John O’Hurley didn’t set out to write a children’s book. He just stayed up late with his son one night and “The Perfect Dog” came to him like man’s best friend retrieving a stick.
“Dogs are really singular in our lives, there’s nothing else like them,” O’Hurley says.
O’Hurley, who played J. Peterman on “Seinfeld,” says the book began with an innocent question from his seven-year-old son, Will. The two were discussing dad’s work with the National Dog Show as Will clutched his stuffed canine named Puppy.
“Dad, is there a dog that’s perfect?” the boy asked. That inspired O’Hurley to respond in poem form until the question was answered at last.
“He had his head on my shoulder, and he would approve every line I wrote,” the proud pappy recalls.
The poem, surrounded in the book by beautiful dog portraits capturing a range of breeds, honors the author’s affection for a giant in children’s literature.
“I grew up with Dr. Seuss … and his ability to create language within language,” he says. “It’s not unlike ‘Seinfeld’s’ ability to create its own colloquialisms … Peterman was a great lyrical storyteller even if [the stories] went on gaggingly too long.”
Audiences recognize O’Hurley from his sitcom work, his tenure on “Family Feud” and his dog show hosting chores. Theater fans can see him playing Billy Flynn in the Broadway touring production of “Chicago.” The show, which plays at The Buell Theatre in Denver through March 23 before moving on to Toronto, allows the actor to connect his paternal nature to a character not known for kindness.
“Once [Billy] has you in his lock .. he’s the daddy and he’s gonna get you to school that day. It’s important that you show that. It rounds Billy out and makes him a much better character,” he says of his take on the iconic role.
O’Hurley’s son isn’t a performer quite yet, even though dad says he’s gaining confidence as a storyteller by reading “The Perfect Dog” to kindergarten children. Still, the actor makes sure to include him in “everything I do,” he says.
“He’s grown up backstage … he goes to book signings. He’s had the hands-on experience of my life. How much brushes off with him, I don’t know,” he says.
O’Hurley does recognize that his son is as thoughtful as any parent could imagine. He recently told him over the phone that he wasn’t allowed to download a video game meant for kids 12 and over. The disappointed child handed the phone back to his mom, but O’Hurley could hear him wailing in the background, “Daddy, I promise it won’t ruin my soul!”
That’s just Will.
And when he told his son to be a little more aggressive when playing defense during basketball the boy said, “Daddy, I’m actually just a common boy who doesn’t do things like that.”
O’Hurley, whose thick silver hair frames a face familiar to millions, beams as he shares the anecdote.
The actor’s turn as J. Peterman gave him pop culture immortality even if youngsters may know him best as the voice of King Neptune on “SpongeBob SquarePants.” Yet his initial exposure to the show was anything but impressive. His first day on the show coincided with his ABC comedy “A Whole New Ballgame” getting the ax.
“Seinfeld” was already a smash, but its appeal didn’t hit him right away.
“We’re doing a read through of the script, and I thought, ‘this isn’t even funny,’ Why is this the number one show?’” he recalls. Later, a light bulb turned on. “It was the construction of the script … three subplots woven together. There was an ingenuity to the ‘Seinfeld’ success, a whole new cultural engineering of what comedy was.”
O’Hurley already has a sequel planned to “The Perfect Dog,” appropriately titled, “Why Does a Dog Have a Tail.” He also has another project in the works, one he’s eager to tackle but cagey on the details. He’ll keep on working, be it on Broadway or the small screen, and he credits his “daydreams” for a career marked by eclectic choices with populist results.
“I listen to my imagination. I always have,” he says. “It’s the single reason why I’ve been a success in any area of my life.”
John O’Hurley will sign copies of “The Perfect Dog” at 10 a.m. March 22 at The Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver.