george costanza's fiancee dies from licking wedding invitation envelopes -- 10/16/17
Today's selection -- from Seinfeldia by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong. In the mega-hit sitcom Seinfeld, one of the main characters, George Costanza, gets engaged to a woman named Susan. He becomes apprehensive about the impending marriage and tries unsuccessfully to call it off. When Susan unexpectedly dies from licking their wedding invitation envelopes, which inadvertently contain toxic glue, George is more than relieved:
"In the summer of 1995, [Seinfeld co-creator] Larry David called Jason Alexander [who played a central character named George Costanza]. 'We've got a great arc for George,' he said. 'He's going to get engaged.'
"'To what character
"'Who's playing Susan?' Alexander asked, though surely he knew.
"'Who's playing George?' Alexander cracked.
"Alexander and Heidi Swedberg, who played George's ex, never worked on the same wavelength. While Alexander found it easy to play off of his regular costars, he always felt like he was fighting Swedberg in their shared scenes, even though he liked her as a person offscreen. He found her comic instincts to be 'the complete opposite' of his own. 'I always felt like l was punching into Jell-O,' he later said. He'd do something in a scene with her, and it would fall flat. So in the next take, he'd do something else, and then David would tell him to go back to the original choice. Then in the next take, Swedberg would do something totally different. Alexander couldn't win.
"'Don't you understand how perfect she is for you?' David continued. 'You've driven her to lesbianism. You burned her father's shack down. You've practically shit on her, and nobody feels bad for her. They're all on your side. She's the greatest foil for you.'
"True enough, her character had been through even more than that thanks to George and his friends. Kramer threw up on her. She lost her job at NBC when George kissed her mid-meeting. Kramer stole her girlfriend.
"Swedberg saw her role on the show as being the straight woman to the insanity. Susan was the stiffest of the stiff, unlike Swedberg herself, who rebelled against her uptight upbringing by threatening to join the circus when she was a kid in Albuquerque. Instead, she became an actress, took up the ukulele, and bought an Airstream trailer for her and her husband to hang out in -- and keep in the yard at their Los Angeles home.
"Her girl-next-door looks had gotten her onetime guest spots on shows such as Matlock, Grace Under Fire, and Murder, She Wrote. Eventually, those all-American looks also got her what was originally a bit part on Seinfeld as one of a group of fictional NBC executives who take George and Jerry's pitch for a sitcom. George's throwaway line that she had seemed to like him inspired producers to bring her back several times as George's on-again, off-again love interest. As a coworker on the set, Swedberg was an unassuming professional who caused neither trouble nor spectacle. She'd do her scenes, then retreat to a corner to read a book until she was needed again.
"Now, Susan and George were the closest Seinfeld had ever gotten to a stable couple. David had no idea where the plotline would end, but he was committed to seeing it through. About halfway through the next season, an episode required Jerry and Elaine to hang out with Susan, the first time either Seinfeld or Louis-Dreyfus had to work extensively with Swedberg. After the taping, the four lead actors gathered with David at Jerry's Famous Deli in Studio City, as usual.
"'You know, it's hard to figure out where to go with what she gives you,' Seinfeld said.
"'Don't even talk to me,' Alexander snapped. 'I don't want to hear your bullshit.'
"Louis-Dreyfus added, 'I just want to kill her.' And David said, 'Wait a minute.'
"The conversation led to what Alexander called 'the single coldest moment in the history of television': when Susan's death is met with what could generously be called an apathetic shrug ... from her own fiancé.
"[NBC president] Warren Littlefield saw it as 'the boldest comedy move I had ever seen,' even though his kids' pediatrician wouldn't talk to him afterward."
|Jennifer Keishin Armstrong|
|Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything|
|Simon & Schuster|
|Copyright 2016 by Jennifer Armstrong|
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