Kathryn Kates, Actress of ‘Seinfeld’ Babka Fame, Dies at 73

Kathryn Kates, who appeared as a counterwoman in two memorable scenes from “Seinfeld” involving baked goods in short supply — chocolate babkas and marble rye bread — and racked up numerous screen credits over nearly 50 years, died on Jan. 22 at her brother’s home in Lake Worth, Fla. She was 73.

The cause was lung cancer, the brother, Josh Kates, said.

Ms. Kates, who lived in the New York City area, had roles in dozens of television shows and movies, including the recent series “Shades of Blue” on NBC, “Friends From College” on Netflix and “The Good Fight” om CBS.

She appeared in five episodes of “Law and Order” — a fixture on the résumé of most New York working actors — as Judge Marlene Simmons. She also had a recurring role in Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black,” as the mother of Jason Biggs’s character, Larry Bloom. And she was cast as Angie DeCarlo, an Italian beauty shop owner, in “The Many Saints of Newark” (2021), the prequel movie to “The Sopranos.”

But it was in two episodes of “Seinfeld” (1990-1998) that she made an indelible mark.

Sporting a yellow apron and a New York attitude, Ms. Kates appeared in Season Five’s “The Dinner Party” as the bakery clerk who announces to Jerry and Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) that the store’s last treasured chocolate babka had been sold just ahead of them. Offered a cinnamon babka instead, Elaine calls it a “lesser” babka, to which Jerry objects, intoning, “Cinnamon takes a back seat to no babka.”

The scene includes a memorable coughing fit by Ms. Kates’s character next to a wall of baked goods and her closing lines to a loitering Jerry and Elaine: “Can I get you anything else? How about a nice box of ‘scram’?”

The episode also features Jerry’s exaltation of another New York bakery mainstay, the black and white cookie, as something of a model for better race relations. “Look to the cookie!” he declares.

In an interview last year with “This Podcast Is Making Me Thirsty,” a podcast about “Seinfeld,” Ms. Kates recalled getting the part for which people would recognize her on Manhattan streets for decades.

The whole writing staff, including Mr. Seinfeld and the show’s co-creator, Larry David, watched as she read her lines and delivered her cough in an audition. She had earlier auditioned for other small parts on “Seinfeld,” but the brassy counterwoman was her lucky break.

Two seasons later, Ms. Kates, again in her yellow apron, reprised the role in the episode “The Rye.” This time she tells a crestfallen Jerry that the bakery’s last loaf of marble rye has been sold, complicating a plot to restore George into the good graces of his future in-laws.

Ms. Kates devoted much of her time to running The Colony Theater in Burbank, Calif., of which she was a founding member. There, she and the actress Barbara Beckley were co-general managers from 1975 to 1981. She appeared in numerous Colony productions.

“Kathy was New York through and through,” Ms Beckley said. “She did some wonderful roles with us.” But she added: “She was not a leading lady. She was much more of a young character actress, and not a Hollywood type at all.”

Kathryn Jane Kates was born Jan. 29, 1948, in Queens. Her father, Louis Kates, was an electronics engineer. Her mother, Sylvia (Fagan) Kates, was an actress who, under the stage name Madelyn Cates, appeared on television in the hospital drama “St. Elsewhere” and the series “Fame” and played the eccentric concierge confronting Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) and Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) in the 1967 film version of “The Producers.”

Ms. Kates grew up in Great Neck, N.Y., on Long Island, and graduated from Great Neck North Senior High. She studied acting at New York University.

After graduating in 1971, she moved to Los Angeles in 1974 and focused on theater. Her early television credits included appearances on the legal drama “Matlock” in 1991 and other cameo roles in “Rachel Gunn, R.N.” and “Hudson Street.”

In 1993, she married Joseph Pershes, an executive at a video distribution company. They divorced in 2006. In addition to her brother, she is survived by a sister, Mallory Kates.

When asked in the podcast interview about appearing on “Seinfeld,” Ms. Kates responded that she was always grateful to have work. “I have loved every job I’ve ever had,” she said.

And as for her babka preference? She favored chocolate.

Related Articles

Back to top button