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When Pat Harrington Jr. died in 2016, he was remembered mostly as obnoxiously funny Dwayne F. Schneider, a character he created for the situation comedy, "One Day at a Time," which enjoyed great success from 1975 to 1984. (That's Schneider in the photo above, right.)

But I met Harrington long before that, in 1962. Even then he had an identity crisis of sorts, because he burst on the scene pretending to be someone else, and he was so convincing that he later had some difficulty making people believe he really was the New York City-born son of a comedian named Pat Harrington.

Akron Beacon Journal, March 4, 1962
The most popular Italian golfer ever to tour the United States will finally get his first look at Italy next month.

Confusing?

It probably is to anyone who has never seen Guido Panzini, the dapper golf pro from Salerno, Italy, who is finally becoming better known by his real name — Pat Harrington Jr.

Harrington created the Panzini character seven years ago while he was working at WNEW-TV, selling advertising slots. He’d slip into an Italian accent to amuse potential customers.

Harrington is Irish-American; his father was Irish-Canadian, who became a comedian who also performed on Broadway and in early television.

Junior is scheduled to go to Rome in two weeks to appear in a movie with Maurice Chevalier. It will be his first visit to the country that has been instrumental in his rapid climb from ad salesman to television performer.

That switch came about in January, 1958, when Jonathan Winters, who was sitting in for vacationing Jack Paar on “The Tonight Show,” asked Harrington to be one of his guests — as Guido Panzini. Harrington gladly agreed, and thus late night television viewers were intorudced to an amusing golfer who had joined the PGA tour.

When Paar returned from his vacation, he kept the joke going, and Harrington made a few more appearance on “The Tonight Show” and also on “The Steve Allen Plymouth Show.” It was almost a year before Harrington’s heavily accented Panzini was exposed as a character he’d created, much the way Bill Dana had done with Jose Jimenez.

Meanwhile, Harrington kept his day job, and it was a year before he decided to become a full-time performer, initially appearing in nightclubs in his Guido Panzini character.

Now the 31-year-old Harrington is trying to branch out into acting by appearing in his first movie.

“It’s a wild story,” said Harrington, “about the Mafia in this country. They have to find a sure wy to lose money, so they go to Rome to make a television pilot film, figuring this is the surest way to go broke, Instead, they wind up with a great show.”

I interrupt the story for a necessary update:

Harrington did not appear in the film, which was released in 1964. I had never heard of the movie — “Panic Button” — until I dusted off my Harrington interview in 2019 for my website, and was surprised to learn it had basically the same plot that Mel Brooks used for “The Producers” in 1967, except that Brooks’ had a producer plotting to get rich by making a Broadway flop.

“Panic Button” sat on a shelf for several months before receiving a limited release. Chevalier and Mansfield played unlikely actors chosen for a movie version of “Romeo and Juliet.” Just like “Springtime for Hitler” in “The Producers,” this awful version of the Shakespeare classic was mistakenly taken for a satire and became a big hit, something that didn’t happen to “Panic Button,” which was quickly forgotten.

On the other hand, "The Producers" became a cult classic and the basis for a hit Broadway show, which spawned another movie.

Meanwhile, back at my Harrington interview . . .

Recently Harrington was in Cleveland where, as Guido Panzini, he spent a week as co-host of “The Mike Douglas Show.” Before that he was in Hawaii working on a pilot film for a proposed TV series.

“It’s called ‘APO 923,’ ” he said. “It concerns three officers in the Pacific in World War Two. We’re con artists, sort of. I play a Navy lieutenant, and Ralph Taeger will be a marine officer and Jim Stacy will be an Air Force lieutenant. We help each other get in and out of trouble.”

He didn’t classify “APO 923” as a comedy, but did liken his role to that of Ensign Pulver in “Mister Roberts.”

Harrington said working on the “Mike Douglas Show” won’t be the biggest memory of his Cleveland visit.

“I’ve been taking flying lessons for a few months, and Cleveland has the best facilities I’ve seen.”

