Entertainment

Philip Baker Hall of Seinfeld and Modern Family fame dies at 90

Philip Baker Hall, the prolific character actor of film and theater who starred in Paul Thomas Anderson’s first movies and memorably hunted down a long-overdue library book in Seinfeld, has died. He was 90.

Holly Wolfle Hall, the actor’s wife of nearly 40 years, said on Monday he died on Sunday surrounded by loved ones in Glendale, California.

She said Mr Hall had been well until a few weeks earlier, and spent his final days in warm spirits, reflecting on his life.

“His voice at the end was still just as powerful,” Ms Wolfle Hall said. Her husband, she added, never retired from acting.

Hall’s death was announced by Los Angeles Times sports writer Sam Farmer.

“My neighbor, friend, and one of the wisest, most talented and kindest people I’ve ever met, Philip Baker Hall, died peacefully last night,” Farmer wrote on Twitter.

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In a career spanning half a century, Hall was an ubiquitous hangdog face whose doleful, weary appearance could shroud a booming intensity and humble sensitivity. His range was wide, but Hall, who had a natural gravitas, often played men in suits, trench coats and lab coats.

Born in Toledo, Ohio, Hall initially devoted himself more to theater than TV and movies after moving to Los Angeles in 1975.

That changed when he was shooting a PBS program in 1992. Hall then encountered a production assistant in his early 20s named Paul Thomas Anderson. The two would hang out, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee between scenes.

Anderson, believing Hall had not gotten his due in film, asked him to look at a script he had written for a 20-minute short film titled Cigarettes & Coffee.

“I’m reading this script, and I truly had trouble believing that that kid wrote this script,” Hall told the AV Club in 2012.

“I mean, it was just so brilliant, resonating with nuance all over the place, like a playwright.

Certainly, as a film, I’d never really seen anything like it. It was staggering.”

After the US$20,000 (about $29,000) short made it into the Sundance Film Festival, Anderson expanded it into his feature debut, 1997’s Hard Eight, which catapulted Hall’s career.

Anderson would cast Hall again as adult film theater magnate Floyd Gondolli who warns Burt Reynolds’s pornography producer about the industry’s future in Boogie Nights.

In Anderson’s Magnolia, Hall played Jimmy Gator, the host of a children’s game show.

“I have a particular fascination with character actors, with wanting to turn them into lead actors,” Anderson told The Los Angeles Times in 1998.

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To many, Hall was instantly recognizable for one of the most powerfully funny guest appearances on Seinfeld.

In 1991, for the 22nd episode of the sitcom, Hall played Lieutenant Joe Bookman, the library investigator who comes after Seinfeld for a years-overdue copy of Tropic of Cancer.

Hall played him like a hard-boiled noir detective, telling Seinfeld: “Well, I got a flash for ya, Joy-boy: Party time is over.”

Hall was brought back for the Seinfeld finale and by Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm. David once said no other actor ever made him laugh more than Hall.

Among Hall’s many other credits were Michael Mann’s The Insider, as 60 Minutes producer Don Hewitt, and Lars von Trier’s Dogville.

Hall also appeared in Say Anything, The Truman Show, The Talented Mr Ripley, Zodiac, Argo and Rush Hour. He played neighbor Walt Kleezak on Modern Family, and his last performance was in the 2020 series Messiah.

Hall, who was married to Dianne Lewis for three years in the early 1970s, is survived by his wife, four daughters, four grandchildren and his brother.

PA

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