Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 07/26/21

Fore a good cause. John O’Hurley of Seinfeld, Dancing with the Stars and Family Feud fame is teaming with Childhelp to offer gamers (or more broadly, those who are game) a unique virtual video game golf tournament experience. Available for free at the App Store, The Childhelp Ultimate Golf VIP Royale is set to run from Monday, August 2nd through Sunday, August 8th. The innovative virtual event will give players an opportunity to see how their golf skills stack up against such celebrities as Major League Baseball icon Ken Griffey Jr., Food Network chef Guy Fieri and rock stars Sammy Hagar and Alice Cooper, among others. The whole thing is designed to be fun while also benefiting victims of child abuse and neglect.

Using his celebrity to help in a good cause is nothing new for O’Hurley who, it turns out, is nothing like J. Peterman’, the pompous fictionalized version of the real-life entrepreneur he played to classic perfection for several seasons on Seinfeld.

JWK: So, tell me about The Childhelp Ultimate Golf VIP Royale.

John O’Hurley: Childhelp is the nation’s largest child-relief organization against child abuse. They have two shelters on either side of the country – west coast and east coast – and they take the most profoundly abused kids – kids that are just about to be handed off to the psychiatric hospitals – and they take them and they become wards of the shelters. They work miracles for these kids, bringing them back to their own sense of identity and teaching them to grow up as responsible adults. I have been involved with them for more than ten years. Over their sixty year history they have saved more than ten-million kids. It’s an extraordinary mission they do. So, I’ve been there helping them raise funds (and) raise awareness.

Because the pandemic was particularly difficult on case for child abuse, we’ll never really know what the actual number was because, unfortunately, the abused and the abuser were locked down (together). Kids didn’t go to school. The teachers didn’t have a chance to interact and see whether there is a case of child abuse to refer on to social services. We’ll never really know the true damage done by the pandemic in terms of child abuse. Suffice it to say, the number of cases that are reported every year would fill ten football stadiums. There’s that many. The number is just atrocious.

(Childhelp) has been something that I have always been a great proponent of…So, we came up with a new idea. Obviously, they haven’t been able to raise funds (as usual). Every charity has been hindered over the past year. But we came up with a really novel idea. With the help of Apple Apps – which gives us an exposure to 100-million people on their platform and they’re helping to promote it as well – we’re going to do a virtual golf tournament where people during a period of time – August 2nd to August 8th – are going to have an opportunity to play golf virtually on the app called Ultimate Golf. They’ll have an opportunity to (go) online (and) purchase and play with the Childhelp Golf Ball. It costs about five dollars. All that money goes to the charity. The ball also will go twenty-percent farther. If you’re a golfer you certainly know what that means. It will certainly help you keep your score down.

And you’ll be competing during the week with a whole host of celebrities. I have people like Alice Cooper, the (great) quarterbacks Joe Theismann and Steve Young, golfers Peter Jacobsen (and) Annika Sörenstam (and Food Network Chef) Guy Fieri. A lot of my favorite actors (including) Patrick Warburton (Seinfeld) and Rob Riggle will be there as well. It’ll be a nice group of celebrity pairings you can play. Every day will have a different VIP that’ll be having an invitational golf tournament that day. You’ll be able to try and match their score or beat them. They’ll be prizes online, as well.

But, most importantly, it’s a way of raising awareness and also raising funds. It could be – if this template works correctly – an absolute mindboggling amount of money that we’ll be able to raise.

JWK: And you’ll, of course, be one of the celebrities participating.

JO: Yeah. I’ll be actually interviewing and kind of commentating along with the gameplay. (The whole event will run) from August 2nd through the August 8th. August 5th through August 8th will have the Celebrity VIP Matchups. That’ll be the special grouping of celebrities with people that are playing.

JWK: Childhelp isn’t the only group you’ve raised money for. In your famous Dancing with the Stars dance-off with the soap star Kelly Monaco you raised $126,000 for Golfers Against Cancer.

JO: It turned into a lot more than that because the following weekend CBS did a challenge match between Annika Sörenstam and I. I ended up winning and it raised (an additional) $350,000. That was matched up with the (money) from Dancing with Stars. I was able to get that matched. So, we were actually able to give almost a million dollars to Golfers Against Cancer and we started four exceptional cancer projects with that money. The money went to extraordinarily good use. In fact, one of the beta projects that we did was for brain cancer and it helped keep Ted Kennedy alive for an extra year.