Harrington practiced flying every afternoon after the show.

He even has his wife, Marjorie, taking flying lessons at their temporary home in St. Petersburg, Florida. Harrington has his pilot’s license and hopes to buy a plane soon.

Since his auspicious debut on “The Tonight Show,” he has had a difficult time convincing some people he is not Italian. He claimed he even had a brief run-in with the U. S. Immigration Service which could not find a record of Guido Panzini ever entering the country. Finally they were convinced there is no real Guido Panzini, and the man who plays him was born in New York City.

Harrington has spent much of the past three years on the road and is looking forward to settling down. That’s why he has his hopes up over the television pilot. He’d like to have a steady job near Bel-Air, California, where is permanent home is located. That home was only slightly damaged by the fire which swept Bel-Air a few months ago.

“We were lucky,” he said. “Only our garage was touched, and even that was slight. But the winds that came after the fire was out brought a constant flow of soot and ashed into our yard. That’s why I moved the family to be with my wife’s parents in Florida. We’ll go home to Bel-Air pretty soon.”

Harrington said he prefers a regular work routine than hopping from city to city to perform in nightclubs.

“I was a 9-to-5 man for five years as a salesman,” he said, “and I’m used to it. This is a job for me, but it’s not my whole existence. I like to get home at night and see my family or spend a weekend hunting or playing golf with my friends.”
Harrington gives Milton Berle and Jack E. Leonard credit for helping him most since he started txaking Guido Panzini into nightclubs.

“Leonard could be 100 miles away,” Harrington said, “but he’d make it to my nightclub act and give me tips. Many people misunderstand Leonard, but he’s a big help to other performers.”

Harrington’s father — Pat Harrington Sr., obviously — established his name as an entertainer many years ago, but was not eager to see his son become a performer.

Instead, Junior earned a master’s degree in political philosophy from Fordam University. He then served two years as a lieutenant in the Air Force and as doing very well as a television time salesman before he made his comedy debut.

Jonathan Winters heard Panzini being done at a party, which prompted him to ask Harrington to join him on “The Tonight Show” a few days later.

Ironically, perhaps, should Harrington firmly establish himself as an actor in a weekly television series, in a few movies, or both, that very likely will be the end of Guido Panzini.

I have no idea whether Harrington actually did go to Italy and work on the film that eventually was released as “Panic Button.” His work may have been edited out of the film because his name does not appear in the credits.

In any event, he had guest roles in several television series from 1962 to 1975, when his career took another turn when he began a 10-year stint playing Dwayne F. Schneider on “One Day at a Time.”

Afterward he resumed playing a variety of roles in several TV shows. His work tapered off in 2000, and he made his last appearance in 2012 in an episode of "Hot in Cleveland," which reunited him with Valerie Bertinelli, one of his co-stars from "One Day at a Time."

Harrington and his first wife, Marjorie Ann Gortner, were divorced in 1985 after 30 years of marriage. They had four children. Their son, Patrick Harrington, is an advertising executive; second son, Michael Harrington, is an actor; third son, Terry Harrington, is a pianist and composer, and daughter Tresa-Caitlin Harrington, is a former ballerina.

Pat Harrington married Sally Cleaver in 2001, and they remained together until his death in 2016.

NOTE: In looking at credits listed for Pat Harrington Jr. on imdb.com (International Movie Database), I noticed a few from 1948 to 1956 that may be incorrect. I've looked elsewhere, but have found no information or explanation. According to those credits, he appeared on television as early as 1948 in three presentations of the anthology series, “Kraft Theatre.” He was 19 years old at the time and a student at Fordham University. It’s possible, I suppose, that imdb.com has confused Pat Harrington Jr. with his father, who more likely was the actor in some of these shows, such as “The Alcoa Hour” in 1956 when Pat Harrington is listed as the actor who played a bartender in a presentation titled “The Piper of St. James,” which alo featured Patrick Macnee and Patrick O’Neal.
 
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