Kathryn Kates, actress of "Seinfeld" Babka Fame, dies at 73

Kathryn Kates, who appeared as the counterwoman in two memorable “Seinfeld” scenes involving shortage baked goods – chocolate babkas and...


Kathryn Kates, who appeared as the counterwoman in two memorable “Seinfeld” scenes involving shortage baked goods – chocolate babkas and marbled rye bread – and racked up plenty of screen credits for nearly 50 years, died January 22 at her brother’s home in Lake Worth, Florida. She was 73 years old.

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

Ms. Kates, who lived in Manhattan, has had roles in dozens of TV shows and movies, including the recent series ‘Shades of Blue’ on NBC, ‘Friends From College’ on Netflix and ‘The Good Fight’ on CBS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The entire writing staff, including Mr. Seinfeld and the show’s co-creator, Larry David, watched her read her lines and deliver her cough during an audition. She had auditioned for other small roles on “Seinfeld” before, but the brassy counterwoman was her chance.

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

Ms. Kates devoted much of her time to running the Colony Theater in Burbank, California, of which she was a founding member. There she and the actress Barbara Beckley served as Co-General Managers from 1975 to 1981. She appeared in numerous Colony productions.

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

Kathryn Jane Kates was born on January 29, 1948 in Queens. His father, Louis Kates, was an electronics engineer. His mother, Sylvia (Fagan) Kates, was a 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 janitor facing Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) and Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) in the 1967 film version of “The Producers.”

Ms. Kates grew up in Great Neck, NY, 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 acting. Her early TV credits included appearances on the 1991 legal drama “Matlock” and other cameo roles in “Rachel Gunn, RN” and “Hudson Street.”

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

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

And as for her babka preference? She preferred chocolate.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Kathryn Kates, actress of "Seinfeld" Babka Fame, dies at 73
Kathryn Kates, actress of "Seinfeld" Babka Fame, dies at 73
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