Article From: "Aunt Barbara is a Softie" by Paul Denis, TV Radio Mirror, December 1966.
Would you believe? Max Smart has lots to learn about his gorgeous Agent 99. Just ask her young nephews! Or ask her older sister, Pat. She knows even more!
There were exactly thirteen occupants in that three-room apartment: Barbara Feldon and her husband Lucien; Barbara's older sister Pat (Koleser) and her sons Jeff and Randy; a Siamese cat called Yang and her six kittens; and a terrier called Mendes, named after an ex-premier of France.
It was 1962, but the roots to this bit of overcrowding went back a year. That's when Pat Koleser lost her Air Force husband in a plane crash in Japan, and that's when she and the boys moved back to America.
| At first, Pat took her sons to her hometown of Pittsburgh,
but later she decided to go to New York, where sister Barbara was making her
home. And when Pat had trouble finding a Manhattan apartment, Barbara
unhesitatingly insisted that Pat and the kids move in with her. At the time, the
Feldon home consisted of three rooms. One went to Pat and the boys; the second
was retained by Barbara and husband Lucien; the assorted cat, kittens and dog
roamed through all three.
It was an arrangement that suited Barbara's nephews, Jeff, then four, and Randy, then three, perfectly. After all, how many kids are blessed with half-a-dozen friendly kittens in one swoop? But the kittens were actually too friendly, and too curious.
Time and again they'd crawl into the darndest places -like the ledge outside the apartment, which caused Barbara to call the building superintendent many times to hurry and help save her darlings from dire fates. One day, an intrepid kitten went out on to the ledge, found an open window and leaped in--right onto a sleeping man. Unfortunately, the man did not appreciate the kitten's friendship. He let out a howl, and his wife let out some shrill howls of her own, and they caused the biggest excitement in that building in years.
After that, Pat and Barbara redoubled their efforts to find separate living quarters. About three months after their merger, the Koleser-Feldon menage split up. Barbara and Lucien found an apartment in Greenwich Village; Pat and her sons got a midtown place of their own.
Jeff Koleser, age 8
Randy Koleser, age 7
Now there was a new dimension to the problem. Barbara was regretting the move. She had loved being "Aunt Barbara" to the boys, reading them stories, talking to them, taking them on long walks in the city. Most of all, she had loved having them underfoot.
"Barbara is the most patient person in the world," says Pat. "She can maintain her good cheer in the midst of any uproar."
On the Hollywood set of NBC-TV's "Get Smart," Barbara remains unperturbed during the long hours of camera and light rehearsals. She just listens to an ear-plug transistor radio (a gift from co-star Don Adams) and does needlepoint to Mendelssohn.
Yang, the previously mentioned Siamese, is still very much a part of her life. Yang sleeps over Barbara's arm every night, while the Feldon's current dog, a big black Puli named Sasha, cuddles up with Barbara's husband Lucien. "We all get up tired," sighs Barbara. "There's just too many of us in bed."
| Because Barbara works in Hollywood and Lucien has his art
agency in New York, the household pets are divided. Lucien keeps Sasha, while
Yang lives with Barbara. And though Lucien flies out to Hollywood on weekends,
he doesn't bring Sasha because the airlines would put the dog in the animal
compartment. So Sasha moves in with Pat (who now works as Lucien's secretary),
and her sons Jeff and Randy have the pleasure and the fun of entertaining him.
Barbara also leaves her half of the Feldon pets behind in Hollywood when she
flies to New York. She invites a girlfriend to sleep over in the apartment so
Yang can have company while remaining in her familiar habitat.
Obviously, Auntie Barbara is not only a softie with kids, but also with animals. Her sister Pat remembers that when they were children "Barbara was always collecting animals, especially anything that looked forlorn. I remember once Barbara was on her way to school when she found a lost bunny. She picked it up and brought it home, crying all the while with anxiety. Only after she made sure it was safe, did she hurry on to school. We fed it with a small milk bottle, like you'd feed a baby."
From an ex-tomboy: cookies for her two best boys.
Another time, Barbara found a family of field mice and brought them into the house. She was heartbroken when the baby mice did not survive.
She was afraid of snakes and frogs, but other animals did not frighten her. Once, when she was in summer camp, someone told Barbara that a snake was eating a bird. Incensed, Barbara ran to the rescue, and forgot her fear long enough to tear the mangled bird from the snake. But she was too late. The bird didn't survive and 10-year-old Barbara wept and wept, recalls Pat.
It's not surprising that at one time young Barbara was determined to become a veterinarian. And it's even less surprising that her nephews, growing up in a big city deprived of adventures with horses, snakes and field mice, should listen to their mother's reminiscences with delight.
A girl who wore glasses
But one typical girl problem Barbara had is lost on the boys. Always nearsighted, Barbara had special trouble with glasses. "She was either breaking them or losing them," relates sister Pat. "She refused to wear glasses during high school and many times she'd pass by people without recognizing them. They used to think she was such a snob.
"I think she tried contact lenses, but cannot tolerate them.
"She still can't see well and often can't even recognize me when she's without her glasses. Her dog Sasha recognizes me before Barbara does."
Like Jeff and Randy Koleser, now eight and seven respectively, Barbara and her sister Pat are close in age. And just like the boys, they've always been close and got along beautifully.
"Barbara was a nice kid sister," says Pat. "Of course, she was the usual kid sister tagging behind. But she was no problem. She was, and still is, friendly and always interested in other people.