JWK: You’re also involved with the Epilepsy Foundation.

JO: I have another charity celebrity golf tournament coming up in October out in Las Vegas. It’s the largest epilepsy fundraiser. I lost my sister to epilepsy back when I was a sixteen-year-old boy. She was seventeen. I saw this as a way of honoring her. The tournament is called the Leap Celebrity Golf Invitational (to) give epilepsy (treatment) the leap forward that it needs in terms of awareness and fundraising because almost nothing is being done in the area of neurological disorders. It’s not a sexy thing. Cancer and heart disease and other (conditions) seem to gather much more support. Neurological disorders are kind of that “other” thing. Unfortunately, they suffer for the dollars and also for awareness.

JWK: You devote a lot of time to helping charities. Is that one of the more rewarding aspects of celebrity – that you can help in these causes?

JO: Oh, absolutely! Because it just pierces through a veil immediately. I mean that I would have a chance to talk to you (so that you can) put pen to paper and help us out so much is an example of that. If you can do it, you should.

JWK: My wife and I watch you every Thanksgiving on The Purina National Dog Show which I believe you’ve been doing for 20 years.

JO: We have about 30-million people now that watch the show every year. It’s NBC’s number-one show.

JWK: I take it you’re a dog lover.

JO: Oh, I am! I’ve written three books on the subject of dogs. I’ve become quite an aficionado with my relationship with the show – and also my co-host David Frei who is the most knowledgeable man in the world on the subject of dogs. So, it’s been a nice evolution for me.

JWK: Do you have dogs yourself?

JO: We have two. We have a little rescue dog and then a little Havanese.

JWK: Probably your most famous role is that of J. Peterman on Seinfeld which, of course, is a fictionalized comedic take on the real-life founder of the J. Peterman Company. I understand you’re actually a part owner of that company now.

JO: The year after Seinfeld ended the J. Peterman Company went under some financial difficulties and I ended up helping to bail them out with a few other people. I ended up owning part of the company and being on the board. So, I liked the role so much I bought the company.

JWK: How is the company doing now?

JO: They’re doing very well. They’re still doing the same thing that they were doing – one-of-a-kind individual romantic ware, the same pastel drawings and that kind of Hemingway-style literature.

JWK: That character was so great. Was there every any thought given to spinning him off when the show ended?

JO: No. Jerry was very protective of the show and didn’t want to do any spin-offs, per se. But the character, oddly enough, lives (on) as kind of an advertising hero. I still do a lot of that style of spokesmanship for corporations and products. I also have found a home on Cameo.com. It’s a very interesting platform. It’s only about a year-and-a-half or two-years old. It’s where celebrities go to give shoutouts, birthday wishes and all sorts of video recordings. It started out (about) two years ago and now they’re worth – as of a month or two ago, I think – (over) two-billion dollars. It’s been an extraordinary success. What I do are J. Peterman (style) monologues on that website and (they’re given) as gifts. They’re structured for the person having the retirement (party), birthday or whatever it is. I do a dozen or so (in) a day and it’s a lot of fun.

JWK: He’s really one of the all-time great sitcom characters.

JO: He’s a lot of fun.

JWK: You’re also famous for hosting game shows. You’ve done To Tell the Truth and Family Feud for, what is it, four years?

JO: Yeah, four of five years – somewhere in there. And three years on To Tell the Truth. That was actually my favorite job ever – To Tell the Truth.

JWK: Why is that?

JO: I loved going to work…with the funniest celebrity panel, just telling great stories and meeting some of the most unusual people.

JWK: There’s a revival on ABC right now. Any chance you’ll go on that, even as a panelist?

JO: Oh, I don’t know. They…

JWK: I know. It’s nothing like the one you did.

JO: Yeah. I don’t understand the world of television that much anymore. It’s gotten strange – and too self-correcting.

JWK: When you say “self correcting” do you mean “politically-correct?”

JO: I would say “self-correcting.” I don’t know that it’s even “politically-correct.”

