Among the things that this year will be remembered for in the annals of televison is the loss of sitcom legends. Earlier this month Bob Denver died. Now Don Adams, best known as Agent 86, Maxwell Smart, has passed on as well. Adams died Sunday of a lung infection at the age of 82. He had been in poor health since he had broken a hip about a year ago.
Don Adams was born in New York City in 1923. In high school he did impressions of celebrities (among which was William Powell of Thin Man fame). He dropped out of high school to join the Marines at the start of World War II. He served at Guadalcanal where he contracted malaria. He was later sent back to the States where he served as a drill instructor. Following World War II he took a job as a commercial artist. He also started doing stand up comedy at night clubs around New York. For his stage name he adopted his first wife Adelaide's maiden name--Adams. Inm 1958 he made his television debut on The Steve Allen Show. He went on to do several appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. In 1962 he appeared on Broadway in the play Harold. In 1964 he provided the voice of Comet in the perennial Yuletide favourite Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.
Nineteen sixty three was a turning point in Adams' career. It was that year that he was cast on The Bill Dana Show, as hotel detective Byron Glick. For the character's voice he used his William Powell imitation, which he would later use as Maxwell Smart. It was also that year that he provided the voice for Tennessee Tuxedo on the cartoon Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales. The cartoon centred on a penguin and his walrus powel Chumley, always plotting to escape the zoo.
Adams' role as Byron Glick on The Bill Dana Show led to him being cast in Get Smart. The series was a parody of spy movies and TV series that overwhelmed the American media at the time. The show centred on Maxwell Smart, Agent 86 of Control. Smart's partner was Agent 99 (played by Barbara Feldon). Together the two of them faced the agents of the evil organisation known as KAOS. Created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry and buoyed by the spy craze of the Sixties, Get Smart became a smash hit. Through Max the show introduced a number of catchphrases to the English language, inlcuding "Would you believe...," "Sorry, Chief,"and "Missed it by that much..." The show ranked in the Top Twenty Five highest rated series for its first two years. It also won two Emmys for Best Comedy Series and three for Best Actor in a Comedy for Don Adams. The show lasted five seasons--four of them on NBC and one of them on CBS. Don Adams would once more play Maxwell Smart in the 1980 feature film The Nude Bomb, in the 1989 reunion movie Get Smart Again!, and in the 1995 revival of the series.
Following Get Smart Don Adams found himself typecast. Parts were few and far between. He appeared in the TV series The Partners and Check It Out. In 1983 he would voice the third character (after Tennessee Tuxedo and Maxwell Smart) for which he was famous, providing the voice of Inspector Gadget on the cartoon of the same name.
Adams appeared in only a few movies over the years. Besides The Nude Bomb he appeared in Jimmy the Kid and Back to the Beach.
I am truly saddened to hear of Don Adams' passing. As a child I grew up watching both Tennessee Tuxedo and Get Smart. Indeed, as a child Get Smart numbered among my favourite shows. Maxwell Smart is one of those few television characters who is immediately recongisable to any American over thirty. Much of the reason that Smart became such an icon and that Get Smart became such a success was the talent of Don Adams. His clipped delivery was perfect for comedy and his timing was always precise. Adams had a gift for vocal comedy, including developing catchphrases. I rather suspect that in the history of television there are only a few comedy stars who could match him. At any rate, I seriously doubt we will see too many with his talent any time soon.