Thursday, 7 January 2016

Pat Harrington, the Italian Who Wasn't

He was born in New York, the son of an Irishman, and he made his name by being an Italian.

Pat Harrington, Jr. has passed away.

I never watched him on One Day at a Time, which is probably what almost everyone under 55 knows him for. I remember seeing him on reruns of The Danny Thomas Show (in the photo to the right, that’s him on the left with Hans Conried and Thomas) and on various comedy shows; maybe the most obscure one I recall is when F Troop parodied Get Smart with a character called “B. Wise” played by Harrington. Animation fans will know he provided French accents on DePatie-Freleng’s The Inspector cartoons and appeared on Filmation’s Aquaman series, among other places. His voice was unmistakeable in what must have been hundreds and hundreds of commercials.

But he first made his name as a fake Italian, a routine he did for buddies at Toot Shor’s before he ever ended up on camera.

Here are a couple of newspaper feature stories from 1959 that talk about his quick rise in show business. First from August 20th.
Star's Son 'Ate' way into Show Business

NEA Service
New York—The success of Pat Harrington Jr. may mean the start of a brand-new training ground for young comics—the long lunch. Harrington, even though his father was (and still is) a famous comedian, never intended to make a career of show business.
“I always liked show business,” he says. “We lived in New York and when my dad was playing here, he'd come home after the show—four or five in the morning — and bring some friends. There'd be people like Pat O'Brien, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope.
“When I’d get up to go to school, my mom would be cooking eggs for all of them. I'd listen to them talk, and I liked them. But I had no urge to go into that as a career. So I went to Fordham, and worked as a waiter while I took an M. A. in political science and philosophy.”
He got a job with NBC and he admits his choice of employers may be a subconscious hint that he wanted show business all the while—selling time. And it was here that the long lunches began.
“It was at these business lunches that I perfected my routines,” he says. "We'd be trying to get executives—ad men, TV network salesmen and so on—to bit. Once I posed as an Italian dairy man and we got the head of a big advertising agency to bid for my account. He got wise when I said I'd pay him off in cheese.
“Another time, on the phone, I persuaded an NBC executive, who was at some resort hotel, that he was in the room reserved for President Eisenhower. But he didn't have to move, I said, share his room with Ike. He finally caught on when I said he'd have to have an FBI man share his bed.”
The character of Guido Panzini was born in these lunches. And it was here, too, that Harrington learned the technique of what he calls “narrow comedy” —the opposite, in other words, of broad comedy.
It is this appealing narrow comedy which is making Harrington's star rise so fast. He'll be on the Danny Thomas Show and the Steven Allen Show this coming fall. In fact, he'll be so busy, he'll only have time for short lunches.
This is an unbylined story dated October 31st. For the record, the first time Harrington did his phoney Italian routine on the Tonight Show, Jonathan Winters was hosting for Jack Paar.
Danny Thomas' Protege To ‘Help with Laughs’
Hollywood—Pat Harrington Jr., the handsome, bespectacled New York radio time salesman who became one of TVs most talked about performers as “Guido Panzini,” assumes the new character of “Pat Hannighan, night club comedian,” Monday on home screens.
This time Pat will be Pat—“as close to myself as I can”—for a challenge even bigger than when he assumed a fractured accent and fooled Jack Paar's audiences into believing he was “Guido Panzini, the Italian golf professional.”
He's going to bat as Danny Thomas' off-screen protege and on-screen prospective son-in-law to “share the burden” of keeping the laughs going on Danny's TV show, now going into its seventh year.
But the reward can be more important to Pat than just fooling the U. S. Immigration Department, as he did with his wacky tales of life in Italy on the Paar and Steve Allen shows. The gold-plated award Danny has in mind for him is eventual stardom on the show as a graceful bow-out cue for Danny, who would like to take life easier in the '60s.
If Pat clicks with audiences he's a shoo-in to inherit the works—and Danny and his producer Sheldon Leonard aren't exactly the type to bet on long shots. Pat even has their green light to be “as funny as I can get” because as an investment they do not feel I will be in competition with Danny. Besides, how can anyone top Danny?
“He's a better storyteller than Moses. I'm just going to play it as close to myself as I can. I figure how can I get burned when I'm in the hands of two fellows like Danny and Leonard.”
It was Sheldon Leonard who interviewed Pat for the show after his New York TV click. He visited New York a month after Pat quit his salesman's job with a New York City radio station last April for an all-put bid at show business.
There was no dull audition—just Leonard interviewing Pat in a lively ad lib battle and a discussion of the Thomas show. Leonard's return to Hollywood brought Pat the offer to appear in 20 of the Thomas shows this season, along with his guesting on the now Hollywood-based Steve Allen show.
A couple of weeks later Pat, his wife and two young sons moved to the west coast, where Pat finally met Danny for the first time.
Danny had seen him on TV, of course, but the comedian's first words to him were:
“Not a bad looking boy—except for his nose.”
To which Leonard quipped about Pat's classic profile:
“We can fix it, Daddy.”
Since arriving in Hollywood, Pat (who learned his comedy timing at the knee of Pat Sr., an old-time night club comedian) has recorded 40 minutes of ad lib comedy with Billy Dana, one of Steve Allen's writers, for what may become an LP collector's item.
“It's all mine. It isn't Steve's or Jack's or Danny's. It's mine.”
In case you're not up on Pat's past, the Guido Panzini character was one of the gimmicks he used in 1956 when he started looking for off-beat ways to sell himself, and his radio time spots.
The Andria Doria had recently sunk and out of the accident came a macabre routine. Where TV and radio men gather in New York, Pat sold himself as an Andria Doria survivor with the classic line:
“Was dark — veery dark — when the Italian captain ask a question an' somebody answer in Swidish, we know we were close.”
Pat not only sold time, he sold himself right into a top telefilm series, in a triple play—Paar to Allen to Thomas.
Pat will become Panzini briefly on the Thomas show Monday—but after that it's up to Pat.
It can’t be easy going into your father’s line of work. But Harrington did. And, subjectively speaking, he became more popular than his dad. A long-running television sitcom will do that for you. But, as you can see, there was more to Pat Harrington than being a funny janitor trading quips with Bonnie Franklin.


  1. I think it was Mark Evanier's blog that noted Harrington played his Panzini character on a number of different episodes of sitcoms in the 1960s (and, apparently, even on one episode of "The Man From U*N*C*L*E". His guest shot on McHale's Navy has been posted for a while now -- not very good, but at least when the show's setting relocated to Italy it gave them a chance to show Guido in his 'natural' home environment.

    1. Yikes. The Italian season bottom of the barrel. The shows seem so half-hearted. But they gave Vito Scotti some employment.

    2. And Scotti was often cast as Asians, in episodes of "The Rifleman" and "Gilligan's Island" among other shows.

      J. Carrol Naish, like Harrington, was of Irish ancestry but often played Italians, as in "Life with Luigi" - and Naish also played Asians and Native Americans (but oddly, no Irishmen).