as a measure of how far women in general, and actress Barbara Feldon in
particular, have come: the sultry-voiced Feldon who cooed "Sic 'em,
tiger" in a Revlon ad of the '60s now sagely intones "CNN
presents" in the '90s.
There's more. In the 1965-70 TV spy spoof "Get Smart," Feldon was a skillful agent who took a back seat to her bumbling, cocky partner Maxwell Smart, played by Don Adams.
In the Fox revival of "Get Smart," debuting 7:30 p.m. ET Sunday, January 8, Feldon's Agent 99 is still married to Smart but has stepped out of his shadow as a congresswoman. But if you want examples of the frustrations yet facing women, Feldon is quick to supply them.
Although she's enjoyed success doing voice-overs for TV commercials as well as for CNN's newsmagazine, she's an exception: the vast majority of such jobs, 80 percent, go to men, Feldon says.
Despite a Screen Actors Guild study six years ago showing consumers respond equally well to an ad whether it uses a male or female voice, the advertising industry has failed to respond.
"It isn't that they think a woman's voice isn't authoritative," she said. "They know now that it is. But they don't CARE," she said, underlining the word with a frustrated sigh.
Or consider this: of the 75,000 SAG members, only 1 percent are actresses over 45, notes Feldon. Again, at 55 and gainfully employed, she is exceptional.
But then baby boomers obviously knew this, even amid the slapstick silliness of "Get Smart's" shoe phones and villains who were more twit than threat. Feldon's Agent 99 was beautiful, bright, competent - and oh that velvet voice.
Proof of her impact as a boomer icon: Feldon appeared recently on NBC's "Mad About You" as a TV actress who "Mad's" male characters drooled over as boys, and lust for yet.
Even though Maxwell and Agent 99 were almost cartoonish, Feldon says, 99 was "a whole person. Although in many shows she just kind of stood around, there was a bigger impression created on the screen about her than was actually on the page."
In the TV world of the time, still stocked with super-moms Donna Reed and Harriet Nelson and Barbara Eden's subservient genie, Feldon and her character were destined to be standouts.
Feldon herself got a traditional upbringing in Pittsburgh, Pa., where "the sense of your role growing up was 'You get married, stand behind the man and support him."'
She skipped out to New York, however, where she landed a chorus girl job at the famed Copacabana night club. There were some acting roles and even an appearance on the TV quiz show "The $ 64,000 Question" after a Copa publicity stunt: Feldon scored highest when the chorines took IQ tests.
Her knowledge of Shakespeare won her the top quiz show prize - and it was legit, she noted, not fixed - but her acting career was stalled. Then a friendship with a runway model led her into the fashion world and jobs in Rome and Paris.
"It was absolutely extraordinary and I never wanted to act again," Feldon said.
Despite her resolve, Feldon's agent lured her into an audition for a TV show, "East Side-West Side," and that led to the role on "Get Smart."
Nearly 30 years later, she's delighted to be back with the series. Maxwell is now head of the CONTROL spy agency and his and 99's son, Zachary (Andy Dick), works for dad. Elaine Hendrix costars as Agent 66.
"When they asked me, I couldn't not do it. I love working with Don so much and I did want to be part of the show," Feldon said. "The scripts are wonderful, the two kids (Dick and Hendrix) are adorable, so I'm really pleased about it."
Pleased, as well, that the producers organized filming to allow Feldon to remain a New York resident. She is scheduled to appear in just over half the episodes, and flies to Los Angeles to film several at a time.
That allows her to pursue another, treasured project, a one-woman show opening in New York in February. "Love for Better and Worse" includes songs, personal stories and poetry about romance, Feldon said.
She's also able to continue her involvement with such groups as Girls Inc., which helps inner-city girls escape poverty, and simply to enjoy "the access to surprises" that New York guarantees.
"There's a momentum in the city of people doing things, not staying home," she says.
Sic 'em, Ms. Feldon.
Thanks to Ryan Schroer for transposing this one :-)