11. J. Peterman
Best-known episode: "The Van Buren Boys"
By the time the J. Peterman character first popped up in the finale of Seinfeld's sixth season ("The Understudy"), the real-life J. Peterman mail-order catalog was well-known among those who could afford the luxury-priced clothing items it advertised with lengthy, rhapsodic narratives. For everyone else, J. Peterman may as well have been a complete Seinfeld invention. Actor John O'Hurley brought the character's eccentricities to life over the course of 20 episodes, imparting him with an overstuffed baritone that O'Hurley said was inspired by "Forties radio drama, combined with bad Charles Kuralt." A wealthy entrepreneur who'd traveled the world extensively, O'Hurley's Peterman was nonetheless a buffoon, lost in his own myth and devoid of common sense. He suspects Elaine of taking opium after the poppy seed muffins she eats set off a false positive on a drug test, and when he gets burnt out on work, he ditches the company and hides in "Burma." "You most likely know it as Myanmar," Peterman tells Elaine on the phone, "but it will always be Burma to me." Of course, O'Hurley has had ongoing success as an actor and voice talent since Seinfeld, but Jacopo Peterman will always be the role that defines him. In 2001, the real J. Peterman even persuaded O'Hurley to invest in a relaunch of the brand, following a 1999 bankruptcy filing. JENNY ELISCU