When actor Jerry Stiller passed away aged 92, the words “serenity now” sprang to mind. See, while Stiller had been in show business since the 1960s, it was his performance as Frank Costanza in Seinfeld that stood out the most.
Stiller played George’s reliably cantankerous father. He was prone to bouts of senility and wishful thinking and his relationship with his wife Estelle was fiery and dysfunctional. But while George was visibly exhausted by the very presence of his quick-tempered father, Frank’s explosive personality always made for quality viewing.
Frank was rarely the centre of the narrative action, but Stiller had a knack for owning every scene he featured in. So, from serenity now to a festivus for the rest of us, here are Frank Costanza’s most iconic Seinfeld moments.
What the hell did you trade Jay Buhner for?:
You can’t go wrong with any scene featuring George’s fictionalised New York Yankees boss George Steinbrenner, voiced by Larry David. Steinbrenner paid Frank and Estelle a visit to let them know George had died (or at least he thought so).
But Frank had bigger fish to fry. “What the hell did you trade Jay Buhner for?” he screams. “He had 13 home runs, over 100 RBIs last year. He’s got a rocket for an arm – you don’t know what the hell you’re doing!”
A festivus for the rest of us:
Dismayed by the commercial takeover of Christmas, Frank designed a new family holiday called festivus. Jerry outlines the alternative celebration to Elaine.
“When George was growing up his father hated all the commercial and religious aspects of Christmas so he made up his own holiday,” he says as George winces from across the table. “And instead of a tree, didn’t your father put up an aluminium pole? Then weren’t there feats of strength that always ended up with you crying?”
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The concept inevitably piques Kramer’s interest and he asks Frank for the low-down. Instead of false cheer, festivus encourages the purging of frustrations. “At the Festivus dinner you gather your family around and tell them all the ways they have disappointed you over the past year,” Frank says.
I’m back baby:
There was never anything approaching harmony in the marriage of Frank and Estelle Costanza. Frank couldn’t stand Estelle’s cooking and by season 8 he’d had enough. “Your meatloaf is mushy, your salmon croquettes are oily, and your eggplant parmigiana is a disgrace to this house,” he says, before entering the kitchen and cracking an egg into the pan. “I’m back baby!”
Hey Braun, Costanza’s kicking your butt:
When Frank decides to sell computers, he ropes in George as his gun telesalesperson. Frank’s only other employee is George’s childhood friend Lloyd Braun, who’s not long out of a mental institution. Neither is particularly competent – Braun’s phone isn’t plugged in while George invents all of his clients. But all Frank can see is dollar signs.
“Hey Braun, Costanza’s kicking your butt … Costanza you’re white hot.” The episode is most famous for Frank’s quasi-therapeutic mantra “serenity now,” which he bellows every time he gets angry.
Frank was never short on crackpot business ideas, and in Kramer he found a perfect accomplice. In season 6 they put their heads together to create a breast support garment for men – the Manssiere. Kramer preferred to call it the “bro”, but while they disagreed on the name, they were equally enthusiastic about the product. “I feel ten years younger,” says Frank. “And your posture’s a lot better – look at you,” says Kramer.
You ever seen a silver dollar?:
As George and Estelle debate George’s not particularly optimistic career opportunities, Frank is fixated on his silver dollar. “Would you believe when I was 18 I had a silver dollar collection?” he asks a befuddled George. “You know I couldn’t bring myself to spend one of these. I got some kind of a… phobia.”
The place to be:
While in Tuscany with her conductor boyfriend – who goes by the name Maestro – Elaine takes a photo of a man in front of a sign that says “Costanza.” Frank thinks it’s his long lost cousin Carlo and arranges a meeting with the Maestro to see the photo. Kramer comes along and the pair invite Maestro to Frank’s new billiard room (aka George’s old bedroom).
“It’s uh… what do you call it Kramer?” “A billiard room?” says Kramer. “Not billiard room. We call it the… the place to be!”
I stopped short:
Frank fumes into Jerry’s apartment on the hunt for Kramer who he accuses of pulling a move on Estelle. “He stopped short,” says Frank. “What do you mean?” says Jerry. “In the car with my wife, he stopped short. That’s my old move – I used it on Estelle 40 years ago.”
Right on cue, in strides Kramer. “I know what you did. How dare you stop short with my wife,” yells Frank.