Best known for his portrayal of Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve, the next-door neighbor of Fibber McGee, Peary's character was such a hit that he was given his own radio show entitled "The Great Gildersleeve" in 1941.
The show ran until 1958 and was considered one of the last great radio comedy series. Peary left the program in 1950 and was replaced by actor Willard Waterman, who sounded so much like Peary that their voices were almost indistinguishable.
Born Harrold Jose Pereira de Faria, Peary was the son of a Portuguese immigrant. He began his career in 1919 as an 11-year-old soprano, appearing professionally at weddings, banquets and other events in the neighborhood of his San Leandro, Calif., home.
By the time he was 17, he had become a baritone — and a constant performer with touring companies performing musical comedy.
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.
In 1937, Peary originated the Gildersleeve role — the blundering windbag whose heart of gold was usually well concealed behind a wall of bluff.
The famous line, "You're a haaaaaard man, McGee," became a national catchphrase, as did imitations of the famous Gildersleeve "dirty laugh."
Gildersleeve's departure from the McGee show to stake out his own prime-time territory as resident windbag and water commissioner in the mythical town of Summerfield (where he was joined by a niece, Marjorie, and nephew, Leroy) was both lamented and hailed as a pioneering departure.
Many radio histories record it as the first "spinoff" — a show based upon a supporting character from another series.
When Peary abandoned the role in 1950, he moved to a rival network where he created a similar character in a similar show, "Honest Harold."