Philip Baker Hall, the prolific film and theater actor who starred in Paul Thomas Anderson’s first and memorable films, has died in search of a long-awaited library book in Seinfeld. He was 90 years old.
Holly Wolfe Hall, the actor’s wife of nearly 40 years, said Monday that Hall passed away on Sunday amidst loved ones in Glendale, California. She said that Hall was in good health until a few weeks ago, and spent his final days in warm spirits, reflecting on his life.
“His voice at the end was still going strong,” Wolfel Hall said. She added that her husband never retired from acting.
In a career that spanned half a century, Hall was a common face everywhere, his scruffy appearance can exude burgeoning intensity and humble delicacy. His scope was wide, but Hall, who had a natural charisma, often played men in suits, trench coats, and lab coats.
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“Men who are very stressed, older, and who are well within their tolerance of suffering, stress, and pain,” Hall told The Washington Post in 2017.
Born in Toledo, Ohio, Hall initially devoted himself to theater in Los Angeles, after moving in 1975, more than television and movies. While filming small parts in Hollywood (an episode of Good Times was one of his first concerts), Hall worked with the LA Actor Theatre. There he played Richard Nixon in the one-act play Secret Honor, a role he reprized in Robert Altman’s 1984 film. Critic Pauline Kyle wrote that Hall “relies on his lack of a star and on the actor’s fears of underperforming in a way that seems to parallel Nixon’s feelings.”
Hall made an impression in smaller roles in other films, such as Midnight Run in 1988. But off the stage, Hall often performed guest roles on television. That changed when he was filming for PBS in 1992. Then Hall met a production assistant in his early twenties named Paul Thomas Anderson. The two were hanging out, smoking cigarettes, and drinking coffee between scenes. Anderson, believing that Hall did not get his due in the film, asked him to look at a script he had written for a 20-minute short film called Cigarettes and Coffee.
“I’m reading this script, and I really had trouble believing this kid wrote this script,” Hall told The AV Club in 2012. playwright. Certainly, as a movie, I’ve never seen anything like it. It was amazing “.
After the $20,000 short film hit the Sundance Film Festival, Anderson expanded it into his feature debut, 1997’s Hard Eight, which launched Hall’s career. In it, Hall played a wise and courteous gambler named Sidney who teaches a young skater (John C. Riley) to the craft. In one of the indelible scenes, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s first movie with Anderson, a hot gambler who describes Hall as “old.”
Anderson Hall will once again star as adult film mogul Floyd Gondoli who warns porn producer Burt Reynolds about the future of the industry on Boogie Nights. In Anderson’s Magnolia, Hall played Jimmy Gator, the host of a children’s game show.
Anderson told the Los Angeles Times in 1998, “I have such a special fascination with character actors that I’d like to turn them into lead actors. I see Philip Baker Hall, he’s fair . . . an actor I love. There’s no one else with a face like that, or a voice like that.” .
To many, Hall was instantly recognizable for one of Seinfeld’s strongest funny guest appearances. In the twenty-second episode of the 1991 sitcom, Hall played Lt. Joe Buckman, a librarian who came after Seinfeld for a years-overdue copy of the Tropic of Cancer. Hall played the role of a hardened detective noir, telling Seinfeld, “Well, I’ve got a flash for you, Joey Boy: Party time is over.”
Hall was replayed in the Seinfeld Final and by Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm. David once said that no other actor made him laugh more than Hall.
Among Hall’s many other credits was Michael Mann’s The Insider, as 60 Minutes producer Don Hewitt, and Lars von Trier Dodgevel. Hall has appeared in Say Anything, The Truman Show, The Talented Mr.Ripley, Zodiac, Argo, and Rush Hour. Hall played neighbor Walt Klizak on Modern Family. His last performance in the 2020 series was Christ.
Hall, who was married to Diane Lewis for three years in the early 1970s, is survived by his wife, four daughters, four grandchildren, and a brother.