Legendary actress and funny woman Estelle Harris passed away yesterday at the age of 93. The brilliant comedienne and entertainer pursued acting later in life but made a huge impact once she did, appearing in a variety of movies including the Toy Story franchise and playing recurring roles in a bunch of TV shows including Night Court, Suite Life of Zack & Cody and most famously, Seinfeld.
It was that last role that really vaulted her to prominence. In 27 appearances throughout the 1990s, she became one of the breakout characters on Seinfeld, which was television’s most popular show at the time. Her chemistry alongside the late great Jerry Stiller, who played her TV husband Frank, and Jason Alexander, who played her TV son George was uncanny. Alexander paid tribute to Harris early this morning after news of her passing broke. You can read his statement below…
Sometimes the dynamic just works. You can put two actors in the same room, and you won’t really know if they have chemistry until you see them actually work together. Well, the chemistry between Harris, Stiller and Alexander just worked and contributed to some of George's best moments on Seinfeld, as well as many of the show's best moments in general. They screamed at each other and fought in the most insane and outrageous ways, yet they always still felt deeply human while doing so. They were over-the-top for sure, but there were always threads that reminded us of the more outrageous people we knew.
Estelle Harris didn’t grow up in show business. She grew up the daughter of Polish immigrants who owned a candy store and got married to a window treatment salesman at 24. They raised three kids together. As they got older and started leaving the house, she decided to pursue acting. First, she found a lot of success in commercials. Later, she started picking up bit roles in movies and TV shows. But when she was cast as Estelle Costanza in 1992, her career really took off.
Her work on Seinfeld was well received immediately, which caused her and Stiller’s characters to appear more and more frequently alongside Alexander’s George. That led to work in the Toy Story franchise as Mrs. Potato Head and in dozens of other TV shows and movies. She worked consistently throughout the 00s before slowing down a little bit over the past decade or so, returning occasionally for things like Toy Story 4.
Some people just have it. Estelle Harris had it. Her sense of timing. The way she inflected her voice. She could get the most out of every scene, and she will be missed by so many, including Alexander who shared many incredible scenes with her.
Harris was preceded in death by her longtime husband Sy, who passed away in 2021 after more than sixty years of marriage. Our thoughts go out to Estelle’s children, as well as everyone else who was touched by her life.
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Mack Rawden is the Editor-In-Chief of CinemaBlend. He first started working at the publication as a writer back in 2007 and has held various jobs at the site in the time since including Managing Editor, Pop Culture Editor and Staff Writer. He now splits his time between working on CinemaBlend’s user experience, helping to plan the site’s editorial direction and writing passionate articles about niche entertainment topics he’s into. He graduated from Indiana University with a degree in English (go Hoosiers!) and has been interviewed and quoted in a variety of publications including Digiday. Enthusiastic about Clue, case-of-the-week mysteries, a great wrestling promo and cookies at Disney World. Less enthusiastic about the pricing structure of cable, loud noises and Tuesdays.