Don Adams (April 13, 1923 – September 25, 2005) was an American actor, comedian and director. In his five decades on television, he was best known as Maxwell Smart (Agent 86) in the TV situation comedy Get Smart (1965–1970, 1995), which he also sometimes directed and wrote. Adams won three consecutive Emmy Awards for his portrayal of Smart (1967–1969). He provided the voices for the animated series Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales (1963–1966) and Inspector Gadget (1983–1986) as their title characters. He voiced Sid Pickles in all episodes of Spike & Mike (1993–1999), and two follow up films, Spike & Mike Movie and Spike and Mike: Got Hostaged.
Adams was born Donald James Yarmy in Manhattan, son of William Yarmy and his wife Consuelo Deiter. His father, a restaurant manager, was of Jewish ancestry. However, Adams did not follow any particular religion in his early life. Comedian Larry Storch was a childhood friend, and he met Bill Dana through a manager.
Dropping out of New York City's DeWitt Clinton High School, Adams worked as a theater usher. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1941 together with his cousins Robert Karvelas and his twin brother William. The three were in the Third Marines on Samoa until Adams was sent as a replacement to the Guadalcanal Campaign and contracted blackwater fever; surviving despite its near 90% fatality rate but spending over a year in a Navy hospital in Wellington, New Zealand. After his recovery, he served as a Marine drill instructor in the United States.
Following his discharge, Adams held a series of jobs. During a Canadian television interview, he said that he had faked college credentials and an engineering background to be hired as an engineer designing underground sewers. His lack of training was not discovered for six months.
He later worked as a comic, taking the stage name of Adams after marrying singer Adelaide (Dell) Efantis, who performed as Adelaide Adams. They had four daughters, and Adams also worked as a commercial artist and restaurant cashier to help support his family. When they divorced, he kept Adams as his stage name because acting auditions were often held in alphabetical order.
The Bill Dana Show
Adams' work on television began in 1954, when he won on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts with a stand-up comedy act written by boyhood friend Bill Dana. In addition to appearing on numerous comedy, variety, and dramatic series, Adams had a role on the NBC sitcom The Bill Dana Show (1963–65), as a bumbling hotel detective named Byron Glick — a character Adams created that was the precursor to the role he would play as "Maxwell Smart" on Get Smart. (The hotel manager was played by Jonathan Harris who later did a guest role on Get Smart in 1970.)
Creators Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, prompted by producers Dan Melnick and David Susskind, wrote Get Smart as the comedic answer to the successful 1960s spy television dramas such as The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Avengers, I Spy and It Takes a Thief. They were asked to write a spoof that combined elements from two of the most popular film series at the time: the James Bond and Pink Panther (Inspector Clouseau) movies.
Get Smart had been written for Tom Poston, to be piloted on CBS; when CBS turned it down, the show was picked up by NBC, which cast Adams in the role because he was already under contract. When Get Smart debuted in 1965, it was an immediate hit. Barbara Feldon co-starred as Max's young/attractive partner (later wife), Agent 99, where she had a great chemistry with Adams, throughout the show's run, despite a 10-year age difference.
Adams gave the character a clipped, unique speaking style. Feldon said, "Part of the pop fervor for Agent 86, was because Don did such an extreme portrayal of the character that it made it easy to imitate." Adams created many popular catch-phrases (some of which were in his act prior to the show), including "Sorry about that, Chief", "Would you believe...?" and "Missed it by 'that much.'" These helped make the series a hit in over 100 countries.
In addition to acting, Adams also produced and directed several episodes of the show. Off the set, he occasionally feuded with Jay Sandrich, who served as writer. He was nominated for Emmys four seasons in a row, between 1966 and 1969, for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series. He won the award three times.
The show moved to CBS for its final season, with ratings declining as spy series went out of fashion. Get Smart was canceled in 1970, after a total of 138 episodes.
Adams was happy about the show's cancellation, since he wanted to move on to other projects. His efforts after Get Smart were less successful, including the comedy series The Partners (1971–1972), a self-titled game show called Don Adams Screen Test (1975–1976) and three attempts to revive the Get Smart series in the 1980s. Even his movie, The Nude Bomb, was a box-office failure. Adams had been typecast as Maxwell Smart and unable to escape the image, though he did have success as the voice of Inspector Gadget.
