Kentucky (Tall) Tales: The Real Mr. Peterman

Seinfeld's John Peterman was based on a Kentucky entrepreneur

“But Mr. Peterman …”

When you hear the name ‘J. Peterman,’ most people think of John O’Hurley’s eccentric character who was Elaine’s boss on “Seinfeld.” But before Thursday May 18, 1995, J. Peterman was just a second fiddle men’s clothing catalog in the market dominated by companies like Banana Republic, L.L. Bean and J. Crew.

The real J. Peterman isn’t a Manhattan company, but a small Lexington firm. The real Mr. Peterman isn’t a bombastic boss, just a sensible businessman. Seinfeld creators Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld were fans of the catalog and created a character based on what they thought the voice of the catalog would be. At first, no one informed the real John Peterman that his company was about to be satirized on the nation’s number one television program in 1995. But eventually folks made contact and began sending advance scripts to the Kentucky businessman for approval — which he always gave.

John Peterman tried a rapid expansion when the series brought national attention to his brand with retail stores, but that venture landed him in bankruptcy. So he started over and went back to what he did best: periodic catalogs — and a website — full of men’s and women’s clothing, luggage and novelty gifts. The J. Peterman Company offices are still located in Lexington on Old Vine Street.

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