There Are Familiar Faces, and Then There Is John O’Hurley
The Seinfeld actor and National Dog Show host talks politics and J. Peterman in advance of a stop at The Ridgefield Playhouse.
Photo by Rob Meads Photography
There are familiar faces, and then there is John O’Hurley. For those few who may not recognize the ivory-haired actor, host, and entertainer from his stint as J. Peterman on megahit sitcom Seinfeld, they will most likely recall his face beaming into their living rooms each Thanksgiving as host of The National Dog Show. Oh, and he was also one of the most popular Dancing with the Stars contestants in history, appearing on the program again after a controversial second-place finish for a victorious “grudge match.”
On January 26, the Broadway, film, and TV star will be making his way to The Ridgefield Playhouse for an evening of songs and stories about his varied career, from his childhood in Maine to his Seinfeld days. “It’s mostly a throwback to The Great American Songbook: Sinatra, Mancini, and the songs of that generation,” says O’Hurley. “I call it A Man With Standards, obviously because the standards of the Songbook, but I also parallel that with the fact that I was lucky enough to grow up in the shadow of men who had standards.”
For O’Hurley, this music is representative of a larger aspect of his own past and the way he views the current state of the world. “The music and the manners, if you will, were indistinguishable back then,” says the 65-year-old. “It was the way we entertained each other, the way we related to each other. There was a gentility and a sense of propriety that we had back then that was a part of the music. As I say, ‘Luck was a lady, we danced cheek to cheek, and love was a many splendored thing.’ Today, not so much.”
“Let me put it this way: Anytime there’s a dog in the room, everybody looks at the dog. Dogs have a wonderful way of creating a sense of calm and just rounding off the edges.”
Perhaps this is evidenced by O’Hurley’s recent tiff with Will & Grace star Debra Messing, which made headlines and concerned issues of political affiliation and privacy that O’Hurley suggests boils down to simple human respect.
“I don’t feel the need to discuss my relationship with my wife any more than I feel the need to discuss my relationship with my God. My relationship with my government is my politics, and I don’t feel the need to defend them or to celebrate them,” explains O’Hurley. “I don’t think they should be spotlighted or used to punish or admonish somebody else because they don’t feel the same way I do. Just because I’m a celebrity doesn’t mean that my opinion deserves to be celebrated. I’d just like to return to a period of civility, where it’s like, ‘You feel differently? Okay.’”
These values for respect and compassion influence O’Hurley, a longtime philanthropist, both within and outside of his career. “I’m on a two-year program to raise $3 million to find the biomarker for SUDEP, which is Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy,” he says. “I lost my sister back when she was 17, on her last day of junior year, and it was something that deeply affected the family — she and I were just thick as thieves; we were best friends — so it was a terrible loss for me, as well. I have become a national spokesperson for epilepsy and maintained that for many years only because nobody wants to talk about it, and [few] with epilepsy will ever come out and say that they have it. It’s kind of this quiet, little secret…. So, I’m trying to bring it more and more into the light.”
photo by NBC/National Dog Show
This is not to say that O’Hurley has been neglecting his creative efforts. This Thanksgiving, the entertainer will once again host The National Dog Show, an event that has become near and dear his heart for a variety of reasons. “Let me put it this way, anytime there’s a dog in the room everybody looks at the dog,” laughs O’Hurley who is a former host of both Family Feud and To Tell the Truth. “Dogs have a wonderful way of creating a sense of calm and just rounding off the edges. It’s a pretty special day, and everybody has a smile on their face…it becomes a really interactive experience for families and kids, and it’s just a wonderful time.”
Of course, this is only one of several irons O’Hurley has in the fire. He is fresh off starring in the 2019 film 7 Days in Vegas, with Jennifer Tilly. He has also voiced characters on such iconic cartoons as Family Guy, Hey Arnold!, and SpongeBob SquarePants, and remains a partial owner of the real J. Peterman Company. Along with his ongoing one-man show, O’Hurley will also be hosting an upcoming HGTV program, as well as NBC’s California-based spinoff of The National Dog Show, the Beverly Hills Dog Show.
Yet despite these many projects, O’Hurley will likely remain most known for his time as J. Peterman on Seinfeld, a role he says changed quite a bit through the years. “He was kind of this crazy combination of Irish-poet-on-the-cliffs and Mr. Magoo,” says O’Hurley of Peterman. “In the hands of the writers, the character just became more and more of a screaming lunatic, and I loved that sense of the lyrical, poetic nature of him. The more of a lunatic he became, the more fun he became — to me anyway.”