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A Portrait of A Spy

(Art Note:  In the trend of this page's title, all images of Max are artist interpretations.  Those marked as mine are my original artwork.  Those not marked are not my art.  More info about those pieces can be found by rolling the mouse over the picture.)

        From the outset, the only thing remotely smart about Maxwell Smart, aside from his surname, is his snappy attire.  That being the case, how did he get a job as the top agent for a spy outfit so classified that the CIA doesn't know about it?  Max could have been blessed with a streak of mad luck or the counter-espionage organization of Control could have nothing to do with intelligence -much like Mr. Smart.  

        Much like Control, Agent 86's life is blanketed in obscurity.  Exactly what his formative years were like is probably a mystery greater than Fox Mulder's quest for the truth.  While conspiracy theorists and spin-doctors may propose the notion that Max was a Control invention -or accident, Mr. Smart did have a set of parents.  The whereabouts of Max's parents were never disclosed during the series, nor were they ever around for a visit with their son.  It is known that Max sends a certain portion of his paycheck to his mother and that he holds a degree of disdain towards his father.  During a psychiatric evaluation, Max reveals that all dear old dad ever gave him was a pair of pants so that he could go to work.  Max also had a sibling of sorts --a brother that liked to lock him up in aa closet.  The only relatives ever to visit him are his Uncle Abner and Aunt Bertha -and neither of them wishes to claim him.

        Physically and factually, Maxwell Smart embodies ambiguity.  The exact date of his birth has never been revealed except for a tombstone that proclaims he was born in November of 1930.  Even though it has been disclosed that his zodiac sign is Scorpio, when to send 86 a card is still an iffy matter.  Stable is Smart's dollar-fifty weight, but growing is his height from 5'9" to 5'11."  Adding to Max's mystery element is his education:  he matriculated at a grade school where he studied with his eyes closed, attended a nameless college, and graduated as a Control Spy School Bonus Baby.  What is known of Smart consists of his minimal merits --he's the winner of the '65 and '66 Spy of the Year award and he has appeared in Popular Espionage and True and Impossible Spy Stories Monthly.

        Based on varying perceptions of the agent, painting Maxwell Smart's portrait could prove to be an impossible mission.  Smart sees himself as quite the handsome devil --as does Agent 99.  Bubinski the Cab Driver, however, sees Smart as just pale and weak looking.  The Maryland news wire reported, during Max's run from the law, that he had a mean mouth --and beady eyes.  It seems, though, that the common consensus holds that 86's eyes are indeed beady.  Philosophers -or bored webmasters- may propose that Max's mocha windows to the soul are just shielded so he can continue to remain in hiding.  The realists, however, would make the claim that Smart could avoid squintyness by switching from hard to soft contact lenses.  Dark eyes do not set Smart apart from every other spy.  A voice so nasal that it could out squeak even the worst of clarinet players, however, does make 86 a stand out.  In fact, Max squeaks more when his confidence level rises.  Not that 86 should not have confidence --he had enough practice at pride during an Army stint that led him to Korea.  Considering his reputation, though, where his self-esteem comes from is yet another mystery.

The Personality of Max

Stupidity at its Finest Hour

        In some dictionaries, the Three Stooges are pictured beside the word "buffoonery."  On that level, itImage taken from The Exploding Time Bomb board game. would make equal sense to position Maxwell Smart next to the term "idiocy."  Smart is the classic archetypical fool and, through countless predicaments, he rarely lives up to his name.  What Smart does have a knack for is screwing things up at Control so well that other agents often wonder if he's a mole.  Max manages to maim instructors assigned to train him.  He destroys computers and other pricey inventions.  On top of all that, the Chief claims that he "bungles assignment after assignment."  He forgets where he hides clandestine property and cannot describe Kaos agents that cross his path.  He swallows lie pills at the wrong time and inadvertently blows up the IRS building while trying to protect it.  It is safe to assume, with this record, that Smart is either bucking for a desk job or a pink slip.

