Agent 99 reminisces about role in history


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In her famous role as Agent 99 on the 1960s hit TV show "Get Smart," Barbara Feldon said she was probably the only actress in Hollywood with callouses on her ankles: She often folded her foot over and slouched to avoid standing taller than the leading man Don Adams, who played the role of Maxwell Smart.

"I am so much taller than him," Ms. Feldon said of her co-star. "He was so surprised the first day. He never met me before they did the pilot and they cast me. So when I walked in on the first day and I was taller than Don, it wasn't good news. I can barely watch the first year [of the show] because I'm slouching so much."

Ms. Feldon, who was born in Butler County and graduated from Bethel Park High School, discussed her character before an audience of about 200 people Saturday at the Heinz History Center in the Strip District. It was part of "Vintage Pittsburgh: A Retro Weekend" held in connection with the center's ongoing exhibit celebrating 1968 as "The Year that Rocked America."

That was also the year "Get Smart" was among the top-rated shows on prime-time TV.

Created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, "Get Smart" was a parody of James Bond and other spy movies that became popular at that time. Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 are secret agents working for a spy agency in Washington, D.C., who battle the forces of evil plotting to take over the world. Agent 99 is the faithful sidekick to the brilliant, but clumsy, Maxwell Smart. She often saved the day with her skill and intelligence.

Interestingly enough, Agent 99 never had a real name.

"She was only a pretty number," Ms. Feldon said. "They wanted to call her Agent 100, but 99 seemed like a girl's number."

The show was notable for its high-tech spy gadgets, such as the shoe telephone Maxwell Smart used to communicated with the "chief," bullet-proof invisible walls, a hidden camera in a bowl of soup and the infamous "Cone of Silence," a transparent bubble that Max and the chief used for top secret conversations, although it never worked as it was supposed to.

Ms. Feldon said a 1989 made-for-TV movie called "Get Smart Again!", which featured all the surviving cast members in their original roles, was a flop, largely because of timing. The original series came out during the thick of the Cold War, when there was real tension in the world and a defined enemy in the Soviet Union. By 1989, the communist threat had diminished (and soon fizzled with Eastern European revolutions and Soviet Union's collapse).

"This show could only have been done in its time and that's why it doesn't work as a remake," Ms. Feldon said. "It was of its time and the consciousness of the country was on a certain level with certain things in mind."

During her appearance Ms. Feldon also signed copies of her 2002 book, "Living Alone and Loving It: A Guide to Relishing the Solo Life."

"I wrote the book because so many people were telling me they hated living alone," she said. "I began to see I wasn't living my life. I had been living my relationships."

As for her personal relationship with Adams, who died in 2005, there really wasn't one during the show's run from 1965 to 1970. She said Adams was preoccupied with acting and writing scripts for the show. Although the two spy characters eventually fell in love, got married and had twin babies, they did not socialize at all off camera.

"Don was very nice, but we had no relationship," she said. "But Agent 99 and Max had a relationship. So the minute we were in character, there was this absolutely no-holds-barred communication between us. Later on [after the show ended its run], Don and I became really, really sweet friends."

neigh_north - neigh_south - tvradio

Tim Grant: tgrant@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1591.


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