...and Barbara Feldon not only gave it to him...she gave him her heart--and hand, as well. The wacky, wonderful love story of "Get Smart's" girl spy.
"Agent 99," wearing slacks over her rehearsal leotard, bangs, of course, and eye makeup, smudged just a trifle from several hours of strenuous ballet, stood out in front of Carnegie Hall in New York, waiting for her date. Her date's name was Douglas and, at that time, she never even dreamed of being "Agent 99". She was just a girl with an acting dream that wasn't doing too well--Barbara Hall from Pittsburgh, a tall slender character who'd come to the big city like thousands of other girls and to date had had one crawl-on on Broadway. She'd had a bit in "Caligula", a role in which she never walked the boards. She just crawled on and crawled off, and, in the interim on stage, nibbled at a bunch of grapes.
|She'd about decided that acting was a lousy business to be in, she wouldn't recommend it to anyone, but she didn't know what else to do and she adored dancing. In fact, dancing had seemed her whole life at one time--that was her Danilova Period and spanned the years 12 to 17. That period had been preceded by a Margaret O'Brien Period, a Tarzan Period- and a Pinocchio Period; she'd been hooked on show business from the time she played the triangle in her school band, aged six. So here she was, in New York, dancing every day like crazy, and hunting for jobs in stock, etcetera. And she'd just come from this ballet lesson and she was standing out in front of Carnegie Hall wait-ing for her date.||
"Don Adams is watching Susanne Cramer--and Barbara keeps an eye on both of them."
"Do you have change for a quarter?" he said.
Not Douglas, not her date, but some stranger, a clean-cut nice looking man with a soft accent, she couldn't quite identify. "I'm in urgent need of a dime for the telephone," he said.
Now one thing Barbara never did was speak to strangers.
But he surprised her so, she opened her purse, ferreted around for change and finally found a dime. She handed it over and he gave her a nickel, five pennies, and disappeared. What she didn't know, of course, was that he had gotten something in his eye that day, was en route to an optometrist to have it removed and then he'd seen her standing there. The dime was to call the optometrist and break the appointment. He had something else in his eye now. Her.
Two minutes later, he showed up again. "Have you a match?" he said, in that same charming voice with its unusual way of forming words.
She produced the match and he lighted cigarettes for them both; they stood there in the shadow of Carnegie Hall, talking easily and amiably...why not, after all? Douglas was on his way, he'd show up any moment, so why not? But Douglas had been held up at his office with no way to reach her.
After forty minutes, Lucien suggested they go somewhere for coffee. Lucien Feldon. Belgian born. An advertising man who was disenchanted with advertising. Oh she knew quite a bit about him by now. As f~. a matter of fact, he was as comfortable as an old friend. Pick-up, indeed! One year Ilater they were married.
She was Barbara Feldon now, it never occurred to her to keep her maiden name, although she had acquired a few more credits, she'd walked to music in The Ziegfeld Follies balancing a chandelier on her head, and had snagged a pretty good part in One Foot in the Door which was headed for Broadway but didn't get through the door in Boston. As a matter of fact she was totally Barbara Feldon, totally in love; she and Lucien were so happy in their personal lives, they decided to get happy in their business lives. So as soon as they were married, they both quit; she quit acting, he quit advertising. She was no longer an actress. "I gave it up completely. I'd always said I wouldn't recommend acting to anyone so I took my own advice and got out of it. Lucien got out of advertising and we opened an art gallery."
Can't you just see "Agent 99" a-borning? I A slightly kooky femme, very warm, very adorable, always operating on a level of anxiety and enthusiasm? Neither Feldon had ever had the slightest experience in the world of art so they opened an art gallery in Greenwich Village; the artists were definitely avant garde (most of them have made it to uptown galleries now); they were all close friends and shared some times of brief prosperity and other times, a good deal leaner.
For the first two years, "Agent 99" wrestled with the art of cooking and keeping gallery, then Lucien took over. She jokes about it now. "You know that famous story of Buddy Hackett's? When the fire went out from his heartburn, he thought he was dead? Well, Lucien's fire was well stoked for two years; then very subtly, he came into the kitchen to 'experiment.' He wondered why things had to taste the way they did, and poor man, he was probably at about the end of his rope. He did it subtly but I caught on fast. He'd never had a pot in his hand before, but some people are born with a flair for great cooking and he's one of them. He tuned in on all flavors immediately.
"I think one of the reasons men are such great cooks is that they have none of the prejudice women have. If something doesn't turn out well, so what, he's a man, what can you expect? While a woman has her womanhood at stake with this coq au vin. We went right into our Flamboyant Period, Lucien served everything flaming. He cooked with garlic, he cooked with spices, he made a clam sauce with spaghetti that is unforgettable, but it had a half pound of butter in it plus all the other ingredients. I weighed 145 pounds thanks to that particular year and his heavy-handed bit."
