Secret Life of Don Adams
(which really isn't all that secret)
one point in the last century, a certain Maxwell Smart was known as Byron Glick
who was formerly known as Don Adams a.k.a. Don Young who was, according to all
documents legal, Donald James Yarmy. It is Mr. Yarmy that shares a common bond
with our hero Max: he was Max -but only to a degree.
story, to anyone that has ever feasted their eyes upon a Get Smart
been told a thousand times over. Even so, repeated biographical doses never
hurt.... much. It is common knowledge that Don Adams entered this world as Don
Yarmy. What is not common knowledge is the date on which he arrived. The
Associated Press claims he was born on April 19, 1927. Of course, the failings
and inconsistencies of presswork are limitless, which is why the birth date in
question has been changed to April 13, 1926; April 19, 1926; and any other
combination of the aforementioned. Close, but no cigar. His actual birth date
was April 13, 1923.
future Maxwell Smart was the second of three children1. born to an
Irish Catholic mother and a Hungarian Jewish father (a marriage that resulted in
disownment by both sides of the family) in Manhattan's Upper West Side.
During his childhood, he hung out with the likes of Larry Storch (F-Troop) and James Komack
(The Courtship of Eddie's Father) who often beat him
at their makeshift version of baseball. His
talent for mimicry began to develop just as his scholarly pursuits began to
chronic truant and hooky player, little Don Yarmy avoided school incessantly. Education,
he found, best took place in the movie house in front of such master teachers as
Bogart, Ladd, and Cagney.
Still, this theory failed to suit William Yarmy2. who promptly
ushered his son into a high school all the way in the Bronx.
was never an Adams virtue and that was certainly proven when he closed his
textbooks for the final time.
He dropped out of school, certain his time was being wasted, and headed
south to the great state of
Once there, he arrived in the Charleroi home of his aunt (from his mother's
side of the family), and
his cousins: the
burly football playing Karvelas twins.
Bob and Bill Karvelas were famous around the Pittsburgh area as they were
paid to play football for a Pittsburgh High School.
Shortly after cousin Don moved in, he and the twins decided to join the
war effort. Puny
Don ate his way up to the kosher Marine Corps weight and much to his cousins'
surprise (the Karvelas twins actually had to go on a diet to join the
Marines) made the cut.
The trio remained together all the way through boot camp until Don was
sent to Guadalcanal.
are no favored places to be when in war, and, in 1942, the island of Guadalcanal
was anything but a Sunday school picnic.
Allied soldiers faced dysfunctional environmental conditions, Japanese
snipers that fought to the death, and mosquitoes.
Mosquitoes meant malaria and malaria, along with a bullet, was contracted
by one Pfc. Yarmy.
This form of malaria was better known as Blackwater Fever and
surviving it is no cakewalk since 90 percent of those who contract it die.
Young Private Yarmy, however, aptly stated to the corpsman that was
placed on his deathwatch that he was "not going any place" (McCrohan
Private Yarmy did go through, however, was a couple rotten months in the
hospital and a brief stint as a drill sergeant.
His cousins, in the meantime, were both carving out their fame in the
'Corps as Golden Gloves boxing champions.
Adams' drill sergeant days had ended, he enrolled in art school with designs on
becoming a commercial artist. His trade, however, did not take and, even though
his artistic skills were nothing to sneeze at, he eventually moved to Miami.
Once there, he ran into a co-evil from the old neighborhood: Jay Lawrence
(a.k.a. Jay Storch, the brother of F-Troop's Larry Storch) They formed a comedy
team then known as "The Young Brothers" and Yarmy temporarily changed
his surname to "Young."
Their act consisted of more than 100 impersonations and, although
seemingly popular, was not long lasting.
The Young Brothers dissolved, Adams took to the nightclub circuit all by his
was not long afterward that he married a singer, Adelaide Efantis (she adopted
the stage surname of Adams), he met in one of the clubs where he performed. Soon
there were children and, even sooner, Yarmy the comic began to loathe his nightclub
a non-drinker, he was infuriated by the drunks that repeatedly broke up his act.
He once did stand-up in the same club as Mae West, but the only catch was
that his act was right before West's and that was the last chance for all the
clubbers to order their drinks.
The result was that Yarmy's monologue was virtually inaudible and was
he had several dependents to tend to (four daughters at the time:
Caroline, Christine, Cathy, and Cecilia3.), Yarmy decided that
it was time to make a change.
He moved the family up to the Baltimore/Washington D.C. area where he
found work in cartographic and engineering drawing.
He still hit the nightclubs, including Baltimore's noted (and presently
infamous) "The Block" and was still disgusted by the atmosphere as
well as his newfound career.
