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Bea Arthur>


(Reprinted from The Toronto Star, January 14, 1995)

Getting smarter


I was under a development contract at NBC when the network brass sent me the pilot script for Get Smart," says DonAdams, still amazed at his stroke of fortune. "I wasn't interested until they told me it was written by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. Then I agreed without even looking at the script."

The 68-year-old veteran actor/standup comedian - who won three Emmy Awards for his portrayal of the bumbling, stumbling international spy Maxwell Smart/Agent 86 during Get Smart's 1965-69 run - was more cautious when he was pitched the idea of reviving the show on Fox.

But when the new concept sounded plausible, Adams had only two demands: No 14-hour working days and a place in the show for his old co-star Barbara Feldon (Agent 99).

Max is now the Chief of C.O.N.T.R.O.L. (replacing the late Edward Platt) and his wife, Agent 99, has become the hard-nosed congresswoman heading up the committee overseeing the agency's budget - which includes money for such contemporary gadgets as the bullet bra, tie fax and sneaker phone.

The heavy running and jumping is left to a whole new generation as Andy Dick checks in as Zachary Smart, Max and 99's enthusiastic , dim-witted son, and Elaine Hendrix as Agent 66, "a brilliant, tough, sexy and unpredictable secret agent who plays by her own rules."

Their bitter foe is still K.A.O.S., but the "international organization of evil" has evolved into a ruthless multinational corporation equally adept at raping the environment and industrial spying.

"My first day on the set was a lot of fun and deja vu," says Adams, laughing. "You must understand that the original (Get Smart) was the only job I've ever had in my life where I couldn't wait to get to work when I woke up in the morning.

"We always had the same crew and Barbara, Ed Platt and the rest of the cast became a family that loved being together and working together. The truth is that I would have done it for nothing."

An astute businessman, Adams never let the Maxwell Smart association completely lapse - which is why he portrayed the character in a 1980 feature film known as The Nude Bomb and resurrected him once more in the 1989 telefilm Get Smart, Again!

"Mel and Buck created Max as a physical spoof on James Bond, but the character had a lot of input from me borrowed from my standup act, including his signature line, 'Would you believe?' So was Smart's voice. That flip, nasal staccato was from one of my routines - an exaggerated impression of William Powell in The Thin Man movies."

With 20/20 hindsight, Get Smart has been a mixed blessing, according to the introspective Adams.

"It was a special show that became a cult classic of sorts and I made a lot of money from it. But it also hindered me career-wise because I was typed. The character was so strong, particularly because of that distinctive voice, that nobody could picture me in any other type of role. A lot of things I would have liked to have done as a dramatic actor I was never considered for.

"So I went my own way, writing and developing shows for myself while performing in and producing TV commercials. I've pushed everything from toys to beer. In terms of time and money, a commercial is the best job there is."

Adams has eight children spread among three ex-wives. All the kids are old enough to take care of themselves, except for a 15-year-old in high school. Only two chose to follow him into show business.

"Both of them started as actresses with pretty good credits," says Adams, "but today Cecily is a casting director and Stacey is an associate producer. That's enough showbiz in one family."

Born Donald James Yarmy in New York city, Adams served four hellish years in the U.S. Marine Corps and headed for a softer climate in Florida upon discharge in 1945.

"Still in uniform, I went to Miami with my friend Jay Lawrence, Larry Storch's (of F-Troop fame) brother, and formed a comedy team copying lots of Larry's jokes and impressions," he recalls, with a laugh.

When Get Smart came along 20 years later, Adams finally stopped worrying about rent and car payments.

It was a long road to the top, as he parlayed his squeaky-clean club act into profitable guest appearances on variety and talk shows - including Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, The Steve Allen Tonight Show, The Garry Moore Show, The Ed Sullivan Show and The Perry Como Show. Co-starring as Byron Glick, the bumbling house detective, on The Bill Dana Show (1963-65) finally made him a hot sitcom commodity.

Though nothing reached the level of popularity of Get Smart, Adams kept going on television by creating, producing and starring in his own sitcom, The Partners (1971-72), hosting a comedy-variety show, DonAdams' Screen Test (1975) and winding up his sitcom career in the syndicated Check It Out (1985-89). With only part-time work on the new Get Smart, he has time to work on a book and a screenplay while keeping a hand in TV commercials.

To relax, he plays golf religiously and gets profane pleasure from horse racing. "I'm a great handicapper," he sighs, "and a lousy bettor."