A Fond Farewell: A Tribute to ‘Seinfeld’s Jerry Stiller
June 8, 1927–May 11, 2020
Jerry Stiller was 66 when, in 1993, he took on the role that became a high point in his career: Frank Costanza, George’s (Jason Alexander) father on the hit NBC sitcom Seinfeld. (He had previously rejected the role in favor of a Broadway gig, asking, “Who’s Seinfeld?”)
Stiller immediately gave Frank a makeover. He was written as a milquetoast, bullied by his shrill spouse, Estelle (Estelle Harris), but Stiller decided it would be funnier if he yelled back. So was born the irascible character who created the first “man bra.”
The actor was so convincing as Costanza that Kevin James asked him to join The King of Queens as sarcastic, scheming Arthur Spooner, who spent nine seasons arguing with his son-in-law, Doug (James). (Stiller said he’d planned to retire after Seinfeld.)
Of course, Stiller had a solid career before these later-in-life roles; in the 1960s, his droll sketches with wife Anne Meara, inspired by their relationship, were staples on The Ed Sullivan Show. His final part was in the 2016 animated miniseries Zoolander: Super Model, a spin-off of his real-life actor-director son Ben’s big-screen comedies.