        Complicating Mr. Smart's ineptness at his duties is the fact that he is indeed his own worst enemy --as far as motor skills are concerned.  86 walks into walls, doors, or anything that is standing right in front of him.  He trips up the stairs and falls back down them only to miraculously land on both feet.  Gunplay seems to be the worst of Smart's troubles:  he either dumps his bullets on the floor or fires at his manhood when sticking the firearm in its holster.  Max is a real Larry Lackluster when it's time to bring out the manners.  Drinking is often a problem since he can't check his watch without dumping the contents of his shot glass in his lap.  He also makes a mess of the Chief's desk by ignoring the ashtray that he always smacks his fist into.  Considering his physical failings, it a surprise Smart is still alive, but it is no wonder that Kaos agents often quake in his presence. 

Max the Swinger

        Max may be quite the schlemiel, but that doesn't mean he has to look it.  He, after all, was singled out as one of the top ten dressed spies.  Max's sixties style quotient comes not from the Nehru Jacketed hipsters, but from the Hugh Hefner Smoking Jacket Set.  Often we see him looking quite dapper in a tailored suit and tie –like James Bond, but only the Americana version.  As for other personal tastes, in Mr. Smart's turntables can be found vinyl from Herb Talbot and the Tijuana Tin (think Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass with Kaos influences).  Aside from chain-smoking, Smart also enjoys fine spirits including an evening Gibson.  He also doesn’t shy away from literature.  He reads international intrigue novels –but no more than the average American would.  Smart personally lauds Les Miserables to rival agents whom he wants out of his hair.  Other recreation comes in the form of tennis and getting kicked in the ankle by a signal happy bridge partner.  This description paints a pretty picture of Control’s top agent –that is provided competence and coordination is not an asset for obtaining style.

Max the Womanizer

        Maxwell Smart just loves his job -especially when a gorgeous blonde runs into his apartment bearing classified information and faints in his arms!  Max's behavior around the ladies of Control, Kaos, and otherwise, is anything but shy.  86 goes as far as to even date the femme fatales he meets, but unfortunately most of his evenings are spent with lady-killers!  After an evening at his apartment with Kaos envoy, Janet, Max wound up with a case of poisoning and only 24 hours to get rid of it.  When Gina, an attractive Kaos defector, dropped a Kaos black book in Max's apartment, she not only complicated his life, but also his army buddy's.  Flirting with Kaos' Wailing Wanda proved to be a literal bang when Wanda handcuffed an exploding purse to Max's wrist.  Topping off his romantic follies, Max's relationship with a certain George Robinson was doomed because she/he/it was not only a Kaos agent but was also... well... a man.

        Max did not limit his pursuits to Kaos -he was an equal opportunity flirt.  Dr. Steel of Control's lab got much of Mr. Smart's attention -even when she had her clothes on!  

Dr Steele:

(sneezes)

Max:

Gesundheit.  Are you catching cold?

Dr. Steele: 

Yes.  Do you know, it's the fifth cold I've had this year?  I don't understand it.

Max: 

I don't understand it either.  Why don't you come to my apartment tonight.  I've got some wonderful... uh... nose drops.

Max often played the game of Kissyface with the women he met on assignment, including Princess Ingrid, Princess Marta, and Tanya Lupescu to name a few.   Escapades such as these only add to Smart's fallacious belief that he's a ladies man.  In reality, though, nothing ever goes right about any of these romantic arrangements.  Ingrid goes back to partying, Marta goes back to King Charles, and Tanya scolds Max for all the trouble that America's free press causes her.  What can be determined is that if there are any women truly falling over Agent 86 of Control, it's mostly likely because his feet were in their path of travel.

The Max That TV Didn't Show

        It is difficult to fathom that a man who was characterized as an egotistical moron could be anything moreClose up from one of the Get Smart comic books. This, btw, is NOT a Steve Ditko drawing. or less than that balance of personality.  Maxwell Smart, however, dared to walk the tightrope.  He, without so much as batting an eyelash, threatened to twink absurdity in the nose.  The only thing was, the viewer did not see this on TV --unless perhaps they happened to be Freud or Dr Drew.  

