September 27, 2005


Don Adams, Television's Maxwell Smart, Dies at 82 (DOUGLAS MARTIN, 9/27/05, NY Times)

[S]mart's charm lay in his utter humanness, the opposite of Bond's preposterous competence. In an interview with The Saturday Evening Post in 1966, Mr. Adams analyzed Smart: "He's not superhuman. But he believes in what he does and he wants to do his best."

His best was rarely good enough. Smart called into work with a dial phone on the sole of his shoe, and often got a wrong number. He wore jet shoes that shot him up, often into the roof. He was so security-minded that he would often swallow secret messages before reading them.

Donald James Yarmy was born on April 13, 1923, in Manhattan. He said changed his last name to that of his first wife, Adelaide Adams, because acting auditions were often done in alphabetical order.

His father ran a few small restaurants in the Bronx. Mr. Adams grew up hating school and playing hooky at the movies. During World War II, he joined the Marines at 16 by lying about his age. On Guadalcanal, he was shot and contracted blackwater fever, fatal 90 percent of the time.

After the war, he drifted into stand-up comedy, always refraining from dirty jokes, presaging the almost ludicrous uprightness of Maxwell Smart. He cut back on nightclub work to support his family with jobs as a restaurant cashier and as a commercial artist.

His first real success as a comic came when he won an Arthur Godfrey "Talent Scouts" competition in 1954, which led to television variety show appearances on "The Steve Allen Show" and elsewhere.

Mr. Adams created the comedy character Byron Glick, an incompetent house detective, who was a precursor to Max. Mr. Adams tried comedy writing, producing material for Garry Moore and Mr. Allen. When Mr. Adams's friend Bill Dana got a comedy series, he hired Mr. Adams to regularly play Byron Glick.

"Get Smart" was originally the brainchild of the producers Dan Melnick and David Susskind, and was then refined by the writers Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. ABC passed on the show, but NBC loved it. The writers first thought of Tom Poston for the Smart role, but Mr. Adams was under contract to NBC.

The program was immediately a success with viewers, though Jack Gould, reviewing the new show in The New York Times, fretted that Mr. Adams was trying too hard to be funny. Mr. Gould, however, heartily approved of Ms. Feldon, fondly recalling her appearances in Revlon's "Tiger Girl" commercials.

In an interview on NBC's "Today Show" in 2002, Ms. Feldon gave Mr. Adams credit for much of the show's success. "When you got in a scene with Don, it was like stepping onto a surfboard, and you just flew over those waves," she said. "And it was exhilarating."

Don Adams and the Sole of Wit (Washington Post, September 27, 2005)
Once upon a time (in the '60s) there was a television show called "Get Smart." It was a sendup of James Bond spy dramas and featured the bumbling secret agent 86, Maxwell Smart, played by Don Adams, who died Sunday at age 82.

Many of its gags entered the culture permanently, used by people who had never seen the show. For example:

Sorry about that!

The response to a colossal blunder. In 1965 one of the Gemini astronauts used it. It became a favorite of grunts in Vietnam.


And loving it!

Response to a warning of grave danger.

Would you believe . . . ?

Get Smart was pretty dreadful, but he was terrific as Tennessee Tuxedo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 27, 2005 8:15 AM

No show with Barbara Feldon (Agent 99) can be considered dreadful. Neither can any show with Dawn Wells (Mary Ann) or Julie Newmar (Catwoman). Ah, the 60s.....

Posted by: Anon at September 27, 2005 8:35 AM

Dreadful? It's one of the few shows we all watch together. You mean dreadful like skiing?

Posted by: Peter B at September 27, 2005 9:05 AM

Good heading. The big 86.

Posted by: jdkelly at September 27, 2005 9:42 AM

Silly in a lowbrow way, perhaps--but with a certain sweetness that makes you like it far more than it deserves.

OJ, your description of it as "dreadful" is off the mark. In fact, one could say you "missed it by *that* much!"

Posted by: Mike Morley at September 27, 2005 9:43 AM

"Get Smart was pretty dreadful"

You're just jealous because you don't have a shoe telephone.

Posted by: AllenS [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 27, 2005 9:43 AM

I'd pay real money to see someone deploy the Cones of Silence at the next congresional or senatorial hearing. Don't those fools ever shut up?

Posted by: Roy Jacobsen at September 27, 2005 9:58 AM

"Get Smart was pretty dreadful, but he was terrific as Tennessee Tuxedo"

But isn't that how it usually is, the cartoon version being superior to the live action?

For example, who doesn't prefer Foghorn Leghorn to Fritz Hollings?

Posted by: at September 27, 2005 10:03 AM

Tennessee was one of the early examples of the Nanny State at work -- JFK's FCC Chairman Newton B. Minnow pretty much forced CBS to put on some sort of kids show with an education message on Saturday mornings -- but thanks to Adams' voicework and the stories that stayed away from moralizing, it was a lot better than the message-strewn education dreck kids have had forced on them for the past 20-25 years.

(Also, Larry Storch was pretty good as Phineas J. Whoopie, and F-Troop was even more low-brow than Get Smart.)

Posted by: John at September 27, 2005 10:33 AM

Dreadful? Hardly.

Posted by: David Cohen at September 27, 2005 11:07 AM

Me: OJ, don't tell me you think it's dreadful.

OJ: It's dreadful.

Me: I asked you not to tell me that!

Posted by: Matt Murphy at September 27, 2005 11:33 AM

Newmar more than redeemed Batman, but Felton has Julia Roberts syndrome.

Posted by: oj at September 27, 2005 12:07 PM

What, Barbara Feldon is the same person as Eric Roberts, too? Now I *am confused.

Posted by: Ted Welter at September 27, 2005 1:05 PM

She's the same person as her brother?

When I got married, not only did I get a wife, but I got her collection of every Get Smart episode ever, recorded off of an old Nick at Nite marathon. Truly, a national treasure. Any blanket assertion that it is "dreadful" calls into question your judgement more than even your predilection for public transit.

Posted by: Timothy at September 27, 2005 1:08 PM

Timothy: Now that you mention it, I do remember Max taking the train from time to time. Hmmm, maybe I was too fast to reject "dreadful."

Posted by: David Cohen at September 27, 2005 1:47 PM

She's mannish, like Laurie Partridge.

Posted by: oj at September 27, 2005 1:52 PM

Chumley was the real star of the show.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 27, 2005 2:01 PM

1. I never found Barbara Feldon that attractive and I only found Get Smart mildly amusing. I liked that chick from The Avengers much better. Diana Rigg, I think her name was.
Don Adams also did Inspector Gadget which was basically Get Smart with a cyborg as Max and a pre-teen girl standing in for 99.
2. Tennessee Tuxedo had an educational message? No foolin!

Posted by: Governor Breck at September 27, 2005 2:14 PM

Are we referring to the same Laurie Partridge?

Posted by: Patrick H at September 27, 2005 2:24 PM

Isn't that Danny Bonaduce?

Posted by: oj at September 27, 2005 6:21 PM

Patrick: The Susan Dey thing is a shot at me, as is most of the blog.

Posted by: David Cohen at September 27, 2005 11:26 PM

My, aren't we full of ourself....

Posted by: oj at September 27, 2005 11:32 PM

I have my moments, but of course that wasn't a denial.

Posted by: David Cohen at September 27, 2005 11:39 PM

C'mon, when was the last time I pointed out that MicroSoft is a criminal enterprise?

Posted by: oj at September 27, 2005 11:46 PM