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Philip Baker Hall put his stamp (yes, pun intended) on Seinfeld in 1991, cementing his spot as arguably the greatest one-time guest to drop by the iconic NBC sitcom.
The film and television actor, whose career spanned decades, died Sunday. He was 90.
Hall stole the show when he played library investigations officer Lt. Joe Bookman in the season three episode “The Library.”
Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld) learns that the copy of Tropic of Cancer he checked out from the New York Public Library in 1971 was never returned, and he has a fine on the books. The case is turned over to Lt. Bookman, whom Hall plays perfectly as a Sgt. Joe Friday type from the police series Dragnet.
Hall appears in three different scenes in the episode, but the first is a Seinfeld classic. Lt. Bookman pays a visit to Jerry’s apartment, where the library investigations officer tries to get some tough answers. Hall’s performance as the hard-nosed Bookman was so stupendous, it appears Seinfeld broke character and began to laugh, which Hall used in his railing.
“You’re a comedian, you make people laugh. You think this is all a big joke, don’t you?” Bookman says as he dresses down Jerry. “You think that because you’re a celebrity, the law somehow doesn’t apply to you, you’re above the law? Well, let me tell you something, funny boy: You know that stamp that reads ‘New York Public Library’? That may not mean anything to you, but it means a lot to me — one whole hell of a lot.” And if that was not enough for him to deal with, Lt. Bookman also addresses Kramer (Michael Richards) having a relationship with Marion (Ashley Gardner) the librarian, which is a fun nod to The Music Man.
Needless to say, that initial scene got a huge reaction from the studio audience.
The cherry on top: When the New York Public Library decided to eliminate late fees in October 2021, it posted a tongue-in-cheek note to Hall’s Lt. Bookman.
Watch Hall’s scenes on Seinfeld below.
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