Award-winning Greek-American actor Michael Constantine (born 22 May 1927) is best known for his portrayal of the Windex bottle-toting family patriarch “Gus Portokalos” in the sleeper hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002). Before his appearance in that movie and the subsequent TV series based on it, he was primarily known for his portrayal of principal “Seymour Kaufman” in the series Room 222 (1969), for which he won a 1970 Emmy Award as Best Supporting Actor (in 1971, he also received a second Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe nomination as Best Supporting Actor for the role).
Michael Constantine was born Constantine Joanides in Reading, Pennsylvania, to Greek parents, Andromache (Fotiadou) and Theoharis Ioannides, a steel worker. He made his Broadway debut as part of the ensemble of the hit play “Inherit the Wind”, which made its bow at the National Theatre on April 21, 1955, and closed on June 22, 1957, after 806 performances. During the run of the play, Constantine managed to work his way up into the part of “Conklin”. His next appearance on the Great White Way was in “Compulsion”, a dramatization of the Leopold & Loeb trial, in which he played three parts: speakeasy owner “Al”, defense attorney “Jonathan Wilk” and “Dr. Ball”. The show had a modest run of 140 performances in the 1957-58 season at the Ambassador Theatre.
On October 19, 1959, Constantine was part of the opening-night cast of the hit play “The Miracle Worker”, appearing in the role of “Anagnos”. It ran for 719 performances at the Playhouse through July 1, 1961, but his next play, “The Egg”, was a flop, lasting but one week (eight performances) at the Cort in January 1962. His last turn on Broadway was in Tony Richardson’s staging of Bertolt Brecht’s mediation on the rise of Adolf Hitler, “Arturo Ui” (a.k.a. “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui”). Constantine played the character “Dogsborough” in support of the great Broadway star Christopher Plummer’s “Arturo Ui”. It, too, was a one-week flop, lasting but eight performances at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in November 1963. Constantine’s Broadway career was at an end.
He had made his motion picture debut in The Last Mile (1959) in support of Mickey Rooney, but had already begun appearing in the medium in which he made his reputation, television, the year before. He appeared in teleplays on the omnibus television anthologies Armstrong Circle Theatre (1950) and Play of the Week (1959) and made numerous guest appearances on TV series, where his ethnic look made him valuable as heavies on such programs as The Untouchables (1959). In film, he appeared in such productions as Robert Rossen’s classic The Hustler (1961), If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969) and the film version of Woody Allen’s play, Don’t Drink the Water (1969), the latter two films revealing his flair for comedy.
Constantine was a regular on the series Hey, Landlord (1966). His stint on Room 222 (1969) was followed by his star-turn in the short-lived series Sirota’s Court (1976), for which he received his second Golden Globe nomination, this time as Best Leading Actor in a Musical or Comedy TV Series, in 1976. After that, he remained steadily employed but his career remained rather quiet until cast he was cast in My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002).
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