...Weight that had to go when Barbara decided to become a model. Because the art gallery bit didn't go on forever. It was pretty far out, pretty romantic. The Feldons kept the romance in their personal lives and tried for something a little more profitable in the business world. At a cocktail party, successful model Gillis McGill spotted Barbara and told her she was a natural..."just lose a little weight, learn a little about makeup...I'll show you." She did, too. Within a year Barbara was a top model and her agency started talking about commercials.
"Barbara and hubby Lucien relax over chess game in their lovely N.Y. apartment. Since their work separates them, they live and love moment to moment."
No, she said. Why tamper with a successful thing? she said. But they made appointments and the ad men turned her down as being too sultry; they wouldn't even turn the cameras on. But once she made her first commercial it wasn't long before she was signed by Revlon and became the "hello you tigers" girl. Meanwhile, Lucien had become a successful photographers' representative and they had acquired a superb apartment in the East 60's, a very elegant apartment with Spanish chairs and a great sofa and 25-foot ceilings. "The apartment is so beautiful I forget, and when I walk in each time, it takes my breath away." Lucien's office is in the apartment and they enjoyed long voluptuous breakfasts and wonderful reunions every evening, Gourmet dinners at the nearby Zoe Chase, then every night they'd walk their dog; and when they'd come home, they'd have tea and a goody and watch the late news on TV, sitting together in one big chair, so close they could hear each other's heart beat. Barbara's sister Patricia had come to New York and was working for Lucien, and Sundays Barbara and Lucien played with eight-year-old Randy and eleven-year-old Jeff whose dad was killed in the Air Force, took them to Hicks for ice cream sundaes, scoops and scoops of ice cream with flaming sauce. Oh, a lovely life.
Only a theatrical agent stepped in and said, "You are an actress and it's a lovely life and the demands are not great"...and some of her best friends" in advertising said...and her agents said...No, was Barbara's response. No no no. She had everything in the world she could want. She was happy. And then her friend Colleen Dewhurst talked her into playing George Scott's girl friend on the next East Side West Side...There was an appearance on Flipper and on U.N.C.L.E., on Twelve O'Clock High and others; Talent Associates asked her to do the pilot of Get Smart and she said no. Absolutely no series. So they said, okay, just do the pilot, and she agreed to that and then of course a dreadful thing began to happen.
Into the wonderfully close-knit New York life intruded the presence of that sly spy--"Agent 99." She was such a wonderful character, and for a month after the pilot, Barbara and Lucien talked about the situation. Such a very special situation. Not just from the material standpoint, but to be in a spot where you are able to initiate a whole new character, create a character not a cliche--a really exceptional character! "Agent 99" wouldn't let Barbara alone. She kept insinuating herself into Barbara's day, into Barbara's thoughts. More and more, after the late news, she and Lucien sat in the chair, held each other close and talked.
On the plus side (1) the character of "Agent 99" (2) the deliciously warm and talented people responsible for the show (3) that adorable "Agent 99." On the debit side (1) not being together every day (2) living in California!
"How do we know it will be so terrible? We haven't tried it," they told each other finally. And Lucien said he'd fly out every weekend. And Barbara said te wouldn't have to come every weekend, at least once a month, she'd fly home. And the fact is, they both agreed, they love travelling. Wouldn't this be travel? And it wouldn't be forever.
Barbara called her agent. "See if they have found anyone for 'Agent 99,'" she said. "If they're still interested..."
And of course they were. Because they were having a terrible time casting the nameless kooky spy who is so like Lucien Feldon's wife Barbara. "I don't understand 99 at all," laughs Barbara. "I don't under-stand her at all. When people ask me what she's like, I just throw up my hands. She's very feminine. She's a spy. She's in love, she adores 'Maxwell Smart' and is absolutely myopic about his mistakes. Every good move she makes she gives him credit for-contrary to that American image 'I'll let him take credit, ha ha' with tongue in cheek. She can take care of herself but she's scared to death all the time. She operates on a level of anxiety and enthusiasm. This is a lot like me."
She's not the run of the mill actress, She's this year's television find, no doubt about that, one of the few femmes ever to make it big on the little screen. But she came to Hollywood bringing her love story with her. That makes a difference. She works hard and comes home to the tiny apartment and knows that her heart is in New York and come the weekend, that man Lucien will bring it back to her.
By JANE ARDMORE
WEBMASTER'S NOTE: I would like to make note of the fact that any factual, grammatical, or spelling errors found in this article are not the fault of the transcriber or webmaster. By the way, just who were Randy and Jeff? Miss 99's nephews?
Thanks goes to Spy Lady X for providing this article. J