Feud," said that his Seinfeld character’s over-the-top descriptions were a favorite target for the writers.
"The character was fun because there was nothing like that character on television and as time went on, there was an arch to the character and he just became more absurd and more absurd and then he became deranged," O’Hurley said.
In their frenzy to pen the most outrageous story lines, the writers often ended up going overboard on Peterman's monologues so they were regularly cut due to time constraints. "The show was always ten minutes too long," he said.
His unexpected on-set hangout
Unlike most actors who spend their time between scenes in their trailers, O’Hurley said that he could always be found hanging out on the set of Peterman’s fake office. The move wasn’t dictated by a devotion to method acting or an effort to get into the businessman’s mentality, but simply because he liked the décor. "It was how I would decorate my house," he said.
"The J. Peterman office was so beautiful and so well-designed… I just sat there in the office and stayed. I tilted back in my big oversized chair with my feet up on the desk. The set made me so happy."
O’Hurley was able to bring some of the African masks that adorned the fictitious office walls with him, as well as a few of the dummy copies of the character’s autobiography with his face plastered on the book jacket so that he can have a taste of being back at the Seinfeld set when he is at home in Vermont.
The heartfelt moments on the sidelines
O’Hurley said that one of his most lasting memories stems from an interaction that he just happened to see when he was kicking back in Peterman’s chair with his feet up on the desk during a lull in shooting.
He told how from his view behind the desk, he could see Hollywood legend and Seinfeld guest star Lloyd Bridges finishing up a scene on the set of Jerry’s apartment which was right next to Peterman’s office.
Lloyd Bridges actor sons Beau and Jeff Bridges were on set on that particular day, watching their father’s scene, and O'Hurley said that he witnessed a tender family moment when the director called ‘cut’.
"I remember (Lloyd Bridges) turning to Beau and him saying 'How am I doing tonight? Am I doing alright?' and Beau saying 'Dad you’re doing just great,' and they hugged and then he hugged Jeff and it was just so moving,” O’Hurley said.
Bridges appeared in two episodes of the show as Izzy Mandlebaum, an overly competitive octogenarian, and his second time on the show in October 1997 marked his final television appearance before his death five months later.
"It was kind of a Hallmark moment for me because I got to peak on in another family," O’Hurley said.
His lasting fan base -- and continued ties to J. Peterman
The real John Peterman, who launched his eponymous fashion catalog, said in an earlier interview that show creators Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David were personal fans of the clothing line and found humor in the idealized descriptions used to tell the international back-stories of the garments.
The company later got another notable fan -- O’Hurley himself -- and shortly after his arch on the show ended, he invested in The J. Peterman Catalog and became a member of the company’s board.
O’Hurley said that in addition to the financial and advisory roles that come with being on the board, he also puts a face to the name that he no longer answers to.
"When we have our board meetings for The Peterman Company in Manhattan every year, the real J. Peterman and I will be walking down Madison Avenue after the meeting and people- and sometimes I mean police squad cars- will pull up next to us and shout out ‘Hey Peterman!’ and they’re talking to me and not him," O'Hurley said.
"It's the greatest act of identity theft on television and I take total credit for it."
Ever the spokesman, O’Hurley said that he has several of the company’s trademark jackets in his closet in Vermont, and, channeling his descriptive alter ego, he added that the Australian cotton is "impervious to ill-gotten weather".