To children of the 1970s or 1980s, he was “Schneider,” the building superintendent for nine seasons on the CBS sitcom One Day at a Time.
But to children of the late 1950s and 1960s, Pat Harrington Jr. inhabited an even more unlikely character, as the Irish son of an comedian made his TV debut and then some as a thick-accented Italian immigrant named Guido Panzini.
Harrington died Wednesday in Los Angeles from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. He was 86.
Born Aug. 13, 1929, in New York City, he was just a boy when his father, Pat Harrington, Sr., was one of five comedians who opened Club 18 in Manhattan in 1938 as the only safe club for stand-up comedians to perform insult comedy. Junior entered the business in much bigger, yet subtler fashion, making his TV debut in January 1958 as “Guido Panzini,” invited onto The Tonight Show with Jack Paar thank to its substitute host that evening, one Jonathan Winters.
Harrington Jr.’s character was such a hit that Guido Panzini not only made dozens more appearances with Paar in late-night, but also performed sketches on Steve Allen’s primetime show (with the likes of Don Knotts, Bill Dana and Tom Poston), and booked guest-starring roles on episodes in the 1960s on McHale’s Navy and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. — he even revived Guido decades later for a plotline on One Day at a Time.
“It all started as a gag,” he told The New York Daily News in 1959. He had concocted the Guido character from listening to his Italian prep school friends and would trot out the accent for friends or for customers he was trying to sell TV advertising to when he worked for WNEW. He told the Daily News: “When Jonathan Winters asked me to sit on on the Paar show, I did it for laughs. Even when I was invited back many times, and then did a few shots on The Steve Allen Show, it never occurred to me that the whole thing might wouldn’t come to a dead stop one night and I’d just continue being a time salesman — a job I was pretty happy in anyway. But at some point, what with people beginning to recognize me and offers coming in for me to get onstage one place or another, I began to think seriously about a show business career.”
Harrington Jr. put out a comedy album in 1961 called “Some Like It Hip,” a collection of character pieces that included a nod to his then-infamous character with the track, “Guido at Tanganyika.” Billboard magazine gave it a four-star review, writing, in part: “this album shows off his many routines, and many, many dialects.”
His Guido Panzini might rank up there with Father Guido Sarducci or Pee-wee Herman among characters who achieved the most mainstream success across pop culture. (Maybe I’ll have to revisit and revise this list.)
But for many fans, it’ll be his eccentric mustache and amiable personality as Schneider — which won him a Golden Globe and an Emmy — that’ll live on in their memories.