Harold Peary, 76, who played "The Great Gildersleeve" during radio's golden age and helped make "You're a hard man, McGee" a national catch-phrase, died March 30 at a hospital here after a heart attack.
Mr. Peary was best known for his portrayal of Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve, a next-door neighbor of Fibber McGee, on the radio. The character, who took to the airwaves in 1937, was a blundering baritone whose heart of gold usually was well concealed. The character was such a hit that in 1941 Mr. Peary was given his own radio show.
"The Great Gildersleeve," with Mr. Peary playing a windbag water commissioner of the mythical town of Summerfield, was one of the first program spinoffs created from another series. It was acclaimed as one of the last great comedy series of radio. It ran until 1958, although Mr. Peary left the program in 1950. He was replaced by Willard Waterman, an actor who sounded so much like Mr. Peary that their voices were nearly indistinguishable.
Mr. Peary was a son of Portuguese immigrants. He was born Harrold Jese Pereira de Faria in San Leandro, Calif., and started his career at 11 by singing at neighborhood functions. He began his radio career in the late 1920s, singing on an NBC show called "The Spanish Serenader" that was produced in San Francisco. He moved to big-time radio in Chicago in 1935, where the flexibility of his voice allowed him to play as many as half a dozen parts in a single radio show.
He also made several movies based on Gildersleeve's character and others that included "Comin' Round the Mountain," "Look Who's Laughing," "Country Fair," "Here We Go Again," "Seven Days' Leave," "The Great Gildersleeve," "Gildersleeve's Bad Day," "Gildersleeve on Broadway," "Gildersleeve's Ghost," and "Clambake."
Before retiring in 1981 after nearly 70 years in show business, Mr. Peary also played a series of guest roles on several television shows, including "That Girl," "The Doris Day Show" and "The Brady Bunch."