Rerun Junkie Guest Stars–Michael Constantine

Michael Constantine is one of those guest stars that I never expect to see as often as I do. I can remember the first time I watched the Perry Mason episode “The Case of the Runaway Racer” and when he appeared onscreen, I literally pointed at the TV as said, “That’s Michael Constantine!” (This was repeated when I saw Gavin MacLeod and Paul Winfield.)

Despite many of his 182 credits going back to 1959 on IMDB being TV credits, I still think of Mr. Constantine as more of a movie actor. Maybe it’s because of Thinner and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Maybe he just has a presence that says “Big Screen”. Either way, he’s done plenty on the small screen.

In addition to reprising his role as Gus on My Big Fat Greek Life (which only ran for seven episodes), he was also Jack Ellenhorn on Hey, Landlord, The Sorcerer on Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, Judge Matthew Sirota on Sirota’s Court, and Principal Seymour Kaufman on Room 222, which was his longest regular TV stint.

Perhaps one of his most memorable guest spots was in an episode of The Twilight Zone called “I Am the Night–Color Me Black”, in which a condemned man is set to hang and the local newspaper editor questions his guilt, implying that the Deputy lied and the Sheriff is too lazy/apathetic to do anything about it. When the sun doesn’t rise on the day of the hanging, the townspeople start to realize why. It’s a fantastic episode made all the more better by Michael Constantine’s sheriff and George Lindsey’s deputy. If you only know George Lindsey as Goober Pyle, you’re in for a shock. Mr. Constantine doesn’t shy away from the character that he’s playing either.

My favorite guest appearance of his is on Murder, She Wrote in the episode “Murder Takes the Bus”. First of all, it’s a fabulous guest cast that includes Mills Watson, Linda Blair, Rue McClanahan, Larry Linville, Albert Salmi, Don Stroud, and David Wayne. Secondly, it’s a whodunit on a bus stranded at a cafe in a storm. The killer is most definitely among them and the victim is a recently released prisoner who’d been involved in a bank robbery in which someone was killed. When Michael Constantine confesses to killing the man in retaliation for his daughter dying during the robbery, your heart breaks for him. He’s a grieving father who’s held onto this bitterness for years and the lack of remorse from the man responsible for his daughter’s death drives him over the edge. You feel for him. And then you get the twist of the victim already being dead when he stabbed him. It’s just a fantastic episode with every player hitting the high notes, particularly Mr. Constantine.

He turned up on other solve-a-murder shows like Ellery Queen, Quincy ME, and McMillan and Wife; joined in on family friendly fare like The Flying Nun, Benson, Mama’s Family, Highway to Heaven, The Odd Couple, and Hogan’s Heroes; went West on The Virginian, Gunsmoke, and Iron Horse; tangled with Raymond Burr yet again on Ironside; went to war on Combat! and 12 O’Clock High; checked in on Trapper John MD, Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare, and The Bold Ones: The New Doctors; was privately investigated on Remington Steele, 77 Sunset Strip, The New Mike Hammer, Matt Houston, Vega$, and Magnum PI; went to paradise on The Love Boat and Fantasy Island; got legal on Cain’s Hundred, Judging Amy, and The New Breed; got into other people’s business on Blacke’s Magic and Midnight Caller; tangled with the law on Cold Case, Hunter, The Untouchables, Naked City, The Streets of San Francisco, The Detectives, and Homicide: Life on the Street; went sci-fi on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Invaders, and The Outer Limits, and got spooky on Night Gallery and Friday the 13: The Series; evaded the law on The Fugitive; got in on the action on Airwolf, The Fall Guy, Mission: Impossible, and MacGyver; and worked with Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore on The Dick Van Dyke Show; Mary Tyler Moore and Ed Asner on The Mary Tyler Moore Show; and then Ed Asner on Lou Grant.

It’s no surprise that Michael Constantine had the range to tackle multiple genres. Good guys, bad guys, funny guys, sympathetic guys, he had the chops to tackle them all, bringing a certain weight and believability to every single character he played.

Yes, he was absolutely perfect for the big screen, but lucky for us, he graced the small screen often, too.

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