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.

45th anniversary of TV spy mania part IV: Would you believe…Tom Poston was the first choice to play Maxwell Smart?

We conclude our look at the 45th anniversary of TV spy mania with Get Smart, which premiered in September 1965. Now, Don Adams as Maxwell Smart. A television classic. How could anything go wrong with that? You’re probably thinking that there could not have been any doubt about that casting.

Well, if you’re thinking that, you’re wrong. Not only was Don Adams not the first choice to play the lead in a parody of James Bond, NBC wasn’t the first network approached. ABC was.

The script was penned by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. Producer Leonard Stern and actor Tom Poston take it from there:

Once Don Adams was on board, he incorporated his own comedic persona. This clip isn’t from Get Smart, but The Bill Dana Show, where Adams appeared as a hotel detective, Byron Glick. The clip contains a familiar gag that’d be a regular part of Get Smart:

In the pilot, Maxwell Smart and agent 99 (Barbara Feldon) encounter Mr. Big of KAOS, played by an actor who’d shortly make a big impression on CBS’s The Wild, Wild West: