Buck Henry, Get Smart co-creator, dies

Buck Henry in Heaven Can Wait

Buck Henry, a writer and actor who co-created Get Smart, has died at 89, according to an obituary posted by Deadline: Hollywood.

Henry died of a heart attack in Los Angeles, Deadline said.

Henry collaborated with Mel Brooks on the pilot script for Get Smart, a parody of spy shows and movies.

The series originally was developed for ABC. The network rejected the show because the script had bumbling CONTROL agent Maxwell Smart confronting KAOS villain Mr. Big, who was a dwarf.

NBC, upon hearing about the script, commissioned a pilot. Henry and Brooks re-tooled their script for Don Adams, incorporating some of Adams’ bits from his comedy act. Michael Dunn was cast as Mr. Big opposite Adams’ Maxwell Smart.

The series sold. It ran for four seasons on NBC and a fifth on CBS.

By the time Get Smart went off the air in 1970, the spy craze that spawned it had run its course.

Henry was nominated twice for Emmys for Get Smart. The pilot script received one nomination. Henry and Leonard Stern won an Emmy for a two-part episode, Ship of Spies.

“For continual satiric inspiration, I want to thank all those zanies in the CIA and FBI,” Henry said in accepting the award. “Precisely what I was going to say,” Stern added.

Henry stayed with Get Smart for its first season as story editor. He later moved onto other projects, including co-scripting and appearing in 1967’s The Graduate. That got Henry an Oscar nomination.

He shared another Oscar nomination with Warren Beatty for directing 1978’s Heaven Can Wait. Henry also had a supporting role in the film.

The writer also was a frequent host in the early years of NBC’s Saturday Night Live.

Below is a YouTube video of the 1967 Emmy Awards show where Henry and Stern got their award for Get Smart. The video quality isn’t very good, unfortunately.

The awards program represented a high point for spy TV shows. In addition to Henry and Stern,  Barbara Bain won the first of her three Emmys for Mission: Impossible, beating out Diana Rigg of The Avengers. Bruce Geller also won an Emmy for his pilot script for Mission: Impossible.

2 Responses

  1. Nice retrospective!
    Henry was a writer’s writer, meaning he knew comedy instinctively, not by forcing it. Of course actors like Don Adams (another natural), Ed Platt (perfect foil) and throw in a beauty like Feldon, and what could go wrong. Trouble was, in being one of the shows that made sitcoms look too easy, so critics brushed them off. Today they keep us laughing, offer relaxation and simplicity. Thank you Buck Henry for your lifetime of achievement!

  2. When it was developed for ABC, Tom Poston, who was signed to ABC, was going to be Maxwell Smart.
    When the show was picked up by NBC, Don Adams was cast, and now you cannot imagine anybody else in that role.

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