July 5 marks 25 years since Seinfeld premiered on NBC. The sitcom about nothing became something special, airing 180 episodes over nine seasons and picking up scores of Emmy Awards, including the 1993 trophy for outstanding comedy series. To celebrate this milestone, TV Guide Magazine has produced a 25th anniversary special edition, available on newsstands now. The issue includes rare behind-the-scenes photos, a breakdown of the best episodes and interviews with some of the show's most memorable stars. Among those are John O'Hurley, the man who brought J. Peterman to life. Here in this bonus Q&A, he shares a lost monologue from the show
TV Guide Magazine: How did you land the role of J. Peterman?
John O'Hurley: I had been on a series called A Whole New Ballgame that ABC canceled on a Wednesday morning, and that night, I was out with my manager, crying in my beer, trying not to take the cancellation too personally. Then, Larry David's office called and said they had this role. The casting people said, "Come on over tomorrow. We have this really strange character that we think you could hit out of the park." So I went over there. They handed me the J. Peterman catalog and said, "We just want it to sound like the catalog is written." As the character lived on in the series, he had much more of a story arc and became more of this absolute legend in his own mind, this insane and kind of a corporate Mr. Magoo. Not the least of which was his wild trip to Burma. In an effort to go and find himself — if you can imagine anything more insufferable than Peterman actually finding himself— he became kind of a wild, poetic type of Hemingway-style lunatic. I've met people all around the country, and everyone can describe someone they've worked for at one time that was J. Peterman.
TV Guide Magazine: Who was your J. Peterman?
O'Hurley: I had a five-year stint in public relations before acting, just out of college, and a man that I worked for had that same bombastic style and was a little bit off of reality.
TV Guide Magazine: Why do you think Peterman became a recurring character?
O'Hurley: They liked the idea of the character. The circumstances surrounding him were so odd. I'd never seen anything like the J. Peterman catalog before. These long, Hemingway-style adventure stories about an Oxford button down was just so interesting. It gave the writers a chance to write in long form instead of single jokes. They would create these wonderful monologues that were kind of Twain essays, but many of them didn't make it into the show.
TV Guide Magazine: What's the monologue that you wish you could resurrect from the cutting room floor?
O'Hurley: It was from "The Friar's Club," where Rob Schneider was playing my hard-of-hearing assistant, and I mistakenly thought that Elaine and him were having a little tête-à-tête on office time. So I decided to play Cupid and get her two tickets to the circus. I told her that she and Bob could leave a little early to get ready. She looked at me and said, "Bob?" I would have said — this is the cut monologue — "Elaine, don't worry, I too am no stranger to love on the clock. As a young man, my father apprenticed me to a honey factory in Belize. The chief beekeeper was this horrible hag of a woman with nulled teeth and a giant wart that she called a nose. She was not attractive, even by backwoods standards. But love is truly blind, Elaine, and as the days went on, working closer and closer together, that sweet smell of honey in the air; I knew I had to have that horrible creature. And I did. So you and Bob have a good time tonight."
TV Guide Magazine: What sort of man thinks it's worse to fire Elaine for hating The English Patient but not for failing a drug test?
O'Hurley: The Peterman guide to business management was a bit of an odd one, wasn't it? I didn't fire her for nearly bankrupting the company. I didn't fire her for her opium addiction, but I did fire her for not liking The English Patient.
TV Guide Magazine: What are your thoughts on The English Patient?
O'Hurley: I found it long and boring. However, I admired the story told backwards, because it takes such a great mind to conceive of it that way. I admire its complexity, but as a piece of entertainment, I found it tedious.
TV Guide Magazine: What was the most difficult aspect of the character?
O'Hurley: It was getting the tamber. I would approach the script like a piece of music, because he had a floating musical voice and I had to find where I was going to put the rises and falls. I had to go and learn not only the words, but the musical presentation of the character.
TV Guide Magazine: What's your most vivid memory from your work on Seinfeld?
O'Hurley: I remember when Julia [Louis-Dreyfus] developed the dance, and I wasn't there for it. Everyone was all still laughing at it, and I said, "What's the story?" and Julia said, "Oh, I did this dance last week you aren't going to believe it." So she took me behind one of the sets, maybe Peterman's office, and showed me the dance. I just thought that was so funny, that I got a private dance from Elaine. I also remember watching Michael [Richards], and I was fascinated by Michael because I think he made the largest growth of a character. You look at the early episodes of Seinfeld and compare that Kramer to the one in later episodes. The physicalities of the character evolved, and they became finely honed. You have to go back to Dick Van Dyke, to Danny Kaye, to find a physical comedian so engrossing. I would watch him because the Peterman office was right next door. I never went to my dressing room. I just used the Peterman office. I spent all of my time in there. I just said, "Keep the lights on." The fact that I really didn't have a bathroom there, that was the only thing missing.
TV Guide Magazine: Why did you stay in that office?
O'Hurley: I loved the office! It was just a wonderful place to sit. I had a great dressing room upstairs that was beautiful, but in that office I would just tilt my chair back, put my feet up on the table and that's where I would stay during all rehearsals, even during the taping of the show. It was the most comfortable office to be in, and if you wanted me, you could find me there.
TV Guide Magazine: How did you become involved in the real J. Peterman company?
O'Hurley: Peterman was a company which the show parodied without permission, so it occurred to Peterman it was worth more in publicity than it was in litigation. He just signed off on the Peterman episodes and they went from $15 million in sales — I think in '98 — up to $75 million in sales and were doing quite well. Then they over-leveraged a bit because they had expanded beyond the clothing catalog and established some stores around the country. Push came to shove and they lost everything. This was after Seinfeld ended, and in '99 I got a call from Peterman. We had become good friends over the run of the series because, as you can imagine, we were joined at the wrists and ankles. I'm still on the company's board, and we'll walk down Madison Avenue after a meeting. New York's the most Seinfeld-friendly town in America, and people will roll down their windows and scream, "Hey Peterman!" and they are not speaking to him! Now, how bizarre is it that after running a successful company, someone comes along and parodies you and takes away your identity for the rest of your life! It's the most surreal, greatest act of identity theft ever.
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