Article from: "God Knows Why I am a Catholic and a Jew...," TV Radio Mirror, May, 1966.
"God Knows Why I am a Catholic and a Jew..."
Name: Donald James Yarmy
This is what Don Adams had put down when he'd enlisted in the Marines. In his enthusiasm to join, he'd lied about his age (he was only 16), but the rest of the data was true. His real name is Yarmy and he had no particular religious beliefs.
Today, Don Adams is a devoutly religious man. You'd never recognize the bumbling secret agent of NBC-TV's Get Smart when Don speaks on the subject deepest in his heart.
"I am a Catholic and a Jew," he says. "My mother was an Irish Catholic and my father a Hungarian Jew. When they married, both families disowned them--hers because she'd married a Jew, his because he'd married a Catholic."
The child of a mixed marriage often has a difficult time deciding which parent's religion to follow. As a youngster, Don had never been forced to attend religious services and he grew up without much interest in the subject. But a few months after his 17th birthday, something happened that changed his entire life. He was on Guadalcanal, fighting with the Marines, when he contracted blackwater fever, a tropical disease with a terrifying history.
Men stricken by blackwater fever died. Always. Or almost always. They died grotesquely, their bodies bloated almost beyond recognition. Don had never known of a recovery. Now he himself was a victim.
"This boy will be gone in a few hours, at the most, in a few days." With groggy disbelief, Don heard a doctor tell this to an orderly. They were talking about him. "Maybe he'll want to see a chaplain," the doctor went on. "I'll find out what services he attends and get one."
But Don had described himself in Corps records as "unaffiliated" with any church. He did believe in God--in a vague, indefinable way. He subscribed to the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule. But he neither understood nor embraced the dogma of a particular faith.
So no chaplain visited him as he lay at the point of death, and he didn't ask to see one. Instead, a Marine was posted as a death watch beside his bed. Hospital space was so precious on Guadalcanal that, the instant Don died, authorities wanted to know so his cot could be turned over to another man.
Even in delirium, Don was aware of his surroundings. He knew that a death watch had been posted beside him, and that doctors didn't give him a chance in a million to live. But he knew, too, a truth of much greater import. For the first time in his life, Don felt a marvelous closeness to God.
His lips, cracked by fever, barely moved in prayer. But inwardly he prayed with fervor. "God, save me. Oh, please, Father, give me my life."
Don spoke weakly to the Marine at his bedside. "You're wasting your time, buddy, I'm going to get well." True, there was nothing more medicine could do for him. But there was something else that could be done, and Don was doing it for himself.
He was praying.
Desperately ill, unconscious or delirious, Don was aware of one very important truth. God was near; God was listening.
"Please, God, save me from death." With great joy, Don knew that God had heard him.
"I never once," he says now, "felt I was going to die. In my prayers, I made a bargain with God, but I don't want to discuss that. All I want to say is that at the end of four days, when I was supposed to be dead, I walked out of the hospital.
"Doctors couldn't explain it, but I could. My recovery was a miracle. An act of God.
"After that, I was aroused spiritually and began to study the great religions of the world. It was the first step toward reaching my present convictions and finding the answers a man needs to live by."
This discovery brought a most profound change in Don's whole way of life. Until those fateful four days, over 20 years ago, he had been indifferent not only to religion but to most of the other serious things in life. For example, as Donald Yarmy of New York City, he couldn't have cared less about school.
"I was never much of a student," he confesses. "If I hadn't joined the Marines, I probably wouldn't have finished high school, anyway. I was an awful truant. I only studied the things that interested me, and I spent most of my time at the movies
|Second wife Dorothy, a Catholic (right with their daughter Stacey), understands why Don professes his own kind of faith.||
because acting was the subject that interested me most.
"Please don't misunderstand me. I strongly believe in formal education. I want my children to go to college. I have a younger brother whom I practically forced--physically--to be an engineer. It was a fight all the way, but I'm sure I was right in insisting that he go to school. But for myself, I've learned the things I need to know elsewhere."
