Excerpts from: "Nutin' Funnier!" interview by Ira Sandler. Filmfax, Feb/Mar 2002, Pages 74-79.
The Incomparable Comedy of Leonard Stern Interview by Ira Sandler
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FAX: Another classic TV comedy you helped create was Get Smart. How did you put together that cast
STERN: The first person signed for Get Smart was Barbara Feldon, Dan Melnick and David Susskind, my partners at TA, saw Barbara in a commercial and fell in love with her. Convinced she was right for 99, the sent me a copy of her 60-second spot. Thirty seconds into the viewing, I knew Danny and David were on the mark. In an unprecedented move, we put Barbara under contract before we even had a buyer for the script. It took on the form a major financial goof until, at the very last moment, NBC picked up the show for Don Adams, who they had under contract. Don turned out to be the right Max. Looking back, it's hard to believe the role was originally written for Tom Poston. We did make alterations in the script to tailor it to fit Don. Unfortunately, what we couldn't tailor was Barbara's height. She was taller than Don was, and we knew once he found out, there'd be trouble in Television City. To convince Don that Barbara's talent was greater than her height, we ran for him an episode of Mr. Broadway in which Barbara co-starred with Craig Stevens. The minute they came on screen, Don screamed out, "My god, she's taller than Craig Stevens!" His second reaction was a reluctant admission that Barbara was exceptionally talented and absolutely right for the part of 99.
FAX: What made you cast Ed Platt as the Chief?
STERN: His memorable performance in the role of James Dean's sympathetic juvenile officer in Rebel Without a Cause. He had the right physical and parental look. He also had the voice of the Chief --he spoke and you listened. My only concern was, would Ed be comfortable in a comedy? Five minutes into our interview, I put the question to him. He answered by bursting into a baritone-rich rendition of "Old Man River" and doing a soft-shoe. It was a routine he did in vaudeville. Nine minutes into the interview, he had the job.
(Webmaster's Note: The above picture of Don Adams, Leonard Stern, and Buck Henry was among a myriad of pictures in this article.)