He eventually abandoned the D.C. area and made his way back down to Florida.
was in 1954 that Yarmy made another trek north of the Mason Dixon line.
He returned to New York for his mother's funeral and soon learned that Arthur
Godfrey's Talent Scouts was auditioning.
After deciding to try out, Don Yarmy, who was getting quite sick of
having to stand at the end of the line, also decided to once and for all change
his name to... well... Adams -which was his wife's stage name.
Adams' impersonations caught the eye of persnickety Mr. Godfrey and
resulted in a win that paved the rest of his career.
Following his big win on Talent Scouts, Adams became a guest
staple on The Gary Moore Show, The Tonight Show, and The Ed Sullivan
only did he get to do his routine in better joints, but he also had more
exposure than any other comic during those mighty halcyon days.
the late 1950s, Adams gained renown as one of the infamous "Sick
Comedians" or "Sic Niks."
Other Sickies included the legendary Lenny Bruce, Shelley Berman, and Tom
however, was not only brazen enough to poke fun at the routines of other Sickies,
but he also wrote for them!
Note for the Comedy impaired:
Sick humor is not the same as blue humor.
Sick humor is sick, while blue humor is simply consistent of locker room
talk and other perverse jokes.
Don Adams was actually thrown out of a club because he refused to tell
was not, however, Adams' sick routines that caught the eye of another, yet
It was his portrayal of a pompous, know-it-all, squeaky voiced detective.
Actually, this was Adam's own exaggerated impersonation of William Powell
of the Thin Man movies and was not just used as a detective, but also as
an Umpire, a Football Coach, and a defense attorney (a.k.a. The Big Mouthpiece).
It was one Bill Dana (formerly Bill Szathmary), a former NBC page, who
decided that he wanted to write for Adams.
The two became partners as well as good buddies.
Adams even borrowed Dana's chef for parties during the "Smart"
It was also one Bill Dana who is responsible for the long running
"Would you believe..." formula as well as furthering the use of
Adams found the clipped speech annoying and actually hated it, while Dana
encouraged him to use it because it was indeed funny.
the use of the voice, Adams success exploded.
While working as a regular on The Perry Como Show, he initialized
the lines "You really know how to hurt a guy" and "Thanks, I
needed that" as part of catch-phrase fever.
Adams kept himself occupied with not just Como, but also by
producing The Detective and The Roving Reporter comedy albums.
He also lent "the Voice" to the cartoon Tennessee Tuxedo -a
cartoon Penguin, who, with the help of walrus friend Chumley, was constantly
trying to escape the zoo he lived in.
In a metaphorical sense, Mr. Adams had, roughly around this period of
prosperity, his own personal zoo in which there was no escape: his first
marriage had come to an end.
period of bachelorhood, however, was not to last after meeting June Taylor
Dorothy Bracken, during summer stock.
Don married Dorothy in 1960 and their first child, Stacey Noel, was born
in June of 1966.
Little flaxen haired Stacey later grew up to play an annoyed government
agent/meter maid in Get Smart Again. The couple also had a
son, Sean, who has become on of L.A.'s fine chefs.
During his marriage to Dorothy, Adams was noted as a romantic as well as
a, for lack of a better word, goofball.
He showered his wife with sentimental gifts that made her cry, but could
not introduce her to his friends because he kept forgetting her name.
Name issues aside, he was so much in love with Dorothy that he insisted
that she be a bridesmaid at the wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell Smart.
He could not envision doing that episode with out her.
That particular path, however, was quite a way in the distance,
while stardom's path was getting closer.
In the meantime, Bill Dana�s eternally confounded immigrant character,
Jose Jimenez, after gaining renown as one of Steve Allen's "men in the
street" on the Tonight Show, made a fortuitous guest appearance as a
bellhop on the Danny Thomas Show.
This simple guest role enhanced Dana's popularity, which, in turn, led
to Dana acquiring his own sitcom in September of 1963.
In what could be seen as a domino effect of stardom, Adams also profited
from Bill Dana's TV venture.
After Dana's series had gained stable ground in the first season, but
after not meshing well with his co-star, Gary Crosby, he invited his partner to
join him for a few episodes.
Adams was then faced with the weighty decision of whether he should work
on The Jimmy Dean Show for 13 episodes and be paid $2,500 for each
show or work with Dana for seven and receive $750 an episode (Green 9).
Sick of doing variety shows and panting for a change in pace, Adams opted
for the pay cut and joined the cast of The Bill Dana Show.
His contribution to The Bill Dana Show was a reinvention of
his defense attorney character, but this time the "Big Mouthpiece" was now
an extraordinarily dense hotel detective by the name of Byron Glick.
