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Don Adams

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Don Adams
Don Adams as Maxwell Smart (1968)
Donald James Yarmy

(1923-04-13)April 13, 1923
New York, New York, U.S.
DiedSeptember 25, 2005(2005-09-25) (aged 82)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting placeHollywood Forever Cemetery
Occupation(s)Actor, comedian
Years active1954–2000
Notable workGet Smart, Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales,
Inspector Gadget
Adelaide Efantis
(m. 1947; div. 1960)
Dorothy Bracken
(m. 1960; div. 1976)
Judy Luciano
(m. 1977; div. 1990)
Children7, including Cecily Adams
RelativesDick Yarmy (brother)
Military career
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Marine Corps
Years of service1941–1945
Battles/warsWorld War II -Battle of Guadalcanal

Donald James Yarmy (April 13, 1923 – September 25, 2005), known professionally as Don Adams, was an American actor and stand-up comedian.[1] In his five decades on television, he was best known as bumbling Maxwell Smart (Secret Agent 86) in the television situation comedy Get Smart (1965–1970, 1995), which he also sometimes directed and wrote. Adams won three consecutive Emmy Awards for his performance in the series (1967–1969). Adams also provided the voices for the animated series Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales (1963–1966) and Inspector Gadget (1983–1986) as well as several revivals and spinoffs of the latter in the 1990s.

Early life


Adams was born Donald James Yarmy in Manhattan, New York,[2] a son of William Yarmy and his wife, Consuelo (née Deiter) Yarmy. His father was of Hungarian Jewish descent and his mother was Irish American. Donald and his brother Dick Yarmy were each raised in the religion of one parent: Don in the Catholic faith of their mother, and Dick in the Jewish faith of their father.[3] The brothers had an elder sister, Gloria Ella Yarmy (later Gloria Burton), a writer who wrote an episode of Get Smart. Dropping out of New York City's DeWitt Clinton High School, he worked as a theater usher. He later remarked that he had "little use for school".[4][5]

World War II service


Late in 1941, he joined the United States Marine Corps. Yarmy reported to the First Training Battalion in New River, North Carolina, and then was assigned to I Company of the Third Battalion, Eighth Marines in San Diego.[5]

In May 1942, Yarmy's unit was transported to Samoa for further training, and then participated in the Battle of Guadalcanal in August 1942 in the Pacific Theater of Operations. Contrary to urban legend, he was not wounded in combat, but did contract blackwater fever, a serious complication of malaria, known for a 90% rate of fatality.[5] Yarmy was evacuated and then hospitalized for more than a year at a Navy hospital in Wellington, New Zealand.[2][6][7] After his recovery, Yarmy served as a Marine Drill Instructor in the United States,[8][9] holding the rank of corporal. He was an expert marksman and was noted for his competence.[5]



Early career


After his discharge in 1945, Yarmy went to Florida and worked as a comic in a strip club, doing impersonations of celebrities, but he refused to do "blue" material and was fired. In 1947 he married Adelaide Constance Efantis (1924–2016), nicknamed "Dell", a singer who performed as Adelaide Adams. He decided to take her name because performers were called up for auditions in alphabetical order. Adams also worked as a commercial artist and restaurant cashier to help support his wife and three daughters.[5]

Adams' work on television began in 1954 when he won on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts with a stand-up comedy act written by boyhood friend Bill Dana. In the late 1950s, he made eleven appearances on The Steve Allen Show, where Dana was part of the writing team. During the 1961–63 television seasons, he was a regular on NBC's The Perry Como Show as part of The Kraft Music Hall Players. He had a role on the NBC sitcom The Bill Dana Show (1963–65) as a bumbling hotel detective named Byron Glick.[10]

Get Smart

Adams and Barbara Feldon in Get Smart

Creators Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, prompted by producers Daniel Melnick and David Susskind,[2] wrote Get Smart as the comedic answer to the successful 1960s spy television dramas such as The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Avengers, I Spy and others. They were asked to write a spoof that combined elements from two of the most popular film series at the time: James Bond and The Pink Panther (Inspector Clouseau).

Get Smart was written as a vehicle for Tom Poston, to be piloted on ABC; when ABC turned it down, NBC picked up the show and cast Adams in the role because he was already under contract.[2] When Get Smart debuted in 1965, it was an immediate hit. Barbara Feldon co-starred as Max's young and attractive partner (later wife) Agent 99. They had great chemistry throughout the show's run, despite a 10-year age difference, and they became best friends during and after.

Adams gave the character a clipped speaking style borrowed from actor William Powell. Feldon said, "Part of the pop fervor for Agent 86 was because Don did such an extreme portrayal of the character that it made it easy to imitate."[citation needed] Adams created many popular catchphrases (some of which were in his act before the show), including "Sorry about that, Chief", "Would you believe ...?", "Ahh ... the old [noun] in the [noun] trick. That's the [number]th time this [month/week]." (sometimes the description of the trick was simply, "Ahh... the old [noun] trick."), and "Missed it by 'that much'".

