Estelle Harris, the short-fused mother of George Costanza on “Seinfeld” and the voice of Mrs. Potato Head in the “Toy Story” franchise, has died. She was 93 years old at the time.
Harris left a lasting impact in her recurring role as middle-class mother Estelle Costanza on the hit 1990s sitcom. She was the epitome of mother wrath, with her high-pitched voice and hilariously overbearing attitude.
With her on-screen husband, Jerry Stiller, trading insults and absurdities, Harris helped create a parental pair that would leave even a psychiatrist helpless to do anything but hope they’d move to Florida, as their son, Jason Alexander, uselessly encouraged them to do.
On Saturday evening, Harris’ agent, Michael Eisenstadt, confirmed the actor’s death in Palm Desert, Calif.
Harris frequently stated that viewers of all backgrounds would tell her that she reminded them of their own mothers.
“She is the mother that everybody loves, even though she’s a pain in the neck,” she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1998.
After decades on stage and screen, he landed the role that would define his career. Harris was born in New York City on April 22, 1928, and spent her childhood there and then in the Pittsburgh suburb of Tarentum, Pennsylvania, where her father had a confectionery store. She began to use her comedic abilities in high school musicals after learning she “could make the audience get hysterical,” as she told People magazine in 1995.
Harris continued to appear on stage and screen after the nine-season run of “Seinfeld” finished in 1998. She played Mrs. Potato Head in the 1999 animated movie “Toy Story 2” and Muriel in the hit Disney Channel sitcom “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody,” among other roles.
When she married in the early 1950s, she gave up show business, but as her three children grew older, she started acting in amateur groups, dinner theatre, and commercials (“I had to get out of diapers and bottles and blah-blah baby talk,” she told People). She eventually began starring in guest appearances on TV shows such as “Night Court,” a legal comedy, and films such as Sergio Leone’s 1984 gangland epic “Once Upon a Time in America.”
Her “Seinfeld” debut was in the Emmy Award-winning 1992 episode “The Contest,” in which the four principal characters challenge each other to refrain from doing what is artfully characterized only as “that.”
Harris will appear in dozens more episodes of the “show about nothing” in the following years. She raged about snubbed paella, yelled over George’s hanky-panky in the parental bed, and set the table for her screen husband Frank’s unusual holiday, Festivus.
“Estelle is a born performer,” Stiller told The Record of Bergen County, N.J., in 1998. “I just go with what I got, and she goes back at me the same way.”
Despite this, Harris saw Estelle as sympathetic, claiming that she fumed out of frustration at her incompetent mate and scheming slacker of a son.
Viewers, she told an interviewer in 1998, “just look at her as being funny, cute, and a loudmouth. But it’s not how I play her. I play her with misery underneath.”
She is survived by her three children, three grandsons, and a great-grandson.