Actor John O’Hurley is probably best known for his guest-starring role on Seinfeld as Elaine’s boss, J. Peterman, the pompous and often clueless catalog guru. In real life, the West Hartford native is a busy performer and an accomplished singer and dancer. He brings his one-man show to the Ridgefield Playhouse this Sunday.
O’Hurley said at first, he turned down the role of Peterman. He had just learned that his sitcom A Whole New Ballgame had been canceled by ABC, and he admits he was feeling sorry for himself. Luckily his manager never made the call to Seinfeld executive producer Larry David and encouraged him to go to the audition.
“The next morning, my manager called me and said, ‘Just get out of bed and go over there and just burn it out of your system.’ Well, I went over there and they handed me the J. Peterman catalog and I said, ‘Well, this is really odd,’ and they said, ‘Well, we just want you to sound the way the catalog is written, as though this stuff is just tripping off his tongue.’ We had the read-through there, and all the people from NBC were there. As soon as I opened up my mouth it got a huge laugh from everybody, so I knew that I was spot-on with the role. I tell you, I’m so glad my manager never made that phone call because I’d be left in a cultural vacuum otherwise.”
In the years since Seinfeld, O’Hurley has kept busy as a game show host and voice actor (he’s the voice of King Neptune on SpongeBob SquarePants), and he has taken on many guest roles on television, including a brief stint on All My Children. His latest project is a one-man show called John O’Hurley: A Man With Standards.
“I call the show ‘A Man With Standards’ because I was lucky enough to grow up in the ’50s and ’60s surrounded by the Great American Songbook -- Henry Mancini, Frank Sinatra, Moon River and the like,” said O’Hurley. “And as I've gotten older, I start to look at the life around me and I find myself retreating more and more back to that time. Certainly not only for the entertainment, but the way we related to one another. I was lucky enough to grow up not only around the standards, but also around people who had standards. I grew up in the shadow of gentlemen there in West Hartford.”
In the show, O’Hurley and his swing band weave songs from the Great American Songbook with stories from his personal life.
“Stories like singing for Frank Sinatra at 2:30 in the morning at his house in Palm Springs, and doing the stupidest thing I've ever done in my career -- I sang Sinatra to Sinatra,” laughed O’Hurley. “How did it go? Well, the room went dead silent after that because I had broken one of the cardinal rules in entertainment. You never do that.”
The show is a homecoming for O’Hurley. He set foot on the stage for the first time at Kingswood Oxford school in West Hartford, and he learned how to sing at the University of Hartford’s Hartt School. He also took a five-year hiatus from acting and worked in public relations for Waterbury Hospital.
“It's going to be a joy to be back in my home stomping grounds. My footprints are all over Connecticut. All I have to do is hear the word ‘Connecticut’ and my heart just warms up because it represented the best of my childhood growing up. So many memories,” said O’Hurley.
John O'Hurley: A Man With Standards is this Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Ridgefield Playhouse.