Biography

Ian Abercrombie achieved broadest recognition in the mid-'90s for his work in character roles, principally stuffy upper-crust types, including Mr. Pitt, Elaine's employer on Seinfeld, Alfred the butler in the series Birds of Prey, and the staid auctioneer in the climactic sequence of Mouse Hunt. Abercrombie was born in 1936 to a working-class English family, and he showed a natural interest in performing from an early age, taking up tap dancing as a boy. At 17, he left for New York and pursued the beginnings of a career on stage -- among his early engagements, he appeared in a 1955 production of Stalag 17 starring Jason Robards Jr., and he understudied Roddy McDowall in a stock production of Bell, Book and Candle that also starred Maria Riva, the daughter of Marlene Dietrich. He did a short stint in the army, in Special Services, where he directed plays as well as acting in them. A trip to California for a production of a play about W.C. Fields that never materialized ended up putting Abercrombie into movies, and over the next few years he played small roles in pictures like Von Ryan's Express, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, The Molly Maguires, and Young Frankenstein, as well as leading parts in theatrical productions of The Vortex and Crucifer of Blood. Abercrombie was working steadily for most of the 1980s and beyond, appearing in such movies as Army of Darkness, Wild Wild West, and The Lost World. It was with his portrayal on Seinfeld of Mr. Pitt -- lovably eccentric and just sufficiently full of himself to put Julia Louis-Dreyfus's Elaine on the defensive -- that Abercrombie became an actor whose name and face were remembered by the general public. He remained active on prime time television portraying Alfred the butler in the Warner Bros. television series Birds of Prey, while also doing a huge amount of voice-over and radio work, as well as a one-man show entitled Jean Cocteau -- A Mirror Image. Back on the big screen, Ambercrombie could be spotted in both the family comedy Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties and David Lynch's Inland Empire in 2006. Abercrombie died of kidney failure at age 77 in early 2012, not long after being diagnosed with lymphoma. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi