Bill Dana dies; he had connections to Get Smart

Three Szathmary brothers: Al, Bill (Dana) and Irving in a photo that ran on the Film Music Society website.

Bill Dana, best known as the character Jose Jimenez, has died at 92, according to an obituary published by The Washington Post.

Dana, born William Szathmary, had connections to Get Smart.

The Bill Dana Show, a 1963-65 sitcom with Dana as Jose Jimenez, included Don Adams as a hotel detective, Bryon Glick.

The character of Glick, essentially, was a warm up for Adams playing Maxwell Smart in Get Smart.

The 1965-70 spy spoof originally was developed for ABC with Tom Poston in mind as Maxwell Smart. ABC took a pass. But NBC, which had Adams under contract, took a flier. The Smart character was tweaked to incorporate Adams comedy bits such as “Would you believe…?”

What’s more Dan’s brother, Irvin Szathmary (1907-83) composed the music for the series, including its distinctive theme.

In 1980, a theatrical movie version of Get Smart, The Nude Bomb, was produced. Bill Dana was one of the writers.

Bill Dana also was a guest star in a third-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. He was one of the relatively rare male innocents.

Here’s a clip from The Bill Dana Show in which Adams’ warmup to Maxwell Smart is nearly complete.

In an interview for the Archive of American Television, Dana described the origin of Jose Jimenez.

UPDATE (7 p.m.): Reader Stuart Basinger reminds the blog that Bill Dana appeared as Agent Quigley in a fifth-season Get Smart episode titled Ice Station Siegfried.

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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.

Get Smart’s 45th, 30th and 21st anniversaries

Would you believe Get Smart has three important anniversaries this year? Would you believe two significant anniversaries and a footnote? How about some minor trivia?

First, this fall is the 45th anniversary of the debut of the spy spoof created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry and starring Don Adams as the bumbling, but ever triumphant CONTROL agent Maxwell Smart.

Get Smart is often described as a James Bond parody but it also owes much to The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which featured the intrepid U.N.C.L.E. versus the mysterious Thrush. The first several episodes of Man showed agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin entering a secret headquarters and going through a series of doors. Get Smart’s title sequence seized upon that and exaggerated it.

The Brooks-Henry pilot scripted pilot established a number of bits that would be repeated throughout the series. One of the best of the best concerned the Cone of Silence:

Get Smart would run five successful seasons (four on NBC, one on CBS) and outlast other 1960s spy favorites including U.N.C.L.E. But you can’t keep a good agent down. So, in 1980, 15 years after his debut, Max made his theatrical movie debut in The Nude Bomb. Universal, which released the film, hired Arne Sultan and Leonard B. Stern, writer-producers on the original series, to help do the script. Don Adams reprised his most famous role. But the studio jettisoned Barbara Feldon as Agent 99 and other characters from the series. Don Black, a frequent 007 songwriter, collaborated with Lalo Schifrin on a title song. The results were mixed. Here are the main titles:

Despite the mixed reaction, nine years later, much of the (surviving) original cast was reunited in a 1989 television movie. This time, the producers sought to emphasize the original source material as much as possible. That’s reflected in the main titles:

A mere two years ago, Maxwell Smart returned to the big screen, courtesy of Steve Carrell. One of the tips of the hat the movie made was to the Brooks-Henry cone of silence: