In 1965 the super spy genre was at its height, thanks to the James Bond movies based on the books of Ian Fleming. On September 18, 1965 the spy spoof, “Get Smart”, premiered. “Get Smart”, like many shows that premiered in 1965, was lambasted by the critics but became an iconic television series. The show ran for 5 years and won 7 Primetime Emmy Awards. This included Don Adams, who won the Emmy for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series three years running.[i] The show’s creators were Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. Unknown at the time the show would be a prelude to some of the classic comedy movies of the 1970s. This article contains spoilers for some of the episodes.
[i] 1967 – 1969, United States Movie Database, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058805/awards, last accessed 5/19/19.
The first episode, “Mr. Big”, was in black and white. The subsequent episodes were in color. This episode introduces a secret government agency called “Control”. Control’s best agent is Maxwell Smart (Don Adams), Secret Agent Number 86, in Smart’s opinion. Maxwell Smart has a distinctive, unique voice[i]. Don Adams used this voice while performing. Control’s station Chief (Edward Platt) has to suffer Smart’s silliness and ineptitude. Mr. Big (Michael Dunn) was the nemesis for the first episode. Mr. Big developed a new weapon and planned to use it to destroy the “Statue of Liberty”. Smart was assigned a partner, Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon). When they met Agent 99 was dressed as a chauffeur. Smart first mistook her for a man. Another Control agent introduced in this episode was Fang (Red), Agent K-13, a dog. As expected with a secret government agency there were clever devices. One of these was the Cone of Silence. This was a clever device that didn’t work. The signature device for Maxwell Smart was his “shoe phone”. This wasn’t a direct line to headquarters. It was a dial up telephone. Control’s nemesis organization was KAOS, pronounced “chaos”.
As the series expanded the so did the list of recurring characters. There was Larabee (Robert Karvelas), the Chief’s bumbling assistant. Agent 13 (David Ketchum) was hidden in all manner of places such as closets and the ship’s side of a porthole. Agent 13 would always whine about his working conditions. Hymie (Dick Gautier), the robot, was made by a KAOS scientist but went over to the side of “goodness and niceness.” In the 2008 movie HYMIE was an acronym. In the series Hymie was named after the father of the KAOS scientist (Jim Boles) who created him. Admiral Hargrade (William Schallert), a respected geriatric former head of Control who doesn’t have all his facilities. Dr. Steele (Ellen Weston) is a Control scientist who’s cover job is an exotic dancer. Charlie Watkins (Angelique Pettyjohn) a male control agent who disguises himself as a woman. The character only appeared in two episodes. In the episode “Pussycats Galore” Max offered to go out on a date. Charlie, who was wrapped in a blanked mistook the offer for a joke. Max curtly told him the offer was to 99. Charlie took off his blanket, showing his Playboy Bunny type outfit and voluptuous figure. Max told him he could “tag along”. Hawaiian detective Harry Hoo (Joey Forman), a Charlie Chan type character. While most of the nemesis characters met their demise at the end of the episode the notable exception is Siegfried (Bernie Kopell). Siegfried was a good example of a “Commie Nazi”.[ii] The character wears a Wehrmacht type uniform in many of the 14 episodes that has the character.[iii]
[i] In Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer Paul Kligman impersonated Don Adams’ stage voice for the voice of Comet the Coach, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058536/trivia, last accessed 5/22/19.
[ii] An episode of “The Simpsons” coined the phrase “Commie Nazi” in a movie within a TV show scene.
[iii] In an episode of the short lived 1995 Get Smart series Siegfried made an appearance. His daughter mentioned her father told her he was a doctor on a cruise ship. Bernie Kopell played Doctor Adam Bricker in the TV series “The Love Boat”.
Much of the series humor involves puns and other wordplay. Some of the wordplay and humor might not make it to prime-time television today. In the episode “Diplomat’s Daughter” the villain is The Claw, an Asian KAOS agent.[i] In the confrontation with Agent 86 The Claw identifies himself at “The Craw”. When 86 says, “The Craw” The Claw corrects him “No, not The Craw, The Craw!”[ii] In “The Last One in Is a Rotten Spy” Smart has to retrieve something from a member of the Russian women’s swim team. He can’t remember the name and the names are all long and sound similar. In the epilogue Smart feels he would have no confusion with the names of the American women’s swim team. The members are; Bobby Jean Harper, Betty June Parker, Bonnie Joan Booker, and Bunny Jane Baker.
