AKA Donald James Yarmy
Birthplace: New York City
Location of death: Los Angeles, CA
Cause of death: Respiratory failure
Remains: Buried, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, CA
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Actor, Comic
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Maxwell Smart on Get Smart
Military service: USMC (1941-45)
Don Adams, most famous for his role as Agent Maxwell Smart on the 1960s sitcom Get Smart, was born Donald James Yeary to an Irish Catholic mother and a Hungarian Jewish father. Both families had disowned his parents for marrying outside their faith, but his mother secretly baptized him at birth. Young Yeary frequently skipped school to go to the movies, and attended less than a year of high school.
He decided that religion was illogical, and when he joined the Marines, under "religion" he wrote "none". He was infected with malaria during the battle of Guadalcanal, and was not expected to live, but he told the nursing staff, "I'm not going anyplace." He has said that this is when he returned to the Catholic faith, as he prayed to survive. Yeary remained too ill to return to fighting before the end of the war.
After his discharge, he planned to support his wife and family by working as a commercial artist, but he had a gift for mimicry, and began doing stand-up comedy on weekends. Around this time he changed his name to Adams because, he has said, everything was done alphabetically, and he was tired of being called last. His first real success as a comic came when he won an Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts show in 1954. That led to appearances on variety shows on television, and on The Steve Allen Show, Adams created the character Irving Glick, a mentally challenged house detective who was a precursor to Maxwell Smart.
On Get Smart, created by Buck Henry and Mel Brooks, Adams played bumbling Agent 86, who believed himself brilliant. He was paired with the gorgeous Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon) and a sorry dog named Fang, a.k.a. Agent 13. Get Smart was one of the first James Bond spoofs, and made fun of politics in a non-threatening manner. In one episode, Maxwell ordered "the J. Edgar Hoover plate" for lunch. "With or without dressing?" the waitress asked. "Don't make fun," he replied.
Agent Smart shared many of the qualities of Don Adams, who said in an interview that "Maxwell is serious, dedicated, awkward, forgetful, pompous to a certain degree, sentimental." All kidding aside, Adams is also well-known for his forgetfulness. On Wednesdays, when he was supposed to drop the garbage off at the foot of the driveway, he would frequently put the trash in the back of the car and drive to the studio with the garbage. He often forgot the name of his then-wife, Dorothy, when he was introducing her.
In a few episodes, Get Smart featured a young James Caan, who became one of Adams' golfing buddies. Caan discussed Adams' competitiveness in an interview, and called him "Attila."
After Get Smart, Adams was in a cop comedy called The Partners, where his partner was originally going to be Godfrey Cambridge. Cambridge, though, found Adams too difficult to work with, and referred to him as "Captain Queeg" on the set. In an interview after quitting, Cambridge said, "If you tried to find out who in this industry hates Don Adams the most, the line would run all the way to Phoenix."
Cambridge was replaced with another black actor, Rupert Crosse. Adams said he had wanted the show to focus on social issues, but the studio and network vetoed that in favor of comedy. It did not make much difference, as the program was scheduled opposite All in the Family, and thus was quickly cancelled. Adams later had a short-lived talent show, and guest-starred on series like The Love Boat and Fantasy Island.
He made his feature film debut in The Nude Bomb, a disastrously unfunny reprisal of his Maxwell Smart role. He later played Smart in a 1989 TV movie, and in a mid-1990s revival of the series, also called Get Smart, with Andy Dick, as well as in a series of commercials on Canadian television for Buck-A-Call. Adams also did work as a voice actor, performing the voice of Tennessee Tuxedo and reprised the nasal Maxwell Smart voice for TV's Inspector Gadget.
Brother: Dick Yarmy (actor, Kentucky Fried Movie, b. 14-Feb-1932, d. 5-May-1992, lung cancer)
Wife: Adelaide Efantis (singer, div., four children)
Daughter: Cecily Adams (casting director, b. 6-Feb-1958, d. 3-Mar-2004, lung cancer)
Wife: Dorothy Bracken (a June Taylor dancer, m. 1960, div., two children)
Daughter: Stacey Adams (b. 17-Jun-1966, with Bracken)
Wife: Judy Luciano (actress, m. 10-Jun-1977, div., one daughter)
Father: William Yarmy
High School: DeWitt Clinton High School, Bronx, NY
Emmy 1967 for Get Smart
Emmy 1968 for Get Smart
Emmy 1969 for Get Smart
Converted to Atheism
Converted to Catholicism
Endorsement of McDonald's 1988
Endorsement of White Castle (1990)
Risk Factors: Malaria, Appendicitis
Check It Out Howard Bannister (1985-88)
The Partners Det. Lennie Crooke (1971-72)
Get Smart Maxwell Smart (Agent 86, 1965-70)
Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales Tennessee Tuxedo (1963-66)
The Bill Dana Show Byron Glick (1963-64)
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Inspector Gadget (18-Jul-1999) [VOICE]
Get Smart, Again! (26-Feb-1989) · Maxwell Smart
Back to the Beach (7-Aug-1987)
Jimmy the Kid (Nov-1982)
The Nude Bomb (9-Mar-1980) · Maxwell Smart
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