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Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot
Monday, September 26, 2005
Missed By That Much

Just a few days after sitcom legend Bob Denver (GILLIGAN'S ISLAND) passed away comes news of another death: Don Adams, the Emmy-winning star of GET SMART!

Unlike many fans, I didn't get to grow up with GET SMART!, since it was never rerun on any TV station in the Champaign-Urbana market. I remember seeing a couple of episodes in motels while on family vacations, but it wasn't until TV Land began airing it in the 1990's that I got to see GET SMART! on a regular basis. Created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, neither of whom had anything to do with the series after the pilot, GET SMART! is perhaps the only commercially successful spoof in TV history. Series like POLICE SQUAD, WHEN THINGS WERE ROTTEN (another Brooks show) and SLEDGE HAMMER! followed in GET SMART!'s footsteps, but none came anywhere near the five-season run or multiple Emmy trophies of their predecessor.

I actually came to know Adams through his voicing of Tennessee Tuxedo, a wisecracking penguin who teamed up with a dumb walrus named Chumbley on a popular cartoon series I watched a lot as a kid. He also appeared on the box and in commercials for an Aurora toy called Skittle Pool; I understand Adams won a Clio for directing the commercial.

GET SMART! is a marvelously clever TV series, a spoof of the many spy movies and shows that were so popular at the time, ranging from the James Bond movies to THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. Adams was idiotic CONTROL agent Maxwell Smart, a bumbler who always somehow managed to stop the nefarious plans of rival spy agency KAOS, usually with the assistance of his gorgeous partner, Agent 99, played by the brainy and beautiful Barbara Feldon.

Catchphrases like "Would you believe...?", "Missed by that much" and "Sorry about that, Chief" became widely imitated, and running gags like the Cone of Silence and other wild gadgetry were hallmarks of the series. But most of all, GET SMART! was successful because of its star. Adams never really did much after GET SMART! went off the air, perhaps because of typecasting. He was certainly a very talented comic actor, a master of the double take and able to wring every last laugh out of a gag by punctuating the lines with that distinctive Maxwell Smart voice (which was not how Adams regularly talked, by the way).

Adams reprised the character in THE NUDE BOMB, which was one of the first (but not the first) times the cast of a successful television show got to star in a theatrically released sequel. Motion picture remakes of old TV shows are common today, but this was an example of a reunion movie being made for theaters, and was perhaps inspired by STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE. Universal released it with a PG rating in 1980, and it was not a critical or box office hit, probably because GET SMART!'s supporting cast, including Feldon, Dick Gautier (Hymie the Robot), Bernie Kopell (Siegfried) and King Moody (Starker) were not included in the film. Feldon's absence was a particularly stiff blow to GET SMART fans, and the cheap production values (the Universal tour plays a large part in the action) and clunker-filled script didn't give Adams much to chew on. Adams also came back to play Smart in the very good made-for-TV sequel GET SMART AGAIN! (which wisely featured the old cast, including Feldon) and in the short-lived 1995 Fox TV series GET SMART, in which Adams and Feldon played the parents of a new bumbling CONTROL agent, played by, of all people, Andy Dick (NEWSRADIO).

GET SMART! is scheduled for a DVD release early next year. It's a shame Adams didn't live to see them come out, but let's hope he was available to participate in some bonus features for the DVD. He apparently has been in ill health for several years now, and, at age 82, it seems unlikely he could have been too active with the DVDs, but it certainly would be a wonderful bonus for those of us who appreciated his fine talent.

Posted by Marty at 11:25 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, September 26, 2005 11:36 PM CDT
Post Comment | View Comments (4) | Permalink

Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - 12:52 AM CDT

Name: Hal Horn

Sad to see him go. Alan Spencer was heavily influenced by GET SMART while creating SLEDGE HAMMER!; look closely when Dori and Sledge are outside the hotel in the pilot episode, and you will see Rooms 86 and 99 side by side!

I watched the show religiously; like most spoofs, it did suffer from repetition a bit, and the shows from 1965-1967 are, in general, much better than those from the final three seasons. Still even a subpar GET SMART! has a number of laughs.

Adams did have a three season run from 1985-88 in the syndicated, Canadian production CHECK IT OUT! which was, essentially, Maxwell Smart runs a supermarket. Adams even used the "Maxwell Smart voice" in this one. Nothing exceptional, and I haven't seen it since the original run (I doubt if a DVD release is pending anytime soon for this one) but it looked like a classic compared to SMALL WONDER, which preceded it on my local station. :-)

Adams had a much better deal than the late Mr. Denver regarding reruns; unlike the GILLIGAN cast, Adams' contract did call for a share of the syndication profits. I'm not sure how common this was in the mid-1960's but I would assume the majority of prime-time stars probably didn't have a share, at that time. Adams and James Arness are two exceptions I know of, but Arness' show had been on 10 years at the time.

R.I.P. Mr. Adams. And sorry about that.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - 2:02 AM CDT

Name: John Charles

Actually, THE NUDE BOMB grossed $15 million domestically (a tidy sum for 1980) and was the #1 movie in North America for, I think, three weeks running.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - 10:07 AM CDT

Name: Martin McKee

One Adams obit claims the actor was offered a straight salary or a share of the GET SMART! profits. He gambled wisely and took the participation, and that made him a very rich man.

I remember seeing CHECK IT OUT on the USA cable network. It wasn't too good...but, yeah, better than SMALL WONDER (or OUT OF THIS WORLD, the other alien-little-girl syndicated sitcom of the '80s). What I know now that I didn't then is that one of Adams' costars on CHECK IT OUT was Gordon Clapp, later a regular on NYPD BLUE as stammering Det. Medavoy.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - 10:11 AM CDT

Name: Martin McKee

According to, THE NUDE BOMB opened at #1, knocking off the previous chart-topper...KRAMER VS. KRAMER! How pissed was Dustin Hoffman that week?

I remembered incorrectly about THE NUDE BOMB. I used to pay attention to box office grosses around that time, because I really wanted movies I liked to do well, A) so I could argue that they were actually good, and B) so there would be a sequel. I didn't think THE NUDE BOMB was all that great, but I wanted the movie to do well so there would be another GET SMART movie. I wonder how much better the movie would have done with a different title.

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