Adams' mornonic rent-a-cop character came within a cat's whisker of
overshadowing the series' star.
Dana saw this and, without batting an eye, backed off from his role.
There was, however, a small undertow that did not approve of Adams'
voice or his presence and that happened to be producers Danny Thomas and
Adams missed getting fired "by that much" and The Bill Dana Show,
with its dumb and dumber duo of Dana and Adams survived until the 17th
of January 1965.
After the axe of cancellation fell down upon The Bill Dana Show,
Adams, still under NBC's contract, found himself with a myriad of different
acting venues to pursue.
CBS sought out his talents and he was even offered to work on a project
with Sheldon Leonard who had now apparently changed his mind about Adams'
phony vocal characteristics.
Deciding not to rush into anything, Adams opted to refuse an offer that
he had received about a role in an NBC spy comedy.
NBC's involvement with this particular script came after a degree of
haggling between Talent Associates representative Dick Dorso and NBC west's
representative Grant Tinker.
The property had initially been a planned ABC pilot that was to star Tom
Poston, another one of Steve Allen's men in the street, as the confounded
klutz-spy, Maxwell Smart.
NBC eyed Adams and tried to waft him to the pilot, as he was under their
contract and Poston was not, but their efforts and the description of the title
character as being a moronic James Bond did not particularly attract Adams'
did change his mind was when the conversation shifted to the mentioning of one
hearing that Brooks, formerly a writer on Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows,
had penned the script, Adams accepted NBC's proposal and the role of
Brooks' Maxwell Smart character without even looking at the script - or so
For the role of Max, Adams retooled his "Defense Attorney/Byron
Glick" persona into the mold of a self-important - yet incredibly
He was the James Bond of everyman and according to Adams, "is what
every ordinary guy. . .would be if he were James Bond" (Green 28).
What had been initially Mel Brooks' tale of an idiot bungler
representing U.S. bureaucracy was now Don Adams' living and breathing
all-thumbs dolt that was too stupid to know he was stupid.
To round out the idiocy, since the rest of Control's employees were
also not the sharpest knives in the drawer, Adams acquired two co-stars.
One was former opera singer and character actor Ed Platt.
Chosen to play Control's Chief, Platt was seen as Smart's father
figure, but he was actually only seven years older than Adams.
Quite a few years younger and a great deal taller than Adams, however,
was his other co-star, the former fashion model Barbara Feldon.
Regardless of size, what ultimately measured up to Get Smart's success
was the finely tuned chemistry between Adams and Feldon.
Fans have often questioned whether there was a presence of romantic
sparks between Adams and Feldon, but such a claim could not possibly bear
support as the two were work partners and did not socialize during after hours.
After the popularity of Get Smart became not a dream, but a
reality, Adams found additional venues to tap his talents into.
He began, with Bill Dana, an ad agency known as Ads Inc., which stood for
Adams, Dana, and Silverstein.
He also turned to the behind the scenes work of writing and directing
episodes of Get Smart.
Adams managed to pen, with his older sister Gloria Burton, two episodes
of Get Smart: "The King Lives" and part two of "To Sire with
first episode he directed was "Appointment in the Sahara" where he was given
nothing more than a pile of sand, a blue cyclorama, and a camera to work with.
Wearing the director's hat allowed Adams to also cut the spending on Get
he owned one third of the show4., and had heard numerous lamentations
about how much money was spent on an episode, it only a matter of time before he
requested a peek into the bookkeeping:
asked to see the sheets. . . Then I saw this big figure, it might have been
said, 'What's this?' They said, 'That's to build the city morgue.'
I said 'A morgue costs this?'
I came up with a few ideas that cost two or three hundred dollars instead
of all those thousands" (McCrohan 143).
fun, Adams managed to squeeze into as many fight scenes as he could without the
help of his stunt double - until he broke his nose during a brawl in "Smart
Fit the Battled of Jericho."
Get Smart, under Adams' influence, became a family affair as
cousin Robert Karvelas was added to the cast as a reoccurring extra and later as
blockheaded Control agent, Larabee.
Adams' brother, comedian Dick Yarmy, also appeared in two episodes of Get
Smart, one time working for Kaos and the other working for Control.
In the end, after all tallies were counted, Adams was responsible for
directing 13 episodes and wining three Emmys for Best Actor in a Comedy
Get Smart had finished its run, Adams was given the chance to work on
exciting behind the scenes work.
Still under NBC's belt, he was presented with 300 pilots -all of which he
In turn, Adams presented NBC with three of his own ideas. Those were, in
all sense, flushed by the system.
