Would you believe…Don Adams would have been 90 today?

Don Adams and Barbara Feldon grace the cover of TV Guide

Don Adams and Barbara Feldon grace the cover of TV Guide

April 13, besides being the birthday of the literary James Bond, is also the birthday of one of the better known actors from the 1960s spy craze: Don Adams, who played Maxwell Smart on Get Smart, the 1965-1970 spy comedy.

He was born April 13, 1923, according to his IMDB.COM BIOGRAPHY. As we’ve written before, Adams wasn’t the first choice to play Maxwell Smart.

The show was originally developed with Tom Poston as the lead character. But it was rejected by ABC, where executives were not amused by the Mel Brooks-Buck Henry script, which included a dwarf as a villain called Mr. Big. All this came out in interviews Poston and producer Leonard Stern made for the Archive of American Television decades later.

Shortly after the ABC rejection, a crestfallen Mel Brooks encountered an NBC executive who asked the writer what was wrong. Brooks told the story of his unsold pilot. As it turned out, NBC had Don Adams under contract and had to pay him until the network could find Adams a show. NBC, thus, was now very interested. Brooks and Henry worked in Adams’ “Would you believe?” routine and other changes. Michael Dunn, soon to be the villainous Dr. Loveless on The Wild, Wild West, brought Mr. Big to life.

Get Smart was one of the most successful of the ’60s spy shows, running five full seasons (four on NBC, one on CBS). It was revived as a 1980 theatrical movie starring Adams, The Nude Bomb (which didn’t include Barbara Feldon as Agent 99) and a later television movie Get Smart Again (this time with Feldon). There was also another short lived Get Smart television series on Fox.

The concept was brought back in 2008 with Steve Carell in another theatrical movie. This one insisted on providing a backstory for Max, where he had once been an obese back-office employee who dreamed of being an agent, etc., etc. In the original, there was no attempt to explain Max; he simply was.

The 2008 film did OK at the box office, with with $230 million in worldwide ticket sales. But Steve Carell didn’t make anybody forget Don Adams, who had died three years earlier. As it turned out, that would be impossible.

For Warner Bros., which released the ’08 movie, the box office wasn’t good enough to order up a sequel. Sorry about that, Chief.

RE-POST: Happy 60th anniversary, Mr. Bond

Casino Royale's original cover

Casino Royale’s original cover


Originally posted April 1. Reposted for the actual anniversary.

Sixty years ago, readers sampled the start of a novel by a new author. “The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning,” it began. The world hasn’t been quite the same since.

The novel, of course, was Casino Royale by Ian Fleming, published April 13, 1953. About 5,000 copies of its first edition were printed and it sold out quickly. Fleming combined the skills and experiences of two lives: his work as an intelligence officer during World War II and his experience as a journalist in spotting the right, and telling detail.

Casino Royale was a short novel. But it had an impact on readers. The story’s hero, British secret agent James Bond, first loses and then wins a high-stake game of cards with Le Chiffre, the story’s villain. Later, Bond is helpless, the victim of torture by Le Chiffre. But before Le Chiffre can finish the torture, he is dispatched by an operative of Smersh for being “a fool and a thief a traitor.” The Smersh operative has no orders to kill Bond, so he doesn’t. But he carves up the back of Bond’s right hand. “It would be well that should be known as a spy,” the killer says.

What seems to be novel’s climax happens less than three-quarters of the way through the story. But the new author had some other ideas to keep readers turning the pages until the real resolution. Bond is betrayed Vesper, a woman he had fallen deeply in love with. She commits suicide by taking a bottle of sleeping pills.

Bond, after all this, doesn’t collapse. He emerges more resolute, determined to “attack the arm that held the whip and the gun…He would go after the threat behind the spies, the threat that made them spy.”

Writer Jeremy Duns in an essay PUBLISHED IN 2005 argued “there’s a strong case to be made for it being the first great spy thriller of the Cold War.” Toward the end of his article, Duns writes, “Before Casino Royale, the hero always saved the damsel in distress moments before she was brutally ravaged and tortured by the villain; Fleming gave us a story in which nobody is saved, and it is the hero who is abused, drawn there by the damsel.”

For Fleming, Casino Royle was just the start. More novels and short stories followed. He lived to see two of his novels, Dr. No and From Russia With Love, turned into movies in 1962 and 1963 (following a CBS adaptation of Casino Royale in 1954). The author visited the set of the third film, Goldfinger, but died in August 1964, just before 007 became a phenomenon, spurring a spy craze.

Six decades later, the 23 movies of the Eon Production series (plus a couple of non-Eon films) are what most people think of when the name James Bond is mentioned. 2012’s Skyfall had worldwide ticket sales of $1.1 billion.

Oh, the Fleming books remain in print. Ian Fleming Publication hires a continuation novel author now and then (William Boyd, the latest continuation author, is scheduled to disclose his novel’s title on April 15). Periodically, there’s a new book about some aspect about the film series.

Fans can fuss and debate about Bond (and do all the time). But there is one certainty: without Casino Royale’s publication six decades ago, none of that would be possible.

UPDATE: Other 007 blogs and bloggers are noting the anniversary today, including THE JAMES BOND DOSSIER, BOND BLOG, MARK O’CONNELL, JAMES BOND BRASIL, FROM SWEDEN WITH LOVE and THE BOOK BOND You can also read an article in the Express newspaper by CLICKING HERE.

Finally, Spy Vibe, part of the COBRAS group of blogs, has a post including a graphic of various Casino Royale covers. You can check it out by CLICKING HERE.