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Barbara Feldon: 'Get Smart's Agent 99, Then And Now

Entertainment | August 12, 2019

Left: Barbara Feldon circa 1965. Right: Feldon with Don Adams on 'Get Smart.' Sources: Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Imagesl IMDB

Audiences fell in love with Barbara Feldon in her starring role on Get Smart as Agent 99, the smart and brassy young agent who was always one step ahead of her partner Maxwell Smart. Feldon could have dined out on the role of Agent 99 forever, but throughout her career she found ways to reinvent herself while living a normal life.

Now, Feldon lives in New York City and works as a writer. She has a book about living alone under her belt and a series of articles. It’s good to see Agent 99 still out there doing good work. 

Before She Was Agent 99, Barbara Feldon Won The '$64,000 Question'

Left: Feldon with Edward Platt in 'Get Smart.' Right: Feldon in a publicity photo for 'Get Smart.; Source: IMDB

Growing up in Pittsburgh, Barbara Feldon had designs on becoming an actress, but she also kept her head in a book. She was a studious young woman who graduated from Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in 1955. Two years later she won The $64,000 Question by answering a question about William Shakespeare.

Feldon went on to work as a model, and her most notable ad was for “Top Brass,” a hair product for men. That position went onto earn her guest roles in a handful of ‘60s TV shows like Twelve O'Clock High, Flipper, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. It’s likely that her time on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. gave her the taste for working as a spy. 

She Starred As Agent 99 In 'Get Smart'

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Pretty much everyone who grew up glued to the TV remembers Barbara Feldon as the saucy Agent 99 from Get Smart. Even though she was a babe, Feldon wasn’t just eye candy, she was the brains in her partnership with Maxwell Smart. Feldon said that she thought it was important to play the role because she was an inspiration to young women, "A lot of women said 99 was a role model for them, because she was smart and always got the right answer." Aside from being an inspiration Feldon also loved wearing a disguise:

I always loved when we got to dress up and play, like we were in kindergarten. I loved the one where Don [Adams] and I are disguised as Charlie Chaplin, both of us, with mustaches and everything. It’s in the episode Max proposes to Agent 99 because they think they’re going to be killed, so he’s pressed to the wall. I loved doing that imitation wearing the costume and being proposed to in a mustache. 

She Wrote A Book About Living On Her Own In The 2000s

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Feldon’s life didn’t come to a full stop when Get Smart went off the air. She continued working in film and television and even co-hosted the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena with Bob Eubanks. However, the crowning achievement of her later career was writing the book Living Alone And Loving It in 2003. The book is a guide to going solo late in life, and a reminder that it’s okay to be alone. Feldon told Forbes:

I had been in relationships my whole life. I’d been married, then had lived with someone for several years. After those, I just assumed I would find another relationship. But it didn’t happen. As time went on with some good guidance, I learned how to live alone really happily. I’ve met a number of people - men and women - who feel living by themselves is a second-rate life. I thought that was sad, and since I had this technique of living alone, I decided to write a book. And I’m really glad I did. 

She Turned Down A Cameo In The 'Get Smart' Movie

Barbara Feldon with Dick van Dyke in 'Fitzwilly.' Source: IMDB

There have been a few reboots, sequels, and reimagining of Get Smart throughout the years. It makes sense, the original show still holds up, and the concept of goofy super spies always seems to hit audience in the funny bone. After appearing in a few different versions of the series Feldon hung up her spy outfit. When a film adaptation of the show was in production - featuring Steve Carrell and Anne Hathaway - Feldon turned down an offer to make an appearance. At the time she just didn’t feel like it captured the essence of Get Smart:

Times have changed too much. The psychology of the writers and the audience has changed radically. Get Smart belongs in the 1960s, or it’s not going to be Get Smart.

She Loves Living On Her Own

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This shouldn’t come as a shock coming from the woman who wrote a book about how much she loves living on her own, but she recently said that she’s relishing the time she has just to be herself in New York City. Feldon isn’t looking to date, even though she initially thought that she needed to “find another guy” to fill out her life. She told New Idea

I’m living alone and loving it. When I was newly single my instinct was to find another guy. But times had changed… I found that relationships weren’t as stable as they once were and that people were less interested in getting committed… I found myself living alone first for a week, then a month, and then years. I used to think that you needed to have a partner in order to be happy, but that’s just not true.

Tags: Barbara Feldon | Get Smart | Ladies | Then And Now | What Did She Do?...

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.