The Sensible Max

        The above statement is, in most schools of comedic thought, an oxymoron or just a blatant fallacy.  86 possessing any kind of intelligence (other than espionage) whatsoever is a preposterous thought, but it's not completely bunk.  Smart was obviously smarter than the earnestly senseless Larabee and Kaos bonehead Shtarker.  He was smart enough to concoct a "neck guard" (with the encouragement of a few over-starched shirts) to protect him from The Choker.  He also had enough forethought to save his and 99's eardrums from exploding by shutting down the Groovy Guru's getup with a minuscule tuning fork.  In "The Hotline" Kaos presents Smart with an ultimatum:  call Mr. President and ask for 10 million dollars or die.  Despite the Chief's assertions that he and his agents are not worth that exorbitant sum, Max moves for the phone.  What the Chief didn't know was that Smart had a sneaky plan:  he pulls a bluff and tells his captors that the hotline to the White House only works if the Chief hits a certain high note.  At the orders of Kaos, the Chief sings the note, which breaks one of the baddies' glasses and allows Max to start breaking facesMaybe agent 86 is really only 86 percent bungling moron.

The Insecure Max

        If Mr. 86 were as dumb as he legend seems to claim, then the above statement would not even be subject to discussion because he would be too ignorant to show such feelings.  However, Smart was, without a doubt, lacking in the self-security department.  At one point Max questions his lack of competence:

Max:

I went all the way to Hong Kong to pick up a secret weapon and I came back with a sports jacket.  Looks like I've messed everything up.

99:

Oh, don't feel badly, Max.  You've messed things up before and you'll mess things up again.

Max: 

You're just saying that to make me feel good.

        The root of all insecurity for Mr. Smart is rested in his relationship with a certain female agent by the number of 99.  Max attempts to play the "Haven't-a-clue-dummy" in front of 99, but a front is all his actions are.  86, although, he doesn't admit it until years after meeting her, is absolutely, positively, enamored of 99.  Therefore, he is blinded, preoccupied, and a trip-over-backwards klutz. Perhaps to prevent his ego from the thrashing of yet another rejection, Max ignores 99’s flirtations.  In fact, he appears to ignore the fact that she is a woman and an attractive one to boot.  Still, Smart's hard to get act with 99 is only skin deep.  He waits patiently for the opportunity to kiss 99 when she is not looking -or coherent!  Here are a few infamous lip-locking scenarios:

1. Max attempts to give 99 a kiss in "Mr. Big" until Fang the dog tells him not to –99 sides with Fang.

2.  Ah, for the love of paralyzing drugs!  Max stabs 99 with his imobilo filled ring in "Our Man in Leotards."  Seeing that she and everyone else in the room is paralyzed, he seizes the opportunity to sneak in a smooch and then stabs himself with the drug to make it all "last a little longer."

3.  There really is nothing like a lie pill to enforce the truth.  After 99 suspects that Max has ingested one of Dr. Steele's Gay Deceivers, she tests him by asking him if he wants a kiss.

99: 

Would you like to kiss me right now?

Max (puckering): 

I certainly would!

99:

You took a lie pill...

(Max then smashes his lips into 99's)

99:

Did you like that?

Max: (puckering for another kiss)

No!

         Either the lie pill was wearing off at that point, or it had little control over deep and embedded feelings of86 crashes into 99.  This is yet another GS comic book clip and this one was drawn by Steve Ditko. admiration and amorousness.  Max, earlier that day, had been ogling Dr. Steele in her strip club dressing room, but gave all that excitement up after choking on a lie pill.  To be perfectly blunt, there is something to be said for true love and all the verbal fibs in the world could not possibly cover up 86’s feelings for 99.

            Exactly when Max’s lovey-dovey feelings developed is probably something only Cupid could determine.  It is quite obvious, through his attempts at playing the knight in shinning armor, that he cares about her a great deal.  Perhaps the best illustration of Max’s angst-laden love for 99 is found in has marriage proposal.  The proposal and revelation of his feelings not only come at the last possible minute, but also are almost halted by Max’s own timidity.  