Adams also produced and directed 13 episodes of the show. He was nominated for Emmys four seasons in a row, from 1966 to 1969, for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series. He won the award three times. The show moved to CBS for its final season, with ratings declining, as spy series went out of fashion. Get Smart was canceled in 1970 after 138 episodes.



Following this, Adams then wanted to move on to other projects. His efforts after Get Smart were less successful, including the comedy series The Partners (1971–72), a game show called Don Adams' Screen Test (1975–76, see below), and three attempts to revive the Get Smart series in the 1980s.[citation needed] His movie The Nude Bomb (1980) was unsuccessful at the box office. Adams had been typecast as Maxwell Smart and was unable to escape the image, although he had success as the voice of the title character of Inspector Gadget.[4]

He earned most of his income from his work on stage and in nightclubs. As Adams had chosen a low salary combined with a one-third ownership stake in Get Smart during the show's production, he received a regular income for many years due to the show's popularity in reruns.[2]

Don Adams' Screen Test

Adams as the host of his short-lived game show Don Adams' Screen Test, 1975

Don Adams' Screen Test is a syndicated game show which lasted 26 episodes during the 1975–76 season. The show was filmed in two 15-minute segments, in each of which a randomly selected audience member would "act" to re-create a scene from a Hollywood movie as accurately as possible.

Such moments as the bar scene from The Lost Weekend, the duel scene from The Prisoner of Zenda or the beach scene from From Here to Eternity were used, with Adams directing and a celebrity guest playing the other lead in the scene. Hokey effects, bad timing, forgotten lines, prop failures and the celebrity's "ad libs" were maximized for comic effect as the audience watched "bloopers" and "outtakes" as they happened. At the end of the program, the final, serious, fully edited version of the "screen test" of each of the two contestants would be played, with audience reaction determining the winner, who would receive a trip to Hollywood and a real screen test for a motion picture.[11]

Later work


Adams resurrected the Maxwell Smart character for a series of television commercials for Savemart, a retail chain that sold audio and video equipment.[12] He also did a series of audio/radio commercials in the 1980s for Chief Auto Parts, a retail automobile parts establishment later sold to AutoZone.

He also appeared in the film Jimmy the Kid (1982) and played a cameo role as a harbormaster in Back to the Beach (1987).

Adams attempted a situation-comedy comeback in Canada with Check it Out! in 1985. Set in a supermarket, the show ran for three years but was not successful in the United States. The show also starred Gordon Clapp, an unknown actor at the time, who developed a rapport with Adams.

In 1995, Adams reprised his Maxwell Smart role one last time on Get Smart for Fox; it co-starred Barbara Feldon and rising star Andy Dick as Max and 99's son. Unlike the original version, this show did not appeal to younger viewers, and it was canceled after just seven episodes. One of Adams's last public appearances was at the Get Smart Gathering on November 7, 2003, at a North Hollywood restaurant, in which fans of the show joined the cast and some of the creative talent of the series.

Adams was the voice of the title character in Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales (1963–66), with his bombastic catchphrase "Tennessee Tuxedo will not fail!" Later, he voiced himself in animated form for a guest shot in an episode of Hanna-Barbera's The New Scooby-Doo Movies, titled "The Exterminator". His most notable voiceover work was that of the title character in Inspector Gadget. He voiced the character in the original television series (1983–85) and a 1992 Christmas special, as well as in subsequent 1990s spinoffs Gadget Boy and Inspector Gadget's Field Trip. He retired from voicing Inspector Gadget in 1999.

His last roles were the character of Principal Hickey in the late-1990s/early-2000s Disney cartoon Pepper Ann, Ranger Rudy in Fisher-Price CD-ROM game Outdoor Adventures: Ranger Trail, and the voice of Brain the Dog in the end credits for the 1999 film version of Inspector Gadget.

Personal life


At the time of his enlistment in the U.S. Marines, he listed "none" on the section of the form asking about religion. During his difficult recovery from blackwater fever, he returned to his Catholic faith as he prayed to survive.[5]

Adams divorced Adelaide in 1960 and married Dorothy Bracken, an actress. He left Bracken in 1977 to marry actress Judy Luciano, with whom he had one child. That marriage also ended in divorce.[5][7] He had seven children: Carolyn, Christine, Cathy, Cecily, Stacey, Sean and Beige. Cecily died of lung cancer in 2004 and his son Sean died in 2006 at age 35 of a brain tumor, a year after Don Adams's death.

His brother Richard Paul Yarmy, also known as Dick Yarmy (February 14, 1932 – May 5, 1992), was an actor. His sister Gloria Yarmy Burton was a writer. Robert Karvelas, who played the role of Agent Larabee on Get Smart, was Adams' cousin on his mother's side of the family.

Grave of Don Adams at Hollywood Forever

An avid gambler, according to his longtime friend Bill Dana, Adams "could be very devoted to his family if you reminded him about it, [but] Don's whole life was focused around gambling."[13]



Adams died on September 25, 2005, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. He suffered from lymphoma and a lung infection. His health had declined after the death of his daughter Cecily.[5][7] Before his death, Adams had joked about not wanting a mournful funeral, preferring, he said, to have his friends get together "and bring me back to life."