JWK: According to Wikipedia, you left Family Feud because you felt it had strayed too far from the “family” theme.

JO: I was getting so many letters from people that were tired of trying to put this on during the family hour during dinner and having to explain away a penis joke. It stopped being clever and it started to be a little bit more risqué. I think that’s where it stopped being interesting to me.

JWK: In terms of family entertainment on television, there aren’t really many shows that are designed for the entire family anymore.

JO: No, there aren’t – but I’ve been lucky enough to be part of two of them that I am very proud of. One of them is Dancing with the Stars and the other one is the National Dog Show. Those are two pieces of good-content television that deserve to be blessed with permanence. (I’m proud to be) part of both of them and their origins.

JWK: The Dog Show particularly is something that families will gather and watch together.

JO: Four or ninety-four, it doesn’t matter how old you are. It’s something there for you. Same thing with Dancing with the Stars. It’s resurrected ballroom dancing again (which) died (in) the early sixties.

JWK: Why do you think family television is so hard to come by? They used to strive for four-quadrant entertainment that appeals to everyone but, despite very strong ratings for the occasional National Dog Show, they don’t seem to be into that anymore. It’s like they’re not even trying.

JO: I think television has gotten needlessly edgy. It’s the need to have long-running series that support gray morality. You know, there’s always an excuse for your behavior – as opposed to having (some sort of) moral to every story the way that they used to have (where) good guys finished first. Now, gray morality has kind of taken over. You look at things like Breaking Bad. It’s looking for a justification for its own bad behavior.

JWK: Correct me if I’m wrong – but you identify yourself as a conservative. Is that a problem for you in Hollywood? Does it restrict your ability to get work?

JO: I don’t know if it affects my ability to get work. No one ever tells you the jobs that you lose – but it wouldn’t surprise me. But that’s okay. If the criteria is that I have to think a certain way then I’m certainly not interested in the job or working around people that aren’t tolerant of alternative positions.

JWK: Is there any kind of show you would like to do?

JO: I have one that we’re actually working on right now which, believe it or not, is kind of Peterman-esque. It’s taking some of these monologues that I’ve done and extending them out into a little bit longer form but with the same lunacy that they had back in the original day. It’s kind of an offshoot of the success that I’m having on Cameo.com. We’re actually working on that right now with Netflix. So, we’ll see how far that will go. I (also) have a couple of other shows that are in development so we’ll see.

I still have a strong career on Broadway. I have the musical Chicago. I’ve done 2000 performances as Billy Flynn. I’ve done a thousand performances as King Arthur in Spamalot. We’ve had big talk of maybe reviving that now since it’s been 15 years since it’s gone away. I (also) have my one-man show which is a musical that I do all over the country called A Man with Standards. I tell the stories of my life underscored by the music of the fifties and the sixties – Sinatra, Mancini, Moon River, that type of thing. It was actually nominated for Best Musical by Broadway World.

JWK: In 2011, you received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor which is given to “individuals who have made it their mission to share with those less fortunate, their wealth of knowledge, indomitable courage, boundless compassion, unique talents and selfless generosity. They do so while acknowledging their debt to their ethnic heritage as they uphold the ideals and spirit of America.” That’s quite an honor.

JO: It sits in the center of my office. I’m extremely proud of that. It came out of nowhere but I was very honored to receive it.

JWK: I take if you’re family came through Ellis Island.

JO: Yeah, I’m 100-percent Irish so (my) family was second-generation Irish. We still have a lot of O’Hurleys floating around the Emerald Island.

JWK: From talking with you, I find it interesting that you’re so well known for “a show about nothing” but you’ve really made your career about something, namely giving back.

JO: Well, I didn’t come this far to fall flat on my face. I like to add meaning to every step I take.

JWK: That’s terrific. Anything else you’d like to mention as we wrap this up?

JO: I do have two Billboard-chart albums that I’ve composed. It’s a piano along with electronic cello. It has a large, sweeping kind of Yanni style to it.

JWK: And it’s available now?

JO: Oh, yeah. You can go to iTunes and pick it up.

End Note: Below is some background on the history of Childhelp posted in 2019. And, just for fun, below that is the introduction of the J. Peterman character on a Season 6 episode of Seinfeld.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11
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