"When I'd be going off for a hike or a swim with friends, Barbara would tag along. And if I'd try to get rid of her by saying, 'I think Mother's calling for you,' the other kids would say, 'Let her come! She's all right!'"
Pat says Barbara was "bright and never caused trouble. She was sweet and lovable, and without temperament. My younger son Randy is like her--quiet, sure of himself."
|Even as little girls (small photo) in Pittsburgh, blonde Pat & brunette Barbara took turns "helping each other."|
When little Barbara would get angry, she would not explode. "Instead," says Pat, "she'd go into her room and sit in her rocking chair and just rock until she calmed down. No screams, no tantrums."
But she was not a goody-goody; she got into mischief, too. "In grade school, she got into trouble quite a bit. She did not like school until she was in six grade, when she discovered ballet. I remember when she put a tack on somebody's seat. Fortunately, the teacher was young enough to understand and be nice about it."
Sometimes Pat and Barbara would get into a mild tiff. And here again Pat can practically see a duplicate in her sons. Once, Pat remembers, she threw a doll at Barbara and it made her nose bleed. "From then on, I never tried violence," recalls Pat. "Barbara was five or six then. My parents spanked me. And I must say that Barbara never threw anything at me and she never yelled at me."
|| When Barbara was around ten, she decided that lipstick,
which some older girls were starting to wear, was silly. She announced that
lipstick was something that would never happen to her. She was a tomboy then,
and she wore jeans most of the time. She couldn't understand why her older
sister preferred dresses, for Barbara and her girlfriends were interested only
in riding horses, collecting stray animals and climbing trees. The healthy
mischief of nephews Jeff and Randy must bring their mother back to that long
gone, happy period. "Barbara was dirty and scratchy," recalls Pat,
"and lipstick and pretty dresses were furthest from her mind. In fact, she
did not put on lipstick until she was a high school senior."
Barbara and Pat, the only children of Raymond D. and Julia Stewart Hall (who have now moved to New Jersey to be closer to their daughters) had nice times back in Pennsylvania.
|close up of small photo|
"When we lived in this big old house on seven acres of woodland in Bethel, Barbara and I would run the house when Mother and Father went away on vacation," recalls Pat. "I remember how we'd do the housework while singing to each other in operatic tones and at the top of our lungs. We thought it was funny. But it scared our gardener, Mr. Brown, who came running in because he thought something terrible had happened and we were yelling for help."
Barbara's tomboy period apparently faded when she moved on to junior high. "I remember when we moved back into our old neighborhood, the boys who used to pull Barbara's hair and were nasty to her suddenly began to see her in a new light. She was becoming a beautiful girl, and they began to flock around her. Her personality had changed; she had become more outgoing; she had blossomed out. Toward her last year in high school, she was dating heavily."
Pat went to Syracuse University, and Barbara used to write her long, funny letters. "I wasn't around , so Barbara would confide in Mother. But when we did get together, she'd ask me questions like 'What should I wear?' and 'What should I tell him?' and 'How can I avoid the goodnight kiss?'"
Pat says she doesn't remember Barbara ever talking about marriage. "She was happy just dating. It was great fun for her to meet new people and see new places. I don't think she ever got romantically involved during her school years.
"As she matured, she became very good at getting along with people. I'm convinced that girls who are tomboys grow up to be very understanding of boys and have a broader point of view.
"When she was in high school, she began the practice of going up and talking to people. She suddenly had confidence. She sought out older people and carried on lively conversations. It was the beginning of her becoming a real extrovert."
When Barbara went on to Carnegie Tech, her whole family was proud of her. Pat remembers seeing her little sister acting onstage for the first time at Carnegie. "Outside, the college band was practicing. When Barbara, in her bouffant gown made her grand entrance, there was a sudden blast of trumpets from the band and the audience broke up with laughter. But Barbara didn't get flustered. She waited a moment instead, then went right into her role. She had such presence!"
Calmness in crisis was nothing new to Barbara. Even when she was in grammar school and appearing in her very first ballet recital, she was calm. "I remember when it came time for Barbara to do her solo," says Pat. "She forgot her routine right in the middle of the number. Instead of stopping, like any other kid, she kept dancing, improvising difficult steps, going up on her toes, until she remembered the music. And then she fell instep and finished the number as if nothing had gone wrong. She always had presence onstage. Nothing frightened her."
My sister, the kook
Pat Koleser, who looks very much like Barbara, except she has blonde instead of dark brown hair, recalls how her younger sister went through "stages." After Barbara saw the movie Pinocchio, she became "Pinocchio" at the tender age of six. But because her nose was too small, she was not a very obvious Pinocchio. Then she went into a Tarzan period that lasted two years. This was the tree climbing and swinging period. From 12 to 17, she had her Elizabeth Taylor period and, in college, she slipped into the "actress" period.
Pat remembers when she got married in Mississippi, where her husband was stationed at Keesler Air Force Base, Barbara took time out from college to take the bus and visit. "She arrived looking like a 'professional actress.' False eyelashes, black coat, black sweater, black stockings. Very dramatic."
Now, finally, Barbara seems to be in her busy-busy period. She acts (in Get Smart and a new film A Garden of Cucumbers) and does commercials (for Revlon). She paints (flowers are her favorite subjects), diets scientifically (she knows the calorie count for everything), does needlepoint (while listening to music), takes singing lessons (she's cut a single and an album), and every chance she gets, she practices her best role (being the favorite aunt of Jeff and Randy Koleser).
Thanks goes to Jenna Terranova for providing this article J