Philip Baker Hall, Hard-Nosed Bookman on ‘Seinfeld,’ Dies @ 90

"Many Americans linger in adolescence, but [Philip Baker] Hall is the kind of man who puts on a tie before he leaves the house." — Roger Ebert, 1996

Philip Baker Hall, the world-weary character actor whose single most famous performance became a deadpan comic role as a library cop on Seinfeld, died June 12 at his Glendale, California, home. He was 90.

Hall as Tricky Dick (Image via Cinecom)

THR confirmed Hall's passing, noting he died of emphysema.

Born September 10, 1931, in Toledo, Hall moved to NYC to act after an army stint. He found off-Broadway work and made an uncredited appearance in Zabriskie Point (1970) ahead of his proper film debut, in Cowards (1970). A protest film, it was rejiggered and rereleased as Love-in '72, complete with a softcore orgy scene.

After another questionable film — the lighthearted Dina Merrill/Richard Egan romp Throw Out the Anchor! (1974), he made his TV debut on an episode of Good Times (1976).

Hall was in demand for his craggy, everyman look — his face was described as that of a man who had "see things" — so he wound up on about 100 episodes of episodic TV, including on such shows as Man from Atlantis (1977), M*A*S*H (1977), The Waltons (1980), It's a Living (1980), Quincy M.E. (1982, twice), T.J. Hooker (1982), Benson (1984), Miami Vice (1987), Murder, She Wrote (1991), Cheers (1993), Empty Nest (1994), The John Larroquette Show (1996) and Madam Secretary (2015).

He recurred memorably on several series, too, including as Dr. Harrison on Family Ties (1988), Ed Meyers on Falcon Crest (1989-1990), a judge on The Practice (1997), Dr. Morrison on two Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes (2004 & 2009) and as lovably grouchy neighbor Walt Kleezak, who befriends Luke Dunphy (Nolan Gould), on Modern Family (2011-2012).

As Zelman on Messiah (Image via MGM TV)

He was the voice of Hank Hippopopalous on BoJack Horseman (2015), was on five episodes of Second Chance (2016) and wound down his TV work — and his career — with a recurring role on the 2020 series Messiah.

It was a role that followed him for the rest of his life. Like a library fine. (Image via NBC)

The TV role that really clicked was his iconic portrayal of hard-nosed library cop Bookman on a classic 1991 Seinfeld episode. (His character returned for the series finale in 1998.) Upbraiding "joy boy" Jerry for a long-long-long-overdue library book, Bookman rails, "What's my problem? Punks like you — that's my problem. And you better not screw up again, Seinfeld, because if you do, I'll be all over you like a pitbull on a poodle."

But while ubiquitous on TV — including in TV movies — Hall enjoyed a renaissance in feature films, as well. His performance as Richard Nixon in Robert Altman's Secret Honor (1984), which came on the heels of long-running success with the role on the stage, is widely admired, and he also appeared in the films Midnight Run (1988), Say Anything (1989), Ghostbusters II (1989), Kiss of Death (1995), Eye for an Eye (1996), Air Force One (1997), The Truman Show (1998), Rush Hour (1998), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), The Sum of All Fears (2002), Bruce Almighty (2003), Dogville (2003), In Good Company (2004), Zodiac (2007), Argo (2012) and his final film, The Last Word (2017).

Hall fortuitously met Paul Thomas Anderson, then a P.A., on a PBS movie set, where the two became fast friends. Future auteur Anderson crafted the 1993 short Cigarettes & Coffee around Hall, then cast him in his 1996 feature Hard Eight.

Magnolia Baker (Image via New Line)

In 1997, Hall again worked for Anderson, this time in his gonzo porn drama Boogie Nights, a sprawling epic. He was acclaimed as a dying children's TV host in Anderson's Magnolia (1999).

Married three times, Hall is survived by his wife of 40 years Holly. Hall had four daughters, Anna, Adella, Trisha and Darcy, all of whom survive him. He is also survived by four grandchildren and his brother.

No Comments Yet.

Leave a comment