Max is also a jealous Max.  Fire burns in his eyes at the mere mention that his partner is guarding playboy Antonio Carlos Carioca.  Smart’s jealousy hits its explosive peek when 99 decides to marry casino kingpin and Kaos agent extraordinaire Victor Royal.  Coupled with jealously is insecurity and this notion aptly pans out after newlyweds 86 and 99 must take King Charles of Caronia in for the night.  Fearing that 99 likes his look-alike better than himself, Max decides to see just how he rates in comparison to Charles.  In the process, Max nearly breaks up his marriage and has 99 believing she inadvertently committed adultery.  What does come from this is a rare glimpse into Smart’s insecure self and a true confession:  he was just jealous.

Mr. Nice Guy 

            Of all the best buddies in the world, Maxwell Smart is the poster child of this category.  Aside from paling around with 99, Max is so nice to a Kaos robot that it actually defects and joins Control.  Max even risks his job and life to save Hymie, the mechanical man in question, from being torn apart by Control as well as from a more powerful Kaos robot.  Max’s other friends are Control and the good old U.S. of A.  Max would do anything for the two of them –even if “blasting” other countries appears to be the only way to diplomacy.  Probably the only thing Max doesn’t get along with is the evil and sadistic ideals of Kaos and other corrupt entities.  Out of every personality niche in Smart is one thread that strings together all of Max: his wish that all evildoers would use their talents and abilities for niceness instead of evil.

Epilogue:  How to Get Out of Retirement Without Really Trying

        In mid 1970, at the dawn of a new decade, Control closed its doors, shut down the phone booth, and, after millions of food poisoning cases, the Control Deli locked up.  Max, 99, the Chief, and the rest of the crew were out of work.  This new backdrop of unemployment opens the field for that inevitable question of:  What next?

        The next sign of anything remotely Smart was in 1980 when one Maxwell Smart was working for a spy network called P.I.T.T.S (Provisional Intelligence Tactical Service).  If this was the one and only 86, then it would be safe to believe that life was indeed the pits!  The agency our hero was working under was just as inept as Control --only this agency had a few crusty skeletons in its closet.  The Chief of P.I.T.T.S. was a mole, 22, 34, and 36 had replaced 99, and Agent 86 was now a bonafide jerk.  Max may have played with his shoephone, tripped about, and ousted Kaos, but he was not Smart.  The only thing smart about this Maxwell was his mouth.

        Almost ten years after a Maxwell Smart doppelganger was found working and womanizing for P.I.T.T.S., the real Mr. and Mrs. Smart stood up.  In 1989 the United States Intelligence Agency needed someone seasoned in dealing with Kaos and decided, after much reluctance, that Smart was the man for the job.  Fortunately for the rest of the still Cold War-enveloped world, 99 came too.

        Reactivated, 86 was the same spy he was 25 years earlier.  He could still drive his superiors nuts with his love of abiding by the rulebook and he still enjoyed a drawn out fight scene.  His shoe phone was replaced with a Cashmere Computer Jacket and the Cone of Silence was moved to a position of the highest realm:  right above the Smarts' bed.  Max was where he was expected to be: saving the day while stumbling through his missions

        The Smartian moments between 1989 and early 1995 have not been publicly disclosed.  However, it is no secret that by 1995, Maxwell Smart had become Control's Chief.  Not only that, but 99 had been elected to congress and their son Zack, who was oddly never named until 1995, was working for his dad as a research nerd.  Quite the opposite of his nameless runaway twin sister, nebbish Zack was fortunate enough to be promoted to full-fledged spy.   If there is any legacy to Maxwell Smart, it is that spying and bungling does indeed run in the Smart family. 

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Considering that this writing was just a portrait of Maxwell Smart, it has barely scratched the surface.  If you felt my interpretation was lacking or did not quite float your boat... write your own.  You'll be much more satisfied than if you left your opinions up to someone else to write them for you.

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COPYRIGHT © 1999-2016 BY AMANDA HAVERSTICK.