In the episode “Washington 4, Indians 3” Agent 86 is undercover while 99 is with Agent 43. Agent 86 reassures 99 that 43 is a good man. Agent 99 replies, “You’re worth two 43’s, 86.”
In the episode “Anatomy of a Lover” the Chief points out Hymie is a “cybernaut”. Smart retorts, “What’s his religion got to do with it?” Later in the episode Max tells the Chief’s niece (Laurel Goodwin) Hymie is a “cybernaut” she chides him, “Uncle Max, I’m ashamed of you. A person’s religion doesn’t make any difference.”
In the episode “Dr. Yes” the title character (Donald Davis) has 4 henchmen, one is a woman (Margaret Mason), from 4 different countries when he gives a general order they answer in turn; “Jawol! Wee! Da! See!”.
In “The Girls from KAOS” an Asian KAOS agent (Virginia Ann Lee) shoots two Eastern European KAOS agents. She explained to the dying Eastern European agents “…your brand of KAOS is weak and confused. Only in our country is there pure KAOS.”
In the Episode “Die, Spy” an informer named Tamara (Poupée Bocar), whose boyfriend is Taday (Paul Carmen), comes to Max. Tamara wants Max to come to a club named Tonight. The exchange is reminiscent of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” routine. Later in the episode Tamara is shot dead. Max says, “Yes 99, there’s no tomorrow.”
[i] The Claw has a prosthetic right hand, an obvious spoof of the James Bond villain Dr. No.
[ii] This points out many in the Far East have difficulty making the “L” sound when speaking English and instead make the “R” sound. The “L” sound is made by touching the roof of the mouth with the tongue.
Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.
— Mel Brooks
Many of Maxwell Smart’s lines were funny and memorable. Many of them became series trademarks. In some cases, another character would use some, or all, of an Agent 86 line.
In the episode “Our Man in Toyland” Agents 86 & 99 have a shootout against KAOS agents in a toy store. Max uses one of the toys to defeat the KAOS agents. Agent 99 praises Max. In a rare moment of modesty Max says; “No 99, the real credit belongs to these toys. After all, we had at our disposal every fiendish and destructive plaything ever devised for the pleasure of little children. Those poor devils, all they had were real guns and bullets.”
In the episode “Island of the Darned” after Max killed the villain with an exploding cigarette. Agent 99 wondered if they were any better than KAOS. Max told her, “What are you talking about 99? We have to shoot and kill and destroy. We represent everything that’s wholesome and good in the world.”
There is the word “second”, used to say there was something greater. In the episode “Washington 4, Indians 3” a Native American tribe fired a missile, which was a large arrow, at Washington, DC. When Smart sees the giant arrow he remarks, “That’s the second biggest arrow I’ve ever seen.”
In the episode “Is This Trip Necessary?” the mad scientist, Dr. Jarvis Pym (Vincent Price), show a pill he identifies as Sodium Calcium Chloride and asks if Smart knows what that is.
Smart: “An Artificial sweetener?”
Dr. Pym: “No, it’s the second most deadly poison in the world.”
Smart: “What’s the first?”
Dr. Pym: “Artificial sweetener.”[i]
There is “the old … trick.” An example is in the episode “Dr. Yes” when Smart says. “The old tiny tape recorder in the trailer trick.” He would often add “that’s the second time I fell for it this month.”
There is “and loving it.” This is where Smart is warned about how he will be in constant mortal danger on a mission and he would respond, “and loving it.”
Probably the best remembered lines were the “Would you believe” routine. Smart would say something incredible, someone would call him on it, he would downgrade the claim to something credible, when the doubtful person still doesn’t believe he would then downgrade to something pathetic. An example of the dialogue is in the episode “Kisses from KAOS” with the KAOS agent Savage (Michael Dante):
Smart: “Because at this very minute, 25 Control agents are converging on this building. Would you believe it? 25 Control agents.”
Savage: “I find that hard to believe.”
Smart: “Would you believe 2 squad cars and a motorcycle cop?”
Savage: “I don’t think so.”
Smart: “How about a vicious street cleaner and a toothless police dog?”
There was an abbreviated version of this joke in the episode “Hoo Done It”. Smart was guarding a woman (Maureen Arthur) and he tells her of the hundreds of people he guarded in such a way he only lost three. The woman opens her compact and is sprayed with a lethal puff of poison gas. She dies and Smart says, “Would you believe four?”[ii]
Another famous phrase was first used in the episode “The Day Smart Turned Chicken” when KAOS agent Blake (Phillip Pine) jumps from a window after announcing a truck filled with matrasses is waiting for him. After Blake jumps Smart looks out the window. After a few moments Smarts holds his thumb and index finger about an inch apart and says, “Missed it by that much.”[iii]
A common phrase of the era was when someone feared a bad thing happened, they would say “don’t tell me…”. Maxwell Smart extended another line to it. An example is in “The Groovy Guru” when he suspects the ticking in his purse is a bomb. He says to 99, “Don’t tell me there’s a bomb in my purse.” She tells him there is a bomb in his purse. He says, “I asked you not to tell me that.” Later in the episode Max says to 99, “Don’t tell me you pulled the plug.” She tells Max she pulled the plug. While Max is getting ready for his retort 99 says, “You asked me not to tell you that, didn’t you?”
Siegfried, the villain, got a famous line in the episode “A Spy for A Spy”. In this episode Siegfried captures the Chief and calls control. A henchman knocks the Chief out when the Chief says more over the phone than Siegfried wanted. Siegfried informed Smart they pistol whipped the Chief. Smart asks, “Couldn’t you have just shushed him?” Siegfried firmly answers, “We don’t shush here.” In later episodes Siegfried’s line expanded to, “This is KAOS! We don’t (whatever he didn’t like) here.”
[i] This episode aired soon after the artificial sweetener, cyclamates, caused cancer in laboratory mice and was banned in the United States.
[ii] The 4 vs 3 is also a wordplay used in “Washington 4, Indians 3”. When the Chief was yelling at Smart the chief would say “3” and Smart would correct him by saying “4”.
[iii] Whatsitgalore.com has a scorecard of Get Smart catchphrases, http://www.whatsitsgalore.com/etc/catchphrase.html, last accessed 6/4/19.
Some pisodes with common TV plots
Hoo Done It
Ten Little Indians
The Spirit is Willing
Closely Watched Planes
Action takes place on an airline
Washington 4, Indians 3
Wild West setting
Island of the Darned
Hunter hunting people
Where-what-how-who Am I?
Strike While the Agent is Hot
My Nephew the Spy
Fight the NAZIs
Age Before Duty
Teporarily Out of Control
In the military
With Love and Twitches
The Groovy Guru
The Whole Tooth and...
Character in prison
The Day They Raided the Knights
Life takes a bad turn
The Greatest Spy on Earth
The Girls from KAOS
Back to school
And Baby Makes Four: Parts 1 & 2
Too Many Chiefs
The Series Arc
As with many 1960’s television series there was a personal relationship between Agents 86 and 99 from the beginning. The relationship wasn’t one that precluded them seeing other people. Though there was no cause for jealousy they were jealous when someone else showed an interest in them. This revealed itself in Episode 6, “Washington 4, Indians 3”. When instructions to 86 on where to kiss White Cloud (Adele Palacios), 99 said by tradition he should kiss her on the elbow. Later when 99 rescued 86 from his captives she ordered them to move away from 86. She pointedly said White Cloud should move furthest away.
In the episode “99 Loses Control” 99 accepts a marriage proposal from Victor Royal (Jacques Bergerac). Max is jealous when 99 tells him the news in the episode’s opening scene. The scene also showed how Max is not a “good catch”. Fortunately for Max, Victor was a KAOS agent.
Season 4 opened with the fans knowing Max was going to propose to 99. In this episode, “The Impossible Mission”, Max and 99 were facing what seemed certain death. Max’s proposal inspired 99 and she figured a way out of their dire situation. Max and 99 married in the season’s episode 9, “With Love and Twitches”.
After 4 seasons NBC canceled the series. CBS picked up the series and in the opening scene of the first episode “Pheasant Under Glass” 99 tells Max she is pregnant. Agent 99 gives birth to twins in a two-part episode “And Baby Makes Four”. The twins are one boy and one girl. The series lasted one season with CBS. The last episode, “I Am Curiously Yellow”[i], aired on May 15, 1970.
While a spoof of the secret agent genre as the series wore on episodes frequently spoofed other movie and TV genres. This was a foretaste of the “genre killing” Mel Brooks movies in the coming decades.[ii] “The Amazing Harry Hoo” spoofed the Charlie Chan movies and “Hoo Done It” spoofed Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians”. “Island of the Darned” spoofed “The Most Dangerous Game”. “Maxwell Smart, Private Eye” spoofed the Private Eye genre. “Classification: Dead” spoofed “D.O.A.” and parodied the opening for the television series “Run for Your Life”. “The King Lives?” spoofed “The Prisoner of Zenda”. “Don’t Look Back” spoofed the television series “The Fugitive”. “The Treasure of C. Errol Madre” spoofs “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”. The episode has Goldmouth (Don Diamond) instead of Gold Hat. These are just a few of the many parodies in the “Get Smart” series.
[i] The title was a spoof on the X-rated movie “I Am Curious (Yellow)”. Most people knew of the movie because former first lady Jackie Kennedy-Onassis judo flipped New York Daily News photographer Mel Finkelstein outside a movie theater. The movie she watched that evening was “I Am Curious (Yellow)”.
[ii] When Mel Brooks was promoting the movie “Spaceballs” he said science fiction was the only genre he hadn’t killed yet.
Get Smart Lessons
The overarching lesson of Get Smart is just because one side wins that doesn’t necessarily mean they are competent. It could mean they are less incompetent than their opponents. Despite their inept agents Control always manages to foil KAOS.
The lesson with Secret Agent 86 is while he says, and does, many stupid things he has moments of brilliance. Sometimes the dumb things he says turns out to be true. In “The Day Smart Turned Chicken” KAOS wanted to discredit Agent 86. KAOS agents maneuvered Agent 86 to show up in a chicken costume at a diplomatic affair with a ridiculous story that had no evidence. The purpose was to make him appear delusional. At a court hearing that recounted the events the judge made a statement that triggered a thought and 86 proved his claims were true. Don’t underestimate someone just because they sound or act stupid. It’s possible for someone to be a buffoon in many areas and brilliant in other areas.
Episode “The Amazing Harry Hoo” gives some good lessons. Agent 86 and Detective Harry Hoo are investigating a murder scene. In the room there is an ashtray with two cigarettes. Agent 86 concludes the victim knew his killer. Hoo cautioned him there could have been three people in the room but only two were smokers. Agent 86 and Hoo continued this line of reasoning until 86 pointed out there could have been 50 people in the room and only two being smokers. He then quipped, “Boy it must have been pretty crowded in here.” Moments later two investigators left the room, taking their cigarettes they had smoldering in the ashtray with them.
Occam’s Razor states, “entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily”. It is often oversimplified as, “the simplest explanation is usually the correct one”. This scene illustrates how someone not adhering to the Occam’s Razor principal can come to a ridiculous conclusion. The scene also illustrates some Occam’s Razor fallacies. Just because the two entities are all that is necessary to explain an event that doesn’t mean more entities weren’t involved. Absence of proof is not proof of absence. The scene also points out some apparent proof may be irrelevant to the event being researched.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Robert Sacchi
Robert Sacchi (author) on August 27, 2019:
Thank you for reading and commenting. We had something in common those days.
Dale Anderson from The High Seas on August 27, 2019:
I fear to watch this show now because I am worried I will think to myself "Boy kiddo, you must have been easy to entertain when you were a kid." But I remember racing to the television to sit there, eyes glued, and thoroughly swept up in Get Smart. I am truly grateful for those memories.
Robert Sacchi (author) on July 27, 2019:
Thank you for reading and commenting. I was on of my favorites when it came out. I'm glad it brought back fun memories for you.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 27, 2019:
I got a kick out of viewing the Get Smart television series. Thanks for writing about this and bringing back some fun memories.
Robert Sacchi (author) on July 20, 2019:
Laughing out loud. Thank you.
Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on July 20, 2019:
I think it was more that I was following what my Dad used to think, he didn't like those stories, but then again, he didn't really like James Bond either (that I really did draw the line at!)
Robert Sacchi (author) on July 20, 2019:
Interesting. I wonder if the restrictions on '60s television made "Get Smart" not over the top enough for you?
Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on July 20, 2019:
Some of them were really good. I especially loved Blazing Saddles and his 'Beau Gueste'
Robert Sacchi (author) on July 19, 2019:
Thank you for reading and commenting. The Man From U.N.C.L.E., I Spy, & The Avengers were great tongue in cheek spy shows. How do you feel about the Mel Brooks movies?
Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on July 19, 2019:
I have to admit, I'm one who never understood this series, the humour was so different that I just didn't and still don't find it funny.
For me, the better series that was also a bit of a spoof of the Bond movies was 'The man from U.N.C.L.E" but thats just me.
Robert Sacchi (author) on June 30, 2019:
Thank you for reading and commenting. The TV show used all kinds of fast paced humor. The 2008 movie was a good take on it. It seemed one of the few times a reboot worked.
Marlene Bertrand from USA on June 30, 2019:
Get Smart is one of the funnest TV shows I have ever seen. For me, the Get Smart movie is just as fun. Of course, the movie didn't have all of my favorite "smart" lines, but it had enough that made me chuckle heartily. Your article brought back a lot of fun memories.
Asad Dillz Khan from United Kingdom on June 21, 2019:
My pleasure Robert!
Robert Sacchi (author) on June 20, 2019:
Thank you for reading and commenting. I'm glad you enjoyed this article. It was a fun one for me to write.
Asad Dillz Khan from United Kingdom on June 20, 2019:
A great, entertaining and informative article Robert! Your articles are very informative and good to read. You always performed Excellent Job. But this time you did Fantabulous job!
Robert Sacchi (author) on June 19, 2019:
I don't like to make that kind of comparison because there were some really bad shows in the older days as well. The older shows had the advantage of fewer channels so the networks were choosy as to what the put on the air. The newer shows have the advantage of being able to build on what was learned from the older shows. The transition to the movies for many classic TV shows didn't work well. The latest Get Smart movie did a good job. The Avengers had the problem of being out of place. The Avengers TV series was a series of its time, as was Get Smart. With the James Bond genre Sean Connery had the advantage of being in a completely new genre. It was a great mixture of action/intrigue/adventure.
Liz Westwood from UK on June 19, 2019:
Unfortunately The Avengers film did not have much success, but the original series was good. Sean Connery is generally viewed as a better James Bond than Roger Moore who took the role less seriously. Do you think that the writing quality of some older series like Get Smart and the others I have mentioned was better than some of the more modern versions?
Robert Sacchi (author) on June 18, 2019:
Thank you both for reading and commenting.
FlourishAnyway - The word play is a part of the Mel Brooks machine gun type humor. Often times in Get Smart and the Mel Brooks movies some gags can be missed the first time around because the humor goes by so quickly. With Get Smart some of the humor may be missed today, such as the references to President Johnson, because they were indicative of the 60s.
Liz Westwood - I've seen those other series you've mentioned. Roger Moore played it more tongue-in-cheek than Sean Connery. The Get Smart series was contemporary to the Sean Connery Bond movies.
Liz Westwood from UK on June 18, 2019:
'The Avengers' was a classic series. I caught on to the remake 'The New Avengers' in my youth. Other classics around the time were 'The Saint' and 'The Persuaders'. The link with 007 being the actor, Roger Moore, who played a rather tongue-in-cheek James Bond in my youth.
FlourishAnyway from USA on June 17, 2019:
I like how you summed it up about competence. I used to occasionally watch this. It stuns me how many channels there are today compared to when I was a kid. The limited options meant that we had all seen at least some of almost any show. I think it was because I was such a young kid watching reruns, but I always wondered with the word play how much I was missing.
Robert Sacchi (author) on June 17, 2019:
Thank you both for reading and commenting.
Emam Abdullah Kamel - I'm glad you enjoyed the article.
Liz Westwood - Besides spoofing the James Bond movies, Dr. No & Goldfinger they spoofed The Avengers series in the episode "Run, Robot, Run". They also had a couple of episodes set in London. They weren't done on vacation.
Eman Abdallah Kamel from Egypt on June 17, 2019:
Very interesting and well-written article. I enjoyed reading it.
Liz Westwood from UK on June 17, 2019:
I am a great fan of the James Bond franchise, but I have never come across this series. Your article encourages me to look it up.