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

By | November 13, 2017

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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

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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.