His first plan of attack was a sitcom starring himself and old buddy Don
Rickles (the duo had previously starred in the 1970 TV Special Hooray for
Hollywood and later costarred with Edie Adams5.in the 1973 TV
special, A Couple of Dons).
Don R., however, was pledging his network allegiance to CBS at the time.
Adams' next pilot "Good Luck Ben Gumm," the tale of a woebegone
lost-in-the-bush ex-marine that must readjust to life in the present (er 70s),
was scrapped by NBC since it was lacking a lead actor.
Finally, the third pilot, The Partners, was put on the air, but
only after it morphed away from Adams' original plans.
Adams wanted an all-fists lawman, but the series progressed to feature
two guys that should have be a part of the Keystone outfit.
The Partners became a solidified flop with cast and crew tensions
to boot. The
fact that it was pitted against Archie Bunker and the All In the Family crew
did not help.
work during the rest of the 70s was piecemeal.
He did guest shots everywhere (The Love
Boat, Love American Style,
Hollywood Squares, ect.) and concentrated on directing commercials.
In one such ad endeavor where he literally became the poster boy (or would
you believe game-box model?) was for the Aurora Skittle Games. Adams not only got to
direct his "mini-movies," but he also won several Clios6. in the process. Old
Aurora Skittle games, with Don Adams on the box, can sell for quite a pretty
penny on Ebay.
Aside from ad endeavors, Adams eventually found other work in the form of
hosting a game show call The Don Adams' Screen Test.
Lasting from 1974-1975, the syndicated Screen Test had various
contestants competing for a shot on TV.
All they had to do was act out a scene from a classic flick with a
special guest star (which included the likes of William Shatner, Mel Brooks, and
Loretta Switt among others) and it was stardom all the way - well, maybe.
By the end of the 70s, Don had split with his Dorothy and in 1977 he
married Judy Luciano. The couple had a daughter, Beige Dawn.
a decade after Get Smart had run its course, Adams was granted the opportunity
to reprise his famous role of Maxwell Smart. The script for what became
known as The Nude Bomb was written by Bill Dana, Leonard Stern and Arne
Sultan. It was originally designed to have Smart pitted against a flamboyant
madman fashion designer, but once the script fell into the hands of Universal,
it shifted from the writer's intentions and resulted in a 1980 box office
flop. For more reasons and commentary regarding the bombing of the Nude
Bomb check out the movie page. Even though
Maxwell Smart's moment in the big screen spotlight went to a fast fade out, Don
Adams was not about to shy away from movies. He returned to the big screen
in 1983's Jimmy the Kid and again in 1987's Back to the Beach.
Neither film, however, allowed him to shed the pompous "Glick" persona
that he had developed well over 20 years beforehand.
rest of the 1980s, for Don Adams, were two thirds Max and one third something
completely different. Beginning in 1983, Adams supplied the voice of one
of the 1980s most memorable cartoons, Inspector Gadget. The
cartoon was very much like all things Glick and Smart and spawned videos as well
as dolls. In 1985, the year Gadget ended its run, Don packed his bags and
moved, despite his aversion to cold weather, to Toronto. What was waiting
for him was the Canadian sitcom, Check It Out in which he held the
starring role as the manager of a zany supermarket. While Check
It Out was not Get Smart and was most definitely not another outlet for
"Glick," it was not to last. Check It Out ended its
syndicated run in 1988, which was the same year that plans for yet another Get
Smart movie were made. Originally planed to air in the fall of 1988, the
movie, Get Smart Again was pushed back to February of 1989.
Designed as a made-for-TV reunion movie, Get Smart Again reunited Adams
and Feldon and proved that, even after nearly 25 years, the chemistry
between the duo was still finely tuned.
cameos in TV commercials moved from the 1980s to well into the 1990s.
He was seen in ads for Quality, Comfort, Clarion, and Sleep Inns as one
of the many celebrities that mysteriously popped out of a suitcase.
He dumped a pitcher of beer into a loudmouthed barfly's lap in a
Coor's beer spot7., touted Trivial Pursuit, and schlepped
cell phones with 'toon detective Dick Tracy in an ad
for Mobilink Cellular.
Adams was also seen and heard in the early 90s in radio and TV ads for
Crass consumerism, however, was not the only source of activity for Mr.
1991, at the onset of the U.S.'s Gulf War with Iraq, a new generation of
viewers were introduced to Get Smart through the U.S. cable channel
Nickelodeon's daily dose of reruns.
Whether Nick's replay of Get Smart had any impact on the
show's popularity is yet to be debated.
