Estelle Harris, Seinfeld and Toy Story actress, dies aged 93

Estelle Harris, who roared her way into TV history as George Costanza’s short-circuited mother in Seinfeld and voiced Mrs Potato Head in the Toy Story franchise, has died at the age of 93.

The middle-class matron, Estelle Costanza, put a memorable stamp on Harris in her recurring role on the 1990s sitcom. With her high-pitched voice and humorously haughty demeanor, she was an archetype of maternal outrage.

Sharing insults and absurdities with her on-screen husband, played by Jerry Stiller, Harris helped create a pair of parents that would leave even a psychiatrist helpless except to hope they would move to Florida – as their son , played by Jason Alexander, unsuccessfully encouraged her to do so.

Harris’ agent Michael Eisenstadt confirmed the actor’s death in Palm Desert, California on Saturday night.

Viewers of all backgrounds would tell her she was just like her own mothers, Harris often said.

“She’s the mother everyone loves, even if she’s a pain in the ass,” she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1998.

The career-defining role came after decades on stage and screen. Harris was born on April 22, 1928 in New York City and grew up in the city and later in Tarentum, Pennsylvania, a Pittsburgh suburb where her father owned a candy store.

She began using her comedic talents in high school productions, where she realized she “could make audiences hysterical,” as she told People magazine in 1995.

After Seinfeld’s nine seasons ended in 1998, Harris continued to perform on stage and screen. She voiced Mrs Potato Head in the 1999 animated blockbuster Toy Story 2 and, among other roles, played the recurring character Muriel on the popular Disney Channel sitcom The Suite Life of Zack & Cody.

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By the time she married in the early 1950s, she had stopped pursuing show business, but as her three children were growing up she resumed recording in amateur groups, dinner theater, and commercials (“I had to get out of diapers and bottles and blah-blah baby talk ‘ she told People). She eventually appeared in guest roles on television shows, including the legal comedy Night Court and films such as director Sergio Leone’s 1984 gangland epic Once Upon a Time in America.


After Seinfeld’s nine seasons ended in 1998, Harris continued to perform on stage and screen (Katy Winn/AP)

She made her Seinfeld debut in one of the show’s most iconic episodes: the Emmy Award-winning 1992 The Contest, in which the four main characters challenge each other to refrain from doing what is artfully referred to as “that.”

Harris appeared on dozens more episodes of “Show About Nothing.” She cooked over snubbed paella, shrieked over George’s handkerchief in the parents’ bed, and laid out the spread for screenman Frank’s idiosyncratic holiday, Festivus.

“Estelle is a born performer,” Stiller told The Record of Bergen County, NJ in 1998. “I just go with what I have and she goes back to me in the same way.”

Still, Harris saw a sympathetic undertone in her character and often said Estelle was frustrated by her bumbling companion and scheming lazybones of a son.

Viewers, she told an interviewer in 1998, “just see her as funny, cute and a big mouth. But that’s not how I play it. I play them with misery underneath”.

She leaves behind her three children, three grandchildren and one great-grandson. Estelle Harris, Seinfeld and Toy Story actress, dies aged 93

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