One of the most important "elsewheres" was the Marines. Getting in wasn't easy because, though World War II was in full swing, the need for fighting men wasn't so acute that the Corps was accepting children of 16. "I have twin cousins who are a little older than I," Don tells his story. "We'd grown up together, and they were joining the Marines, so I was determined to go with them."
The young would-be Leatherneck tried enlisting in Pittsburgh but was rejected because of his age. With his parents' consent, he was told, he'd be accepted. Don went home to New York, full of determination. He begged for parental permission to get into the war. His mother and father said a firm, "No!" He'd be drafted soon enough, why rush things?
But Don was in a hurry. He enlisted again and this time lied about his age. The deceived Marines took him and packed him off to the Pacific. It was there that he was marked for death and it was there that he found the meaning of God.
After the miracle that saved his life, Don felt a consuming thirst for a firm faith. In an effort to fill his need, he began a study of all religions, including Roman Catholicism. His mother had him baptized as an infant but this was something Don's father didn't learn for twenty years.
"I doubted, I questioned, I challenged," Don says. "I felt that Catholicism was the religion that offered what I sought, but I couldn't accept it blindly. After a year and a half of instruction, I was climbing the walls." A Jesuit priest was his mentor. "I wanted clear-cut answers to questions. The answer, 'Because it's God's will,' was never enough for me. If you grow up with a complete, unquestioning faith --as my wife did-- it's easy. But when you wait until you are nearly 20 years old and then approach religion intellectually, it's very difficult. Very, very difficult.
"I remember that the priest finally said to me, 'You wouldn't like to have a religion that makes things easy for you.' Now I know that both faith and intellect are components of religious belief."
A practicing Catholic today, Don has not forgotten that his father, whom he loves, is a Jew. And that it was the Divinity that rules over all faiths that brought him back to life. That's why he can say, "God knows why I'm a Catholic and a Jew...."
Don's commitment to Catholicism became firmer when he was married in the Church to second wife Dorothy Bracken, an ex-June Taylor dancer. About his previous marriage, all he'll say is, "I was married awfully young and I felt trapped. My wife had been divorced and all the time we were married we were out of the Church. It wasn't until we were divorced that we became good Catholics again."
At the time of his first marriage, Don was working as a commercial artist. "I was never happy nor very good at it," he says. "I wanted to be a comedian and I felt my was being wasted. I started writing comedy material on the side and worked in small clubs.
"I'd always been able to do impressions and catch voices. One day I tried to audition for the Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts without an appointment. They asked me my name and I said, 'Don Adams.'
"They couldn't find it on the list, but I wrangled an audition, anyway. A week later I was on the show and won the contest."
|"My wife is a nut on cleanliness," Don kids Dorothy, and that room (above) certainly looks neat! Dorothy is German-Irish, was a June Taylor dancer before marrying Don five years ago; they've had Stacy since June, 1965. Don has four children from his first marriage.|
Garry Moore caught the act and signed him for nine appearances. This led to appearances on other major television productions including both Johnny Carson's and Steve Allen's Tonight shows, The Perry Como Show, The Jimmy Dean Show, and The Bill Dana Show (remember Don as the not-so-bright house detective Glick?).
He also did some summer stock, during which (in 1957, at Lake George, N.Y.) he met Dorothy Bracken. He and Dorothy were married in 1960 at St. Agnes Cathedral; now they have a daughter, Stacy Noel, born June 17, 1965.
Since the phenomenal success of Get Smart, Don hasn't had too much time for Stacy. And don't think he isn't bothered by it. "When I leave in the morning, she's sleeping. When I get home, she's asleep again. It's terrible."
Outside of that, everything is beautiful. He's thrilled with the success of his show, full of plans for the future, "when I can write and direct." The life that was returned to him by a miracle has been blessed by a successful marriage, a lovely daughter and an abiding faith in God.