Among his eulogists were his decades-long friends Barbara Feldon, Don Rickles, James Caan, Bill Dana and his son-in-law, actor Jim Beaver (widower of Adams' daughter Cecily). His funeral Mass was held at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills.[2][7] He is interred in Hollywood Forever Cemetery.




Year Title Role Notes
1962 The Longest Day Ltjg Mackenzie (uncredited)
1980 The Nude Bomb Maxwell Smart
1987 Back to the Beach Harbor Master
1999 Inspector Gadget Brain the Dog (voice) Final film role


Year Title Role Notes
1963–1964 The Bill Dana Show Byron Glick Main cast (15 episodes)
1963–1966 Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales Tennessee Tuxedo (voice) Lead role (70 episodes)
1965–1970 Get Smart Maxwell Smart Lead role (138 episodes)
1966 Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre Himself (guest) Episode: "Murder at NBC"
1967 The Carol Burnett Show Himself (guest) Episode: 1.11
1967 The Danny Thomas Hour Harry Episode: "Instant Money"
1968 Laugh-In Himself (guest) Episode: 1.4
1970 Pat Paulsen's Half a Comedy Hour Dolf Clem Episode: "Episode #1.9"
1971 Confessions of a Top Crime Buster Det. Lennie Crooke TV movie
1971–1972 The Partners Det. Lennie Crooke Lead role (20 episodes)
1973 Saga of Sonora Himself (host) Television special
1973 The New Scooby-Doo Movies Himself (voice) Episode: "The Exterminator"
1973 Wait Till Your Father Gets Home Don Gibson Jr. (voice) Episode: "Don for the Defense"
1975 Don Adams' Screen Test Himself (host) 13 episodes
1976 Three Times Daley Bob Daley Television pilot
1976 The Love Boat Donald Richardson TV movie
1978 The Love Boat Lenny Camen Episode: "One More Time"
1979 Fantasy Island Cornelius Wieselfarber Episode: "The Red Baron"
1980 The Love Boat William Robinson Episode: "We Three"
1980 Murder Can Hurt You! Narrator (voice) TV movie
1982 The Love Boat Sidney Williams Episode: "Safety Last"
1982 Jimmy the Kid Harry Walker Feature film
1983 The Love Boat Sam Corey Episode: "The Very Temporary Secretary"
1983–1985 Inspector Gadget Inspector Gadget (voice) Lead role (86 episodes)
1984 The Love Boat Walter Love Episode: "Novelties"
1984 The Fall Guy Sheriff Episode: "Losers Wheepers: Part 1"
1985–1988 Check It Out! Howard Bannister Lead role (66 episodes)
1989 Get Smart, Again! Maxwell Smart TV movie
1992 Inspector Gadget Saves Christmas Inspector Gadget (voice) Television special
1994 Empty Nest Don Adams Episode: "Charley's Millions"
1995 Get Smart Maxwell Smart Lead role (7 episodes)
1995–1996 Gadget Boy & Heather Gadget Boy (voice) Lead role (26 episodes)
1996–1998 Inspector Gadget's Field Trip Inspector Gadget (voice) Lead role (27 episodes)
1997 Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher Principal Episode: "Gargoyle Guys"
1997–1998 Gadget Boy's Adventures in History Gadget Boy (voice) Lead role (26 episodes)
1997–2000 Pepper Ann Principal Hickey (voice) Main cast (10 episodes)


  1. ^ "Before becoming an actor, Don Adams was a stand-up comedian".
  2. ^ a b c d e f Martin, Douglas (September 27, 2005). "Don Adams, Television's Maxwell Smart, Dies at 82". The New York Times. Retrieved June 20, 2024.
  3. ^ The Unclassified Get Smart Site, ilovegetsmart.com; accessed December 22, 2015.
  4. ^ a b Smith, Austin. "He's Agent 86'd – 'Get Smart' Star Don Adams Dies", The New York Post, September 27, 2005; accessed August 13, 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Evans, Art (June 23, 2020). World War II Veterans in Hollywood. McFarland. pp. 55–59. ISBN 978-1-4766-3967-3.
  6. ^ Bergan, Ronald (September 30, 2005). "Don Adams profile". The Guardian. Manchester.
  7. ^ a b c d Bernstein, Adam (September 27, 2005). "Actor Don Adams Dies at 82; Starred in 'Get Smart' in '60s". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 30, 2009.
  8. ^ "Don Adams biography". Encyclopedia of World Biographies. Retrieved September 2, 2017.
  9. ^ "U.S. Marine Don Adams". Truth or Fiction. 2005. Retrieved December 22, 2015.
  10. ^ "The Bill Dana Show (1963–1965): Full Cast & Crew". IMDb. Retrieved September 2, 2017.
  11. ^ "Don Adams' Screen Test". Nostalgia Central. June 16, 2014. Retrieved September 2, 2017.
  12. ^ Dougherty, Phillip H. (January 20, 1982). "Advertising; Don Adams Gets Smart for Savemart Spots". The New York Times.
  13. ^ "Don Adams: 1923–2005". People. October 10, 2005. Retrieved August 30, 2009.