Article from: "'Spoofy' Barbara Feldon " TV Guide April 20, 1968.
'Spoofy' they call her . . .But when you learn the girl is an astronomer, painter, and knows a stock from a stocking, you begin to wonder
By Dwight Whitney
It comes on strong and pervasive-- that spoofy-Barbara quality, so arch, so innocent, a put on but not really. It is the part of the girl that digs haiku poetry, paints her friends' pictures with flowers coming out of their ears, adores baroque Victorian houses and people, but as far as more binding human relationships are concerned, she says she is "just browsing." Frugging at The Factory holds no special magic for her; she gets her jollies peering through a 6-inch, 200-power telescope at the rings of Saturn.
"There they are, precious little things!" insists Barbara Feldon, who, as everyone knows, used to be the TV commercial's favorite sex symbol. "Everybody knows the stars are there, but until you get the full impact, you just don't know."
When she arrived in Hollywood some three years ago to play the "spoofy" (her favorite word) Agent 99 in Get Smart, she had yet to discover the heavens. She came reluctantly. Sort of. She was a New Yorker out of upper middle-class Pittsburgh who adored her "way of life" in the city, adored her then-husband, Lucien Verdoux Feldon, a New York photographer's representative with all the worldly qualities that Pittsburgh girls are traditionally supposed to lack.
Her reputation lay in New York. She was the girl who stretched out on the tiger skin breathily requesting a "word with all you tigers" about a hair dressing, thereby driving up sales to the point where if men used much more they would have to ladle it on with trowels. Her delivery garnered her a reputation as a kook. So casual. So sexy. Such a put on.
"I had become dependent on the city," she remarked a few weeks ago in Hollywood. "Life in New York seemed complete. Here, I was disconnected by the silence and isolation. Everyone isn't just poured into the streets every morning. You have to move yourself. Gradually I found new things--like sea shells, beaches, the sky, the stars. They cut everything down to size. Even Get Smart's ratings became unimportant."
But with Barbara Hall Feldon, things are never as casual as they seem. Her press agents, of which she has at least three sets (including Rupert Allan, special adviser to Princess Grace of Monaco, and Murray Susskind, the bearded brother of David), have always liked making a big thing of Barbara's amazing 1957 performance on The $64,000 Question in which she copped the top prize for a head-spinning knowledge of Shakespeare. Bright, boomed the press releases, loudly intimating that this lovely child knew Lady Macbeth almost as well as her own mother.
Barbara had indeed taken some Shakespeare classes at Carnegie Tech. When the call came from $64,000 Question, she happened to have just finished reading "King Lear," on which, luckily for her, the program's preliminary quiz turned out to be based. Elated that a beautiful show-girl (she was appearing in Beatrice Lillie's revival of "The Ziegfeld Follies" at the time) should have such impressive knowledge, the program's management wished to schedule her appearance immediately. Barbara insisted on a three-month interval.
The reason was very simple. Or very "Barbey," as they like to say around the set. Profound knowledge of Shakespeare? She had none. "I memorized a lot of facts. I broke them down into categories--life, plots, characters, all the famous lines and soliloquies--just as I would for a college exam. I like things organized."
Organization paid off. She put the $64,000 in blue-chip stocks. She and Lucien started an art gallery specializing in a kind of pre-Pop, Jackson Pollock-like form of free expressionism. "No, you wouldn't say that Barbara really knew art," Lucien recalls. "But she reacted in fantasy. She's pure. She has the gift of taking and assimilating from it exactly what she wants."
When she began Get Smart, she exercised the same sort of purity of purpose. Cool was what she was. Don Adams, a compulsively-on, night-club type, let her know very early who was the star of the show, but you couldn't tell it by looking at Barbara. She let him upstage her, she smiled sweetly when her part in the show sometimes sank to a mere five or six sides while he romped all over the whole 30 pages. "She knows where her strengths lie," someone close to her says. "Barbey doesn't need 30 pages. She found out she could register in five. Even better, she has the sense to see herself as an entity and the show as a vehicle for bigger things."
The "bigger things" began to take over. Suddenly those long weekends with Lucien, with gay little side trips for spareribs at the Farmer's Market, seemed less romantic. They were divorced, giving the usual explanation: career conflict aggravated by career separation. She showed up on the set with a copy of the Wall Street Journal under her arm. Textbooks on economics began to appear on her bookshelves next to the haiku poetry. She found out what debentures were. How spoofy, everyone said. Barbey let them think it. Meantime she looked over her business manager's shoulder while he bought her new stocks, extensive resort "land holdings," and a supermarket in Orange County. "Money ultimately means freedom. If I have a goal, that is it."
She stepped up the spoofy Barbara image. She got in a fresh supply of oil paint. She ordered a new and higher-powered telescope and moved into a house with a better view of the stars. She put on her Jax slacks and spent Saturday afternoons browsing through the rare stacks at Pickwick Bookshops. She swore off men in a serious context; she browsed through them, she said, the way she browsed through antiques. "What I'd really like is a nice cozy architect."
She still wore the Rudi Gernreich minis, cutting them up into pillows when she was through with them. Also the floppy eyelashes, the plain gold bracelet, the Mexican smoky topaz ring, the occasional Galanos evening dress, while saying all along what a simple girl she really was and how sexiness is really peasant simplicity and that the three sexiest girls she knew were Anna Magnani, Sophia Loren and Colleen Dewhurst.
She developed some marvelously spoofy ideas about who she was and who Agent 99 was. "Agent 99," she said, "is an ingredient in the over-all soup. She isn't the meat; she is the spice. She is a character, not a person. I mean I don't stop traffic when I dress. But 99 must."
If, in the process, the traffic also slows up a little for Barbey, swell. She instinctively says the right thing at the right time about the right people. "The show is Don Adams," she says. "Without him, nothing. My softness, sincerity, gullibility and loving despair are simply a foil for his brittle vitality. As for our relationship off-screen, I adore him, I feel affection for him, but I don't know him. We are of another world."
When she was offered the Dick Van Dyke movie "Fitzwilly," she brought it off well, as anyone with half an eye--including possibly Barbara herself--knew she would. She played the honest secretary in Dame Edith Evans' otherwise totally larcenous household, "the voice of sanity in an otherwise crazy world," which, of course, is exactly what spoofy Barbara really is. She only seems to be that other little girl--still joyously playing the triangle in her Pittsburgh grade-school orchestra, sending away for her Little Orphan Annie decoder ring, and growing up to have a word with "all you tigers."
So what happens to spoofy Barbara now? Well, spoofy Barbara says, giving you that adorable 99 look, the next thing will come when it will come, and living is what happens now.
"You remember 'The Little Prince'?" she inquires wistfully. "He meets the fox and asks how they can become friends. 'Well,' says the fox, 'you sit on one side of this field and I sit on the other. We never speak. After a year, we'll be friends.'"
Agent 99 slips away, and presto, there is Barbara Feldon. "I know a lot of people sitting in fields with other people sitting in fields," she says. "That's where I am right now."
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