Of course J Peterman would start things off, if you sent out a “bat signal” to former Seinfeld characters, for help making your dad smile on his last birthday on earth.
When East Falls local James Calder — a Huffington Post writer (and occasional contributor to this blog) — faced the end of his father’s 2-year struggle with cancer, he channeled his grief and stress into one big virtual birthday party, featuring “friends” from his dad’s favorite TV show, Seinfeld.
Through blog posts and social media shares, James and his family reached out to the enormous cast of characters, asking that they record a simple “selfie” video wishing his father Jim a happy birthday, and perhaps improv’ing something funny in character for him. They asked for happy, not sappy — and, boy, did the Seinfeld cast deliver!
The actor who played J Peterman, John O’Hurley is a playful character in real life — he actually purchased the real “J Peterman” catalog for funzies as it was folding in the early 2000’s! — and within mere days he’d emailed James back with some full-on J Peterman fabulousness.
Al Roker played himself for an episode, and he recorded a charming birthday message in “non-character,” (I guess you’d call it).
Frank Costanza came back, too! Jerry Stiller did a full-on performance, but asked that his video remain private. Julia Louis-Dreyfus didn’t “do” Elaine but she did record a very touching, personal message from her heart, which stands alone as something really special. Kramer (Michael Richards) went a step further and called his father personally.
Unfortunately, James’ father’s condition worsened: chemo, hospitalization. The day before he passed — three days short of his 67th birthday — James and his mother lifted his spirits with all these wonderful videos he couldn’t believe had been recorded just for him. His final hours were buoyed by such love and support… and humor.
As his son relates, the one thing repeated again and again at James Anthony Calder’s funeral November 12th was “how great a guy he was, and how he loved to laugh.”
He also loved to help people, which is why it’s so important to James and his family to continue social media efforts like this one to help raise Cancer Awareness and raise money for research & treatments. James is already planning another fun, creative way commemorate his father’s next birthday with lightness and hope.
Meanwhile, although his father is no longer with us, The Seinfeld Project continues to warm hearts on social media. Since James’ original October 29th Huff Post piece (and a recap 11/24), his story has been picked up by all the major news outlets: The Today Show, UK’s Daily Mail, MSN.com — who created a whole video, as did CNN!
By the time we’d contacted him for permission to run this story, Inside Edition had been at his house for an interview with this family. As the Seinfeld Project goes viral, James’s dad’s birthday videos spread love & levity from characters who feel like old friends to a lot of us.
Rest in peace, James Calder, Sr. Hoping there’s a puffy shirt in heaven with your name on it.
Thanks to East Falls local James Calder, Jr for sharing his remarkable story and videos with us. Keeping him and his family in our thoughts this Holiday season, and wishing for happier times in the coming New Year.
Q&A with James Calder
Q: What about Seinfeld do you think appealed to your father?
My dad was born and bred New York. He was a proud product of Brooklyn before it was fashionable cool to be from that area by hipsters. Seinfeld was a big New York focused show with Jerry Seinfeld being from that area. My parents were audience members of the show from day one. So much so that I remember writing about it in junior high school telling my class to wake up and start watching this hit show, while it still was not a success.
Q: How cool “Merv Griffin” was one of his favorite episodes — are there other episodes or characters that particularly remind you of him? Do you have a favorite, yourself?
Dad was a big fan of the ridiculous. He loved Kramer and Newman. He also loved some of the character actors on the show that only appeared on a few episodes. He was a huge fan of the soup Nazi and did a killer impression of Rickey played by Sam Loyd. I was so thrilled that Sam was able to be part of this project.
My dad loved to laugh. He loved prank calls. We used to prank call my cousin when we first discovered generated typing software on our first family computer. Years later he found so much joy in having me run through his phone book and prank call every member of his family with online prank call websites.
He was a big fan of Halloween and costume parties. Just last Thanksgiving he kept asking my mom if he could show everyone his surprise and when she finally said yes he came into the room wearing a scary clown mask and holding a butcher knife. My one year daughter screamed and the rest of us took photos for Facebook. I hope that I never forget his laugh.
Q: What’s surprised you most about all the coverage your story has gotten?
Being in marketing and PR, I knew that the participation from the stars involved in this project would result in it going viral. However, I never thought it would go internationally viral. The amount of people that reached out during this project is uncountable. I heard from so many people who have been fighting cancer or were touched by this story. Certainly cancer awareness & donations have been a positive by-product.
While the cast of Seinfeld is the main drive of this story, I want to remind everyone that what these people will do for someone with stage IV cancer is equally as important. In many ways, these people were more sober about my father’s chances than my family was. We were clinging to hope as the waves of reality were crashing down on us constantly since his condition jumped from stage 1 to 4 around Easter.
Cancer research needs more funding, but lung cancer funding needs more funding than most. My father was a non-smoker who barely drank and the biggest thing that I learned through our journey is that lung cancer is drastically underfunded.
Over 60% of new cases are non-smokers or former smokers, many of whom quit decades ago. One in five women and one in twelve men diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked.
According to A Breath Of Hope Lung Foundation, less money is spent on lung cancer research than most other cancers. In recent years, the National Cancer Institute estimated that our government spent over $11,000 per breast cancer death for research, and $1100 per lung cancer death. Lung cancer takes almost twice as many women as breast cancer.
Lack of funding drives talented young researchers away from lung cancer, despite their interest and commitment.
Our family hopes that dad’s story helps raise more funding for the ACS at bit.ly/JamesCalder