When you think of Michael Constantine, most of us of a certain age think of him as principal Seymour Kaufman on Room 222 (1969-1974).
Constantine, who died Aug. 31 at 94 in his hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania, won a 1970 Best Supporting Emmy for putting the “pal” in principal. Room 222 was one of a handful of 1969 shows that seemed to usher in a new, younger, and more sophisticated trend in network television.
He was nominated again the following year, losing to Ed Asner for The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Asner, who won again as Lou Grant the following year, died two days before Constantine.
In more recent years, Constantine — born Gus Efstratiou — is best remembered for playing another Gus — Portokalos — the father of Nia Vardalos’ character in the hit indie feature “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” (2002). He reprised his role as the Windex-obsessed Greek patriarch again in the 2003 series spin-off My Big Fat Greek Life and in the 2016 “Greek Wedding 2” sequel.
The actor came to his profession somewhat late in life and, as he told Johnny Carson in 1976, with little real ambition. He worked six years for free doing little-seen off-Broadway stage work before he earned any money acting.
By the time of his first IMDb acting credit, for a 1959 Mickey Rooney drama titled, “The Last Mile,” he was already 32. Constantine, however, went on to amass 182 acting credits on the movie and television data base list, landing as a guest star or a recurring character on many of television’s most fondly-remembered shows.
In the ’60s and ’70s his credits included The Untouchables, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Perry Mason, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Fugitive, Gunsmoke, The Odd Couple, Night Gallery, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Kojak and Police Woman.
In 1976-’77 he starred as a New York night court judge in the NBC sitcom Sirota’s Court, which was almost a blueprint for the later hit Night Court. Fred Willard was kind of the John Larroquette of that cast.
His run guesting on top shows continued in the ’80s and ’90s with roles on Fantasy Island, Roots: The Next Generation, Vega$, Lou Grant, Quincy, The Fall Guy, The Love Boat, Remington, Magnum and MacGyver, Murder, She Wrote and right up to Homicide: Life on the Street, Law & Order and Judging Amy.
Still, it was his performance as loveable, world-weary principal Kaufman on Room 222 that probably launched thousands into teacher’s colleges, hoping for just such a cool boss.