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Reading native and Emmy-winning actor Michael Constantine dies at 94 [Video]

Reading native Michael Constantine, an actor best known for his Emmy-winning role as high school principal Seymour Kaufman in the TV series “Room 222” from 1969 to 1974 and his portrayal of Kostas “Gus” Portokalos, the Windex bottle-toting father of the bride in the 2002 film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” died Aug. 31 at age 94, his family disclosed Wednesday.

Constantine’s brother-in-law Michael Gordon said Constantine died peacefully of natural causes in his Reading home, surrounded by family, including his sisters, Patricia Gordon and Chris Dobbs. Constantine had been ill for several years, but the nature of his illness was not disclosed.

Constantine, whose given name was Gus Efstration, was born May 22, 1927, the son of Greek immigrants Andromache (Fotiadou) and Theoharis Ioannides Efstration.

He graduated from Reading High School in 1946 and never forgot the community where he was raised.

“Last week he could still sing all four stanzas of the Reading High School alma mater from memory,” Michael Gordon said. “He’s always considered himself a Reading native. People would come up and say, ‘You’re from California,’ (and he’d say) ‘Oh no, I’m from Reading.’”

“He loved his hometown,” Patricia added. “He came back here right after he won his Emmy for ‘Room 222.’ But then he was called back to California. He always loved coming home. He was very much a family person. He loved his children, his siblings, his parents.”

Constantine began his acting career on the stages of New York in the 1950s before going on to land roles on many well-known TV shows leading up to his big break with “Room 222,” an ABC comedy-drama set in a fictional, racially diverse Los Angeles high school.

Well known shows on which Constantine appeared prior to “Room 222” included “My Favorite Martian,” “The Twilight Zone,” “Bonanza,” “Hogan’s Heroes,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “The Fugitive.”

“He was a great character actor, so when someone needed a character actor, they turned to him,” said George Hatza, retired Reading Eagle entertainment editor. As a journalist Hatza knew Constantine professionally, and he knew the actor personally from attending SS. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Reading together. “He was on television back in the ’50s: ‘Perry Mason,’ shows like that. He did everything.”

Hatza said it was Constantine’s upbringing that made him so adaptable.

“The thing is, he fit into all those roles because he really was the quintessential common man,” Hatza said. “They were immigrants. They came here, and his parents spoke Greek in the house. His mother spoke broken English. She was very intelligent, and very nice. The whole family, just kind, generous, sweet people. And it was the American dream. You bring your family to America and your son grows up to be a movie star, a TV star, an actor who everyone knows.”

It was Constantine’s role on “Room 222” that made him readily recognizable to many Americans. Hatza said that even though the show incorporated humor, Constantine mostly played his role straight.

“He was terrific in that role,” Hatza said. “It was considered a comedy series, but he didn’t play it for laughs. He was a principal and he played it the way a real principal would be. It was not a joke part. That’s the kind of guy he was. He had respect for the working man, and that came out in his work.”

After “Room 222,” Constantine stayed busy, landing TV roles on shows such as “Quincy, M.E.,” “The Love Boat,” “Remington Steele,” “MacGyver” and “Murder, She Wrote,” to name just a few, plus more than a dozen films, before his acclaimed role in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” an indie romantic comedy about a middle class Greek-American woman who falls in love with the upper middle class White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.

“That was like he had a second career with ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’. It was like, ‘Oh yeah, Michael Constantine. I remember him,’” Hatza said, laughing.

Only in this case, unlike with “Room 222,” Constantine cut loose his comedic chops, big-time.

“He was hilarious, truly hilarious,” Hatza said. “That whole Windex thing (the window cleaner was his character’s magic elixir for everything) was just a wonderful sight gag. He just really captured the whole Greek-American thing about holding on to your heritage. Their house in that movie was a satire of what people might think of Greek Americans. Everything was white and blue, which is the colors of the Greek flag. Everything was absurdly Greek. He had that whininess that only Greeks can do.

“I think he was good enough for an Oscar nomination. I was a little surprised he didn’t get one for supporting actor.”

Constantine reprised his role on the TV series “My Big Fat Greek Life” and in the 2016 film, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2,” the last big role of his long, distinguished career.

Through it all, whenever he was in Reading, he was a fixture in local coffee shops, where he would go to read, write screenplays and engage with fans who might recognize him.

“He would talk with anyone, chat with anyone at all,” Michael Gordon said.

Constantine’s sister Patricia said he loved hanging out at the former Borders store, Barnes & Noble and the former Take 2 Bagels in Wyomissing.

“What was so interesting was he would be over at Borders or wherever he was working and writing, and people wouldn’t bother him,” Hatza said. “They’d go up and shake his hand and walk away. It wasn’t like people were all over him. People allowed him his space, and he repaid them with courtesy when they were courteous to him. He was a good guy. A very good guy.

“When you were with him at an event, there was no sense that he was ever more than anyone else. He never put on airs like that. He was just another person invited to this picnic, or whatever. He’d just sit there and talk to everyone about the old days. That’s just the way he was.”

Charles J. Adams III, the retired WEEU radio personality and Reading Eagle correspondent, recalled seeing Constantine a month or so ago at a local restaurant.

“It’s funny,” Adams said, “because friends of ours from Chester County were going out to dinner with us, and as we were walking out, this car pulls up and this guy says, ‘Charlie Adams?,’ and I said, ‘Yeah.’ He recognized me, whoever it was. And I looked and said, ‘My gosh, it’s Michael Constantine.’

“We started talking — a nice conversation about some work we did in the past — and my friend said, ‘He recognizes you, but you didn’t recognize him? That’s kind of funny.’

“But he was that kind of guy. He was so humble.”

Actor Michael Constantine, left, with Berks radio personality and author Charles J. Adams III on the red carpet for the premiere of the short film “Location! Location!” in Reading.

Adams said he interviewed Constantine for his radio show when “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” came out and they really hit it off. They then worked together on the 2010 locally produced film “Location! Location!” and Constantine asked him to accompany him to the premiere, so they walked the red carpet together.

“He was just such a nice person, so self-effacing,” Adams said. “This is tragic news, but what a life well-lived.”

Patricia Gordon described her brother as a loving, giving person.

“(He was) the most generous person you’d ever want to meet,” she said. “The world is a better place because of him — really, truly.”

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Source: Berkshire mont

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