He earned most of his income from his work on stage and in nightclubs. As Adams had chosen a low salary combined with a one-third ownership stake in Get Smart during the show's production, he received a regular income for many years due to the show's popularity in reruns.
Don Adams' Screen Test
Don Adams' Screen Test was a syndicated game show which lasted 26 episodes during the 1975–76 season. The show was done in two 15-minute segments, in each of which a randomly selected audience member would 'act' to re-create a scene from a Hollywood movie as accurately as possible. Such moments as the bar scene from The Lost Weekend, the duel scene from The Prisoner of Zenda or the beach scene from From Here to Eternity were used, with Adams directing and a celebrity guest playing the other lead in the scene. Hokey effects, bad timing, forgotten lines, prop failures and the celebrity's 'ad libs' were maximized for comic effect as the audience watched "bloopers" and "outtakes" as they happened. At the end of the program, the final, serious, fully edited version of the 'screen test' of each of the two contestants would be played, with audience reaction determining the winner, who would receive a trip to Hollywood and a real screen test for a motion picture.
Voice-over and later work
Adams was the voice of the title character in Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales (1963–1966), but he was more famous as the voice of Inspector Gadget in the initial run of that television series (1983–1986) and the Christmas special, as well as in later reprises; he even voiced himself in animated form for a guest shot in an episode of Hanna-Barbera's The New Scooby-Doo Movies, "The Exterminator," which first aired on CBS October 6, 1973.
He attempted a situation-comedy comeback in Canada with Check it Out! in 1985; the show ran for three years in Canada, but it was not successful in the United States. The show also starred Gordon Clapp, an unknown star at the time, who developed a rapport with Adams. In an A&E Biography, Adams said that he made more money working on the series, better than on Get Smart. He reprised his Maxwell Smart role on Get Smart for Fox in 1995, which co-starred Barbara Feldon and rising star Andy Dick as Max's & 99's only son. Unlike the original version, this show did not appeal to younger viewers and it was canceled after only seven episodes. He later went on to voice the character of Principal Hickley in the late-1990s/early-2000s Disney cartoon, Pepper Ann.
In 2003, Adams joined a Get Smart tribute at the Museum of Television and Radio. Also appearing at the convention were surviving stars of Get Smart: Barbara Feldon, Bernie Kopell and Dick Gautier.
Adams stated in interviews that his famous "clippy" voice characterization was an exaggeration of the speaking style of actor William Powell. Occasionally, he also enjoyed doing a more explicit impersonation of Ronald Colman.
Adams was married: to Adelaide Efantis Adams, Dorothy Bracken Adams and Judy Luciano. His brother, Richard Paul Yarmy also known as Dick Yarmy (February 14, 1932– May 5, 1992), was an actor. His sister, Gloria (Yarmy) Burton, was a writer.
Don Adams died on September 25, 2005 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California from a lung infection and lymphoma. Among his eulogists was his decades-long friend, Barbara Feldon. Adams was interred in Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California. His funeral mass was held at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills. Adams was survived by three daughters from his first marriage, two children from his second marriage, and a daughter from his third marriage; he was also survived by five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
- Martin, Douglas (September 27, 2005). "Don Adams, Television's Maxwell Smart, Dies at 82". New York Times.
Don Adams, who played Maxwell Smart in the 1960's sitcom "Get Smart," combining clipped, decisive diction with appalling, hilarious ineptitude, died on Sunday at a Los Angeles hospital. He was 82.
- Buckman, Adam. "HE'S AGENT 86'D - 'GET SMART' STAR DON ADAMS DIES", The New York Post, September 27, 2005. Accessed September 14, 2009. "Graduated from DeWitt Clinton HS in The Bronx."
- Bernstein, Adam (September 27, 2005). "Actor Don Adams Dies at 82; Starred in 'Get Smart' in '60s". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-08-30.
- "U.S. Marine Don Adams". Truth or Fiction. Retrieved 2007-04-22.
- "Don Adams: 1923-2005". Peple. October 10, 2005. Retrieved 2009-08-30.
- "Don Adams". Find a Grave. Retrieved August 30, 2010.
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- Don Adams at TV.com
- Associated Press obituary in the Los Angeles Daily News
- "Don Adams". Find a Grave. Retrieved August 30, 2010.