Army Vet Philip Baker Hall Made a Deep Impression in Hollywood

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Philip Baker Hall Seinfeld
Philip Baker Hall as Lt. Joe Bookman in "Seinfeld." (Sony)

Philip Baker Hall didn't make his first on-screen acting appearance until he was almost 40, but the Army veteran made up for lost time and worked constantly in film and television for the next five decades. Hall died from complications of emphysema at age 90 on June 12, 2022.

After high school in Toledo, Ohio, Hall served in the Army as a translator in Germany before returning home to work as a school teacher. He gave Hollywood a shot after he turned 30 and did theater for a few years before he got his break in films.

Once things took off for Hall, he became a go-to actor whenever directors wanted a gravelly voiced man who could project authority, grumpiness or sometimes both.

He made appearances in television shows like "M*A*S*H," "Good Times," "The Waltons," "Quincy, M.E.," "Cagney & Lacey," "T.J. Hooker," "Miami Vice," "Family Ties," "Falcon Crest," "Murder, She Wrote, and "Cheers" before the movies discovered his talents.

He made memorable appearances as authority figures in films like "Air Force One," "Say Anything," Ghostbusters II," "The Truman Show," "Rush Hour," "The Insider," "Zodiac" and "Argo." Younger viewers may remember him as neighbor Walt Kleezak on "Modern Family."

Still, there are a few roles that stand out in Hall's career, including the one that made him famous.

1. Lt. Joe Bookman -- "Seinfeld" (1991)

Hall's appearance as New York Public Library lost book investigator Lt. Joe Bookman is rightly hailed as one of the funniest moments on one of television's most beloved series. His confrontation with Jerry over a book he allegedly didn't return in 1971 was so memorable that the series brought Bookman back for an appearance in the series finale.

2. Jimmy Gator -- "Magnolia" (1999)

Director Paul Thomas Anderson met Hall when the director was working as a production assistant at the start of his career and the actor befriended him. Anderson went on to write a lead role specifically for Hall in 1996's "Hard Eight," Anderson's first movie as writer and director.

"Boogie Nights" quickly followed with Hall in the role of adult movie magnate Floyd Gondolli and then came Anderson's haunting epic "Magnolia" in 1999. Hall's moving performance as the dying children's quiz show host, Jimmy Gator, would have seemed like a lock for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, but he was in the same movie with Tom Cruise, whose startling performance as motivational speaker Frank T.J. Mackey earned the actor his most recent nomination.

3. Secretary of Defense Becker -- "The Sum of All Fears" (2002)

The fourth Tom Clancy/Jack Ryan movie gets a bad rap because it's the one that Harrison Ford wouldn't make, but Hall is awesome as the SecDef in a cabinet meeting full of gifted character actors like James Cromwell ("Succession"), Morgan Freeman ("The Shawshank Redemption"), Bruce McGill ("Reacher"), John Beasley ("Everwood") and Ron Rifkin ("L.A. Confidential").

4. President Richard Nixon -- "Secret Honor" (1984)

Hall teamed with director and Army Air Forces veteran Robert Altman to bring this one-man show about President Richard Nixon to the screen. Hall sits alone in a study and brings Nixon to life, as the former president explains himself and assigns blame for Watergate. The movie ends with an epic f-bomb montage.

5. Dr. Morrison -- "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (2009)

The best guests on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" are the ones who can play along and keep a straight face during Larry David's ridiculous rants. Hall's Dr. Morrison makes a grievous error when he agrees to share his private phone number with David.

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