Get Smart's Don Adams was a real-life Maxwell Smart

Image credit: The Everett Collection

Don Adams isn't your traditional actor by any means, nor does he have your typical Hollywood star story. You may know Adams as Maxwell Smart (Agent 86) from the 1965 series Get Smart, but before the series he was lying about his age and performing stand-up comedy in night clubs.

Get Smart was one of three hit TV shows that conquered television ratings when it premiered on NBC in 1965. Both Green Acres and Hogan's Heroes joined Get Smart at the top. 

Get Smart would perfectly parody the secret agent genre that had become widely popular in the first half of the 1960s with the release of the James Bond films and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1964).

In a 1965 interview with Omaha World-Herald, Adams admitted that he was afraid of losing himself to his Agent 86 character. Both Adams and Agent 86 shared a few things in common. For example, Adams said he and his character were both massive klutzes.

"I'm beginning to become Maxwell Smart, and you might as well know it," Adams said. "My wife, Dorothy, says I keep bringing him home with me. And I don't think that's a good thing."

According to Adams, he and his character also shared a love for comedy and drama. Most television actors tend to go one way or another; Typically following the comedy route or veering off to have a more serious role. Adams said Get Smart is the best of both worlds: 80% comedy, and 20% seriousness.

In real life, Adams' voice wasn't as high-pitched as Agent 86, but most of what came from Adams' mouth ended up in Maxwell Smart's during the day of production. 

"Smart is a very dedicated spy, but totally inept," Adams said. "He's very serious at all times and so are the villains. And that's what makes it funny."

Before becoming an actor Adams was a stand-up comedian. Although, according to a 1966 interview with The News Tribune, Adams said he dealt with a pretty severe case of stage fright during his stand-up comedy days.

"The television appearances were fine, I liked those all right, but I hated the night clubs," Adams said. "I hated the noise and the smoke and the people who don't listen to you. They don't even look at you."

And before becoming a comedian, he lived a much different life. At 16, Adams enlisted to the Marine Corps when he lied about his age. He then spent four years in the service, two of them on active duty in the South Pacific.

In the interview with The News Tribune, Adams said his days of working as an actor were filled with their own unique set of problems. Usually, Adams worked 14 to 16 hour work days, three days a week and roughly 10 extra hours on other days.

"It's the hardest work I've ever done in my life and if I didn't like this series so much, it would be agony," Adams said. "I think maybe I could take about four more years of it, nothing more. I'm lucky, I've got only talented people working for me behind-the-scenes, watching the scripts and the production. That's what really counts. Nobody on television can do it alone."