'Get Smart's Agent 86, The Original Man Who Knew Too Little

Entertainment | November 13, 2017

Barbara Feldon and Don Adams as agent 99 and Maxwell Smart in a scene from Get Smart the TV series. Source: Getty Images / Bettmann

On Get Smart, Maxwell Smart was Agent 86, a bumbling secret agent of CONTROL who was constantly trying to foil the efforts of the evil organization KAOS. Smart, played by Don Adams, was a witless James Bond, lucky to have a fully competent partner in Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon), whose professionalism and preparedness helped Smart foil the bad guys even though he usually didn't deserve to.

The television series Get Smart and Maxwell Smart were the clever creation of two very funny guys: Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. The pair was approached by Daniel Melnick, of Talent Associates, Ltd., to create a show with a satirical twist to capitalize on, "the two biggest things in the entertainment world today." Melnick was referring to James Bond and Inspector Clouseau (from the Pink Panther movies, played by Peter Sellers) who were both popular in the 1960’s. Brooks and Henry were up for the challenge and the show hit the air in 1965, running for 5 seasons. Brooks would of course go on to great fame as an actor/writer/director, beginning with The Producers (1967). And Henry would become a famous screenwriter, beginning with The Graduate (1967) and a frequent host of Saturday Night Live.

Get Smart, of course, had a double meaning -- in bad-guy executive-order fashion, it's an order to "get" Maxwell Smart (like Get Shorty or Get Carter). But it's also advice that someone needs to wise up -- someone like our ironically-named protagonist.

The Chief

Left: A promotional poster for Get Smart from 1966. Right: Feldon in the mid-'60s. Sources: Tumblr; eBay

In addition to Don Adams and Barbara Feldon in the lead roles, Get Smart also starred Edward Platt as the Chief, their boss at CONTROL. All three had to match wits with a rogues' gallery of KAOS agents, including Rembrandt von Bronzefinger, Roger Hammerstein, the Groovy Guru, Otto of Oberfurstengoggle and Dr. Lazlo von Havok.  Get Smart was unlike any other show on television at the time and was a big hit with viewers.

Agent Larabee

The Chief with Larabee. Source: IMDB

Maxwell Smart, also known as Agent 86, somehow worked his way to the top of the CONTROL organization as a secret agent. God only knows how since he was pretty much a bumbling idiot. The only other agent that may have been more incompetent than Smart was Agent Larabee (Robert Karvelas), the Chief’s dimwitted assistant.

Agent 99

Source: Reddit

Agent 86, invariably threw a wrench into every assignment he was involved in. Thankfully, Agent 99, his curvy counterpart, who never went by any other name, was much more competent and always came through to clean up his messes. Agent 99 had a romantic soft spot for Agent 86 and never let on that she knew he was incompetent. He had a soft spot for her as well, so the feeling was mutual. She gracefully bailed him out of every precarious situation he found himself in. The only other reason that Agent 86 was able to keep his job was because Agent Larabee was next in line of seniority. The Chief decided that Maxwell Smart was the lesser of two evils.

Gadgets From CONTROL Lab

Source: IMDB

To make the spy business easier, the CONTROL Lab was always developing gadgets to make missions more successful. To aid in his missions, Agent 86 used everything from a shoe phone and a finger gun to an umbrella camera and cuff link grenades. Agent 99 also employed her make-up compact phone or her poisonous lipstick from time to time, but only when necessary. You name it, the CONTROL Lab had invented it.

The Cone Of Silence

Source: IMDB

One of the more famous gadgets was the Cone of Silence. Whenever something top secret needed to be discussed in the Chief’s office, Max would remind him that they should use it based on CONTROL’s security protocol. The Cone of Silence was supposed to maintain secrecy, but it never failed to fail. An alternative to the cone of silence was the coughing code. At the end of the conversation using the coughing code, Max would tell the Chief to get his cold checked out.

Hymie The Robot Agent

Source: Reddit

To aid Agent 86 in his secret missions, from time to time, other CONTROL agents would pop up in the craziest places like trashcans and flower pots. In some episodes, the humanoid robot, Hymie (Dick Gautier) was employed to assist in the missions. No matter who or what attempted to aid Agent 86, he always managed to screw it all up.

KAOS Agents

Source: Tumblr

KAOS had several recurring villains. One, more memorable, recurring bad guy that comes to mind is Siegfried (Bernie Kopell). He and Agent 86 have a love/hate relationship. They are two of a kind; often respecting each other’s efforts, although not agreeing on the outcome.

Fang The Secret Agent Dog

Agent 86 was such a lovable character, it didn’t matter that he was incompetent. Who wouldn’t love a guy who had a heart for justice, his country, his woman and his dog, Fang?

Maxwell Smart, Agent 86, will always be remembered for his famous catchphrases, delivered in Don Adams' nasal, know-it-all voice. There are things he would say that we knew were coming; we just didn’t know when. They aren't necessarily funny on their own, but their inevitability made them hilarious. Below are some catchphrases you may remember.

"Missed it by that much!"

"Sorry about that, Chief"

"Would you believe….?"

"The old _____ trick!"

"And, loving it!"

"I asked you not to tell me that!"

"I hope I wasn’t out of line with that crack about _____"

"That’s the second biggest _____ I’ve ever seen!"

Tags: Barbara Feldon | Don Adams | Get Smart | TV In The 1960s

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Rebeka Knott


Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.