How the Soup Nazi got his Taft-Hartley!

Written by | The Business of Acting

Larry Thomas, known for his famous role of the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld, shares how he got his Taft-Hartley.

Larry Thomas as the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld © Castle Rock Entertainment

“I got into acting by accident. I was a journalism major but wanted to get a date with a girl who was a theatre major, so I enrolled in theatre classes at Valley Jr. College in Van Nuys, California. Of course, I caught the bug but had never performed (I was just turning 21), so I was a bit shy and nervous about the whole thing. At the time, singing telegrams were all the rage and I figured if I could do that I could do anything. There is nothing like walking up to someone’s dinner table at a fancy restaurant and singing and dancing to them while they hide their faces from you in embarrassment (guess how embarrassed I was).

Anyway, I was doing props on The Three Penny Opera at a prestigious local theatre in Hollywood called “The Company of Angels.” I would have to leave the show sometimes to do a singing telegram, so all the cast and crew knew I was doing that. One night, after a performance, we went to a local Italian restaurant and the actress playing Jenny Diver had a birthday that day. She got tanked and kept asking me to do a singing telegram for her. Although she was extremely cute, I hated doing them. I kept telling her I hated doing them for money and I certainly didn’t want to do one for free when I was out having fun, but she kept drinking and kept asking. 

Finally, to get her off my back, I agreed to sing to her. I did the whole production (dancing with her and singing to her) and by some strange coincidence that could only happen in this business, the actor who was playing Mr. Peachum, a wonderful actor named Chuck Cyphers (who also had a great guest spot on Seinfeld), had a girlfriend with him who was producing a CBS sitcom called The Ladies’ Man starring another wonderful actor named Lawrence Pressman.  

She told me that the show needed a singing telegram messenger for that week’s episode and she was having trouble figuring out if she should hire a singing telegram messenger or audition an actor to do one. Needless to say, I was the solution to her problem. I did the show and got Taft-Harleyed for AFTRA. After that, I found out I was considered a principal performer and there was a window open with SAG that said if you did a principal part in an AFTRA show you could join SAG within a year from the date you bought your AFTRA card. So I did, and at the same time there was a window into AEA (Actors Equity Association) that said you could buy that card if you did a principal role in a SAG project . . . Well (and I know this sounds crazy) but . . .
At this time (1982), a few of us were conducting a showcase at a church (run, ironically, by an actor named Biff Yeager, who also had a great Seinfeld guest spot) where we would write and perform three-minute scenes for one casting director. One night, the casting director mentioned that she needed a singing telegram messenger for an interactive video mystery project she was doing. It had great people in it, such as Roger C. Carmel. That was a SAG project, and I was able to do it as I just bought my SAG card. So after that, I was able to buy the AEA.

I hate to break your hearts, but all three cards back then were about $350.00 each.

I had to borrow $350.00 from a buddy to buy the SAG card (I rarely could put together that much at that time). It was when SAG was on Sunset Blvd. As I walked to the SAG building from my car, I got approached by a hooker on Sunset who propositioned me. As I had never had as much as $350.00 in my pocket, I must admit I had to laugh and consider the fact that I could afford the idea. Needless to say, I went for the SAG card . . . Did I make the right choice?”

– Larry Thomas


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Last modified: August 13, 2017

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