As the meddlesome but lovable handyman Dwayne Schneider on the popular sitcom "One Day at a Time" (CBS, 1975-1984), comedic actor Par Harrington put an exclamation point on an already successful career while establishing one of the most popular characters of 1970s' sitcoms. A veteran showbiz comedian, Harrington rose to fame as Italian golf pro Guido Panzini on "The Jack Parr Show" (NBC, 1957-1962) and as one of Steve Allen's "Men on the Street" on "The Steve Allen Show" (NBC, 1956-1960). On the big screen, he had notable roles in "The President's Analyst" (1967) and "Easy Come, Easy Go" (1967), but it was television that provided him his most fertile ground as well as his most famous role. With "One Day at a Time," Harrington was both a father figure and comic relief, providing both advice and levity on a sitcom noted for tackling serious issues like teen pregnancy, suicide and infidelity. Following his nine seasons on the show, Harrington parlayed Schneider into a lucrative series of ACE Hardware commercials while making numerous guest appearances on comedies and dramas like "The Golden Girls" (NBC, 1985-1992), "Diagnosis Murder" (CBS, 1993-2001) and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (HBO, 2000- ), which only added luster to Harrington's long and varied career.
Born on Aug. 13, 1929 in New York City, Harrington, Jr. was the son of renowned Quebec-born vaudevillian Pat Harrington, Sr., whose career on the stage had a huge impact on his son. The young Harrington earned a bachelor's from Fordham University in the Bronx in 1952 and served as an intelligence officer with the rank of first lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. When he returned, he followed in his father's footsteps and appeared in a Rod Serling-penned episode of "The Motorola Television Hour" (CBS, 1953) and sold ad time for NBC from 1954-58. But it was appearing on "The Jack Paar Show" (NBC, 1957-1962) that broke Harrington into the big time on television. With host Paar playing the straight-man interviewer, Harrington portrayed stereotypical Italian golf pro Guido Panzini, often with Don Knotts as his caddy. The character proved enormously popular, and Harrington's experience playing Guido on the show clearly had as big an impact on him as it did on the audience.
In 1959, Harrington cut a comedy record with Bill Dana, while television host Steve Allen then snapped up the young comic for his Emmy Award-winning "The Steve Allen Show," using Harrington in his famous "Men on the Street" segments that also featured Don Knotts and Tom Poston. Between 1960 and 1963, he performed in nightclubs and was invited back to television's "The New Steve Allen Show" (1961-65). He also guested on "The Littlest Hobo" (CTV, 1963-65), "The Bing Crosby Show" (CBS, 1964-65), "McHale's Navy" (ABC, 1962-66), "F-Troop" (ABC, 1965-67) and "The Munsters" (CBS, 1964-66). Harrington showed his talent for comic voice work in several NBC-animated "Pink Panther" shorts, playing Inspector Sergeant Deux-Deux in "Napoleon Blown-Aparte," "Reaux, Reaux, Reaux Your Boat," and "Plastered in Paris" in 1966. The following year, he appeared in a typically tepid Elvis Presley feature film/musical, "Easy Come, Easy Go" (1967), in which he played Presley's former business partner whom the singer enlists to help him retrieve a treasure from a sunken Navy ship.
Meanwhile, Harrington reprised his Inspector Deux-Deux character in a slew of "Pink Panther" shorts that year and appeared in one of the best roles of his career, as Arlington Haven in "The President's Analyst." Hailed as one of the funniest films of the year, it featured Harrington as a sinister, smarmy telephone company PR flack who kidnaps presidential analyst Dr. Sidney Schaefer (James Coburn) and tries to persuade him that the phone company is his friend. On the small screen, Harrington was cast as a regular for the first time in his career on the short-lived series "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" (ABC, 1969), where he played another public relations guy, Tony Lawrence, in the TV version of Frank Capra's 1936 Oscar-winning satire of big-city corruption. Harrington next appeared in the first of three Disney live-action films featuring boy genius character Dexter Riley (Disney contract actor Kurt Russell), "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes" (1969). Guest appearances on many well-regarded TV series kept Harrington busy in the early 1970s, including spots on "Marcus Welby, M.D." (ABC, 1969-1976), "Love, American Style" (ABC, 1969-1974) and "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" (ABC, 1969-1972).
In 1974, Harrington made a fairly bold career move when he did voice work for "The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat," the follow-up to "Fritz the Cat" (1972), which was the first animated feature to receive an "X" rating from the MPAA. Based on a Robert Crumb comic book in which an idealistic college student degenerates into a boozing, womanizing ne'er-do-well as the flower power of the 1960s wilts and dies, the film's politics and humor were regarded as either satiric, sophomoric or offensive, but was nevertheless nominated for a Palme d'Or Award at Cannes that year. Meanwhile, Harrington was cast on Norman Lear's "One Day at a Time" (CBS, 1975-1974) as affable building superintendent Dwayne Schneider, who becomes something of a surrogate father to the two teen daughters (Mackenzie Phillips and Valerie Bertinelli) of a divorced mom (Bonnie Franklin). Mixing comedy with serious social issues, ranging from premarital sex to suicide, "One Day at a Time" struck a chord with viewers to become both a ratings hit and a multi-award winning show. Harrington's role was chiefly comedic, as he appeared in moments that required levity to balance out the show's more dramatic elements.
A popular figure on the show, thanks to his obsession with his tool belt and his trademark cigarette pack rolled up in his sleeve, Harrington won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series in 1984. After "One Day at a Time" left the airwaves, Harrington parlayed Schneider into a lucrative gig as the character in a series of ACE Hardware commercials. He also landed numerous guest spots on shows like "The Love Boat," (ABC, 1977-1986), "Who's the Boss?" (ABC, 1984-1992), "The Golden Girls" (NBC, 1985-1992) and "Empty Nest" (NBC, 1988-1995). Harrington appeared on several dramatic series including the Emmy-nominated "The Ray Bradbury Theater" (HBO/USA Network, 1985-1992) and "Murder, She Wrote" (CBS, 1984-1996), while on the big screen he made an unfortunate appearance in the forgettable sex romp, "Road Trip to Heaven" (1992), starring Corey Feldman. Harrington forged a second career as a voiceover artist on animated shows such as "Yo Yogi!" (NBC, 1991-92), and continued making guest appearances on "The George Carlin Show" (Fox, 1993-95), "Burke's Law" (NBC, 1993-95) and the short-lived remake of "Fantasy Island" (ABC, 1998-99). Into the new millennium, Harrington stayed busy with episodes of both comedies and dramas such as "Diagnosis Murder" (CBS, 1993-2001), "Yes, Dear" (CBS, 2000-06), "Las Vegas" (NBC, 2003-08), "The King of Queens" (CBS, 1998-2007) and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (HBO, 2000- ).
By Virginia Pelley