Liz Sheridan: Stage, Film, and TV Actress Best Known for Playing Jerry’s Mother on the Sitcom “Seinfeld”

From a New York Times obit by Neil Genzlinger headlined “Liz Sheridan, Who Played Jerry Seinfeld’s Mom, Dies at 93”:

Liz Sheridan, a stage, film and television actress best known for playing Helen Seinfeld, Jerry’s mother on the acclaimed sitcom “Seinfeld,” died on Friday at her home in New York City.

Ms. Sheridan started her career as a dancer in the 1950s. Her acting career blossomed in the 1970s, when she appeared in seven Broadway shows (one, “Happy End” in 1977, also featured Meryl Streep, still early in her career) and on an episode of the TV series “Kojak.”

The 1980s brought dozens of roles in made-for-TV movies and on series like “Hill Street Blues” and “Remington Steele,” including a prominent one as a nosy neighbor on the comedy “ALF.” She first appeared on “Seinfeld” in the second episode, in May 1990, and turned up throughout the series, including in the widely watched finale in May 1998.

In an interview for Mark Voger’s newspaper column “Celebs,” Ms. Sheridan recalled auditioning for the part. Mr. Seinfeld and Larry David, the creators of the series, were in the room with a friend of Mr. Seinfeld’s.

“I walked in the room and I smiled at Jerry because my husband and I had watched him do stand-up when he was not famous yet,” she said. “We love stand-up. I told him that I liked his work, his stand-up. He smiled, and I smiled, and then I read and they laughed, and then I left. By the time I got home, I got a phone call.”

On the show, Jerry’s parents lived in Florida, so Helen and her husband, Morty, played by Barney Martin, appeared only occasionally. And she was somewhat overshadowed, among the show’s mothers, by Estelle Harris, who played Estelle Costanza, the high-intensity mother of Jason Alexander’s George. But Helen made an impression nonetheless.

“So many people stop me on the street, and they say, ‘You know, your relationship with Jerry is what my relationship is with my parents,’” Ms. Sheridan said in 1998.

Elizabeth Ann Sheridan was born in Manhattan. Her father, Frank, was a concert pianist, and her mother, Elizabeth Poole-Jones, was a singer.

Her parents separated when she was young, and she grew up with her mother in Westchester County, N.Y. Dance was her first interest. “I was dancing all the time,” she said in a 2012 interview.

In her early 20s she took her dance skills to New York, where she lived at the Rehearsal Club, a residence for young women in the arts. In “Dizzy & Jimmy: My Life With James Dean, a Love Story,” a memoir published in 2000 (“Dizzy” was her childhood nickname), she wrote about a young man she met in the lobby of that building one day in 1951. It was James Dean, then an unknown from Indiana who at the time had a job testing stunts for the game show “Beat the Clock.”

They started dating, and the relationship grew intense; sometimes they would check into hotels as Mr. and Mrs. James Dean.

“Back in those days when nice girls didn’t, I did,” she wrote.

Dean, she said, had his dark moments and his quirks. In a 2004 appearance on the CNN show “Larry King Live,” she recalled that Dean had a cape from the famed American bullfighter Sidney Franklin.

“We used to play with it in Central Park,” she said, “and I always got to be the bull, and I never got to be the matador.”

One time, making their way to Indiana for a visit, the couple snagged a ride with a man who turned out to be Clyde McCullough, a catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was then, she said, that she realized that if she and James were to marry, as they had discussed, she would be Dizzy Dean, an echo of the Hall of Fame pitcher.

James Dean’s career began to take off, and their relationship was a casualty. It had ended when Dean died in a car wreck in 1955. Ms. Sheridan was working as a singer and piano player in the Caribbean at the time.

She later met Dale Wales, a jazz musician, while working in Puerto Rico. They had been together for years when they married in 1985. He died in 2003.

Mr. Seinfeld posted a tribute on Twitter on Friday.

“Liz was always the sweetest, nicest TV mom a son could wish for,” he wrote. “Every time she came on our show it was the coziest feeling for me. So lucky to have known her.”

Neil Genzlinger is a New York Times writer for the Obituaries desk. Previously he was a television, film and theater critic.

Speak Your Mind

*