'One Day at a Time's Super Super, Pat Harrington, Savors Life as TV's Highest-Paid Mr. Fixit

updated 03/15/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/15/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

One night back in 1958 Jonathan Winters, guest-hosting on the Jack Paar Show, introduced America to Guido Panzini, an unsung Italian golf pro. Deadpan, the alleged S.S. Andrea Doria survivor explained how he had learned his endearingly addled English (during World War II he had served on an Italian submarine that would sneak up behind U.S. warships that were showing movies). Panzini proved such a hit that he made 85 return appearances on the show. Thousands of viewers, including an immigration official who called to check his status, thought Panzini was real. Pat Harrington Jr., the neophyte comedian who created him, was delighted. "What I want to do next," he said back then, "is to make it as Harrington."

Twenty-four years later, he has. As Schneider, the dese-and-dosing building superintendent on CBS' One Day at a Time, Harrington, 52, is both a sitcom staple and, at an estimated $40,000 per episode, the world's best-paid Mr. Fixit. And his career may still be abuilding. This week, in a CBS-TV movie, Between Two Brothers, he stars opposite Michael Brandon as a politician's black-sheep sibling. When One Day finally evaporates, he says, there is talk of a possible spinoff Schneider series.

"I feel I've earned a series of my own," says Harrington, who picked out Schneider's trademark jeans and T-shirt himself, and in a last-minute improvisation added the superintendent's tool belt, hastily purchased from a set electrician. "At first, Schneider was pretty much a lecher," Pat says. "I made sure that got changed to 'amorous.' It bespeaks a certain respect for women." He believes the character has depths that could be plumbed in a series. "We don't know much about his family or his lodge affiliation, the Secret Order of Beavers," says Harrington. "If we were beating a dead horse, I wouldn't be interested in a new series."

The Manhattan-born son of a vaudevillian, Harrington played it straight for years, attending La Salle Military Academy, marrying at 26 and earning degrees in philosophy and government at Fordham University. He served stateside as a first lieutenant in the Air Force during the Korean War, and was doing fine selling advertising time for NBC when Jonathan Winters spotted him doing Panzini for some friends in a bar. Winters offered him a TV spot, and Harrington kissed ad sales goodbye the next year. When Panzini petered out, Harrington moved to legitimate acting, appearing in some 18 movies, including Easy Come, Easy Go with Elvis Presley and The Candidate with Robert Redford. He joined One Day in 1975.

Success has allowed him to begin adding extra rooms to his three-bedroom Bel Air home and provide comfortably for wife Marjorie and children Patrick, 25, Michael, 23, Terry, 20, and Tresa Caitlin, 16. "I'm absolutely entertained by the role I have with my kids," he says. "I never spared the rod, but I've never had great cause to use it." Spiritually, he is a Catholic ("I'm not a daily communicant, but emotionally and intellectually I relate to it"), while his secular endeavors include appearing on leukemia telethons, working with the Screen Actors Guild, and assimilating the fame and riches that Schneider has brought him. Although he lauds co-stars Valerie Bertinelli and Bonnie Franklin as "very talented, very hardworking," Harrington admits he is somewhat mystified by One Day's redoubtable ratings. "M*A*S*H I can understand, and Barney Miller," he muses, "but I'm a bit in awe of our show because I don't really understand how its success is so continuously generated. Still," he adds, brown eyes twinkling, "I'm not going to quibble. And the exalted role of series lead would be nice."

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