Nick did, however, grant Don with the opportunity to hang out in Times
Square with a parade of 99 shoe phone toting 99s
Smart's cord was severed
again in January of 1995 when Nick at Nite abruptly and unceremoniously yanked
the spy spoof from the new year's line up.
That, however, was not the end for Get Smart as FOX granted TV viewers
that same January with a newly revamped version of Get Smart. The
new series touted Don Adams and Barbara Feldon as reprising their original roles
and introduced newcomers Andy Dick as Maxwell Smart's son, Zach, and Elaine
Hendrix as Agent 66, the brash n' bold 99 of the 90s.
Initially intended for a star vehicle for Andy Dick, the game plan of the
new Get Smart was not to include Don Adams or Barbara Feldon in
the series. Much
of the show's failure lied within its structure since, after FOX tried to
spice up the show with Adams and Feldon, there was no clear comedic lead.
Get Smart (or GS 95 as it is often referred to by fans) did not
fair well in the ratings and, after nine episodes, was subsequently sunk into
the great sea of bad TV ventures9..
GS 95, Adams went into retirement -sort of. In 1995 he became the voice of Gadget
Boy10.and in the fall of 1997 he provided the voice of Principal
Hickey in the ABC Saturday morning
cartoon series, Pepper Ann.
In 1999 he made a pilgrimage back to Toronto to pitch Canada's new
Buck-a-Call phone service
and found himself in a few odd TV spots. 1999 also brought Hollywood a revival
of Inspector Gadget. Now a live action character instead of a
cartoon, the Inspector Gadget movie stared Matthew Broderick as
Gadget and featured a voice-over cameo of Don as Gadget's dog Brain. OK,
so much for retirement.
his later years,
Mr. Adams had a good many activities going -although none of them included
getting up in the A.M. as he was not a morning person. He did
voiceovers, watched old movies, and played a regular bridge game with Hugh Hefner. He
a member of Yarmy's Army, a group of comedians so named for late brother
Dick Yarmy, which meet once a month for down to the wire joke
spent the late 90s into the year 2000 helping TVLand promo Get Smart with
interviews, appearances in The Big Apple, and a 2001 Get Smart
documentary Inside TV Land: Get Smart. In November of 2003 the Museum
of Television and Radio paid tribute to Get Smart by hosting a panel discussion
including Adams, Barbara Feldon, Bernie Kopell, Leonard Stern and other folks involved
with the show. Later that week a dinner, The Get Smart Gathering, honored Adams, Feldon and the cast and crew of the show.
died on Sept. 25, 2005 of a pulmonary infection. He had also been battling lymphoma. A
little over a year earlier his daughter, casting director Cecily Adams, died
from lung cancer.
-or What did you just say?
Unfortunately, the surface of what composed Don Adams has barely been scratched
in this article - or at least to avid Smartians who have been paying apt
attention to the myriad of Adams biographies on the web and in printed form.
Amidst a small segment of disdain towards him, Adams was a class act type
of guy that sincerely wanted to make the best out of what he did -hence the
success of Get Smart. Said he:
first I wanted every show to be a classic...I then came to the realization that
when you do a show every week, you can't be a classic. If you can do a
show every week, you can't be a classic. If you can do 3 out of 5 which
are good, you should be happy with that" (Javna 53).
Whether or not the parallels between Adams and Smart could be outlined, there
is much about this man that is remains a
similarities between the two may only rest in their firm perseverance regarding
their goals. While Adams and his alter ego may both be klutzes, Maxwell
Smart is not the shy creative thinker that Don Adams was. Furthermore,
Adams' personality could never have been molded into one definition. Those
who confess to have known him hardly could:
James Caan thought his idol was Attila the Hun, while his second wife,
Dorothy Adams, was certain that his absent mindedness made him the
personification of Maxwell Smart.
Don Rickles viewed him as a shy stoic and co-star Barbara Feldon felt
that, despite her fondness for him, they were not of the same planet.
is a fact, though, that Adams did appreciate his fans, as he was ranked by
autograph collectors as one of the most willing stars to sign.11.
He tended, however, not to keep his dates at far away convention halls filled with
masses of individuals.
Was this some sort of a contradiction of character?
Perhaps Mr. Adams, while previously working under the guise of
star-comedian, was really a renaissance man seeking a small piece of privacy.
more Adams info?
Page has a finely tuned
filmography of Don Adams. If Don did it,
it's there! I called
his site Maxwell Smart eye-candy once and I'll call it that again!
Site has, aside from all
pertinent and up to the moment Get Smart knowledge, an interview with Don
Adams' personal assistant, Nancy Ellen Barr.
Finally, my Reference Guide, also has a load of articles on
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