This Day in Jewish History

1954: Serenity Now! Comic Jerry Seinfeld Is Born

The man behind the iconic TV series that is still quoted by legions of fans was born on this day in 1954.

AP

April 29, 1954, is the birthday of Jerry Seinfeld, stand-up comic, who between 1989 and 1998 played a character based on himself in the American television sitcom “Seinfeld.” Earlier this month it was reported that the show’s 180 episodes have earned a total of $3.1 billion in syndication revenues since the airing of the final episode on May 14, 1998 – with some $400 million each going to the show’s two co-creators, Seinfeld and Larry David.

Jerome Seinfeld was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in the Long Island suburb of Massapequa. His father, Kalman Seinfeld, who died in 1985, was of Austrian Jewish background. His mother, the former Betty Hesney, is the daughter of Syrian Jews from Aleppo who described themselves as Turkish when they came through Ellis Island.

Seinfeld recently told a New York Times interviewer that his family was “pretty Jewish” – “Went to temple, kept kosher, two sets of dishes.” Before he attended college, in 1971, Jerry spent a summer in Israel, spending most of the time volunteering at Kibbutz Sa’ar, in the north near Nahariya. Fifteen years ago, a reporter from Yedioth Ahronoth visited the kibbutz and tracked down Seinfeld’s adoptive family there, Emanuel and Shoshana Pereg. The couple showed the journalist the green flowered tablecloth they received as a present from the volunteer, which they were still using nearly three decades later.

Seinfeld graduated in 1976 from Queens College, where he studied communications and theater, and where he did an independent study course on the subject of stand-up comedy, for which he wrote a 40-page paper on the topic, among other things. He began appearing as a stand-up himself shortly after that, and an appearance at a New York club led to some television work, including a regular, but short-lived role as Frankie on the sitcom “Benson,” which starred Robert Guillaume. Frankie is a delivery boy who is always trying out comedy routines, but whom no one pays any attention to.

In 1988, Seinfeld and TV writer Larry David teamed up to write the pilot for a new comedy series they called “The Seinfeld Chronicles.” It aired July 5, 1989, on NBC, and it was picked up for the regular season, its name was changed to “Seinfeld,” to avoid confusion with another show, the short-lived “Marshall Chronicles.” Although the show was praised by critics, it wasn’t until its fifth season that it began scoring top ratings, being the third-most popular show that year. During its last four seasons, it was either the number one or number two top-rated series.

“Seinfeld” came to its end in 1998 with the four regular lead characters, the friends Jerry Seinfeld, Elaine Benes, George Costanza and Cosmo Kramer, behind bars after they have been convicted of breaking a newly enacted “Good Samaritan” law, which requires passersby to come to the aid of someone in mortal danger. In their case, a private plane that was flying them to Los Angeles, where Jerry and George have finally been offered a regular TV show, has to make an unscheduled landing in a small Massachusetts town and they do nothing to help a man being carjacked at gunpoint. As a consequence, they are put on trial, in which most everyone who has ever known them is called to the stand by the prosecution as a character witness. After that devastating testimony, they are each sentenced to a year in prison.

In the 15 years since “Seinfeld” went out of production, Jerry Seinfeld has continued working continuously as a stand-up comic. (He also made a successful animated film, “Bee Movie,” and a less successful reality show called “The Marriage Ref.”) Last year, he averaged two shows per week, and travels around the U.S. to do them, sometimes appearing unannounced in small clubs, other times filling large theaters. He is a perfectionist who sometimes spends years honing a joke to perfection, and is constantly refining his material. He also keeps his act “clean,” refusing to use obscene language in his shows, saying that it makes for cheap laughs.

Seinfeld married at age 45; his wife, Jessica Sklar, a public-relations executive and now a children’s book writer, met him just after returning from her honeymoon with her then-new husband Eric Nederlander, a theatrical producer. She divorced Nederlander, and married Seinfeld in November 1998. They have three children.