The title of this post is my customary hyperbole. I don’t mean to imply that there are no other Greek actors besides Titos Vandis (1917-2003), or that he only played Greeks, or that he played all the Greek parts (plenty were played by others, although often as not they were non-Greeks, hello, Anthony Quinn). It’s just that for a while in the ’60s and ’70s he was ubiquitous. If there was a Greek in a movie or tv show, it was more than likely him.
From the ’30s through the ’50s Vandis acted on stage and screen in his native country. His supporting part in the international hit Never On Sunday (1960) raised his profile substantially. He would later appear in the musical Broadway adaptation of the film Ilya Darling (1967-68). Roles in the films It Happened in Athens (1962) with Jayne Mansfield and the thriller Topkapi (1964) further raised his awareness among American audiences. In 1965 he made his Broadway debut in the original production of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever with Barbara Harris, William Daniels, and John Cullum. This was followed by a stint as a replacement as Sancho Panza in Man of a La Mancha.
Some memorable roles from the next several years: a sheep loving peasant in Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask (1972), Father Karras’s uncle in The Exorcist (1973), an extremely high profile guest starring role in the “Greek episode” of M*A*S*H (1974), and one of the leads in Robert Altman’s A Perfect Couple (1979). You can also see him in smaller roles in movies like Michael Ritchie’s Smile (1975), Walt Disney’s Gus (1976), The Other Side of Midnight (1977), Sidney Poitier’s A Piece of the Action (1977), Carl Reiner and Larry Gelbart’s Oh God! (1977), The Betsy (1978), Garry Marshall’s Young Doctor’s in Love (1982), and Fletch Lives (1989, also directed by Ritchie). On TV he had recurring roles on Baretta and Mary Hartman Mary Hartman and could also be seen on The Odd Couple, Barney Miller, The Bob Newhart Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, etc.
By the ’90s, Vandis had returned to Greece, where he continued to act in film and television. This, and his advanced age (84, months away from death) are surely why he was not cast in My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002), a no-brainer, right? (Though Michael Constatine, from Room 222, is definitely an excellent consolation prize). Vanis was living in Athens when he died in early 2003.