"Seinfeld" Co-Star Was Fired After "Scaring the Living Crap" Out of Cast
Lawrence Tierney only made one appearance as Elaine's dad.
Over a nine-season run, Seinfeld made mega-stars of its four main cast members, but why Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Michael Richards became household names, some of the show's recurring cast members became almost as well known. Long-working actors including Estelle Harris and Jerry Stiller, who played George's parents Estelle and Frank, became pop culture icons almost overnight—just consider the enduring popularity of the latter's "airing of grievances" during Festivus, which inspired fans to start celebrating the fictional holiday for real.
But the character actor originally cast as Elaine's dadnever enjoyed that kind of sitcom success—because he only got to play the character once before being fired for terrifying the cast on set. Keep reading to learn why Lawrence Tierney was never asked to reappear on Seinfeld and why one star characterized him as "a total nutjob."
Tierney didn't just play tough guys on TV.
Tierney, who died in 2002, had a long career in film and television, and was often cast as the heavy. He got his start playing notorious bank robber John Dillinger in 1930's Dillinger and twice played the outlaw Jesse James. Over the next three decades, he often took on roles as mobsters and crooks in films like Robert Wise's Born to Kill and found frequent work as a TV guest actors.
However, his career was stymied by his offscreen troubles. A heavy drinker, he was frequently arrested for getting into fights while intoxicated, had been arrested as many as 11 times total by 1958. I -between acting gigs, he held several odd jobs over the years, including as a bartender, a steel worker, and a hansom cab driver in Central Park, according to his obituary.
Still, despite his troubles, Tierney continued to find work, landing roles into his 80s—including in a Season 2 episode of Seinfeld.
He seemed like a perfect match for Elaine's no-nonsense father.
Tierney's reputation, both on- and offscreen, made him seem like a perfect fit for playing Elaine's dad in the 1991 Seinfeld episode, "The Jacket." The old Hollywood actor played Alton Benes, a World War II veteran and writer (inspired by Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Yates, whose daughter series co-creator Larry David had dated) with a gruff, no-nonsense demeanor that clashes with the nervous, self-centered sensibilities of Jerry and George.
In the episode, Tierney's character menaces both men and intimidates Jerry into ruining a pricey new suede jacket by refusing to let him turn it inside out when walking in the rain, due to its garish interior lining. (That plot point was reportedly drawn from one of David's own real-life interactions with Yates, according to The Awl).
He took the job of intimidating his co-stars a step too far.
If Tierney's character was intended to intimidate Jerry and company, the actor took things a bit too far. According to a DVD extra for the Season 2 release, Tierney was acting in a scene in Jerry's apartment when he removed one of the knives from the knife block in that character's kitchen—a large butcher knife which Alexander surmised that Tierney had planned to steal.
According to Louis-Dreyfus and Alexander, Seinfeld confronted the guest actor and asked him about the knife stashed in his pocket—at which point Tierney tried to play the incident off as a joke, pulling it out and raising it in the air as if to stab the comedian.
The episode's director Tom Cherones said that Tierney "scared [him] to death." Alexander agreed, saying that the guest actor "scared the living crap out of all of us," while Louis-Dreyfus put it more bluntly: "He was a total nutjob…although I will say, a wonderful actor. It's too bad he was so cuckoo because I'm sure he would have been back otherwise."
It wasn't the first time Tierney's behavior got him blackballed.
Tierney freaked out the Seinfeld cast and crew enough that Alton Benes never appeared on the show again, and that wasn't the only time the actor's behavior cost him a potential future gig.
A few years earlier, he landed a plumb supporting role in Quentin Tarantino's debut film, and it would turn out to be the only time he would work with the celebrated director, despite Tarantino's penchant for working with the same actors over and over.
During the filming of Reservoir Dogs in July 1991, Tierney was "a complete lunatic" on the set, the filmmaker told The Guardian in 2010. "We had decided to shoot his scenes first, so my first week of directing was talking with this [expletive] lunatic," Tarantino remembered. "He was personally challenging to every aspect of filmmaking. By the end of the week everybody on set hated Tierney—it wasn't just me. And in the last 20 minutes of the first week we had a blow out and got into a fist fight. I fired him, and the whole crew burst into applause."
After that, Tarantino swore he'd never hire the actor again. The fact that around the same time, the actor was arrested for drunkenly firing a gun at his nephew during an argument probably didn't help matters.
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