Don Adams

Don Adams, 1923 - 2005

    I want to share some of my thoughts of Don with you in the hopes that they add to your memories of this incredibly talented man.
   I had the great pleasure of meeting Don at the Get Smart Gathering, a reunion of the cast and crew held in 2003. Despite recovering from a broken hip and being in pain, Don was funny, gracious and grateful to see the outpouring of love and respect he received that night from his friends, co-workers, and fans. Even though he was uncomfortable, Don sat and posed for pictures with all of the fans present, as he wanted to give something back to all of us, not realizing that he had been doing that for years. When he left the restaurant that night, Don received a standing ovation that brought a tear to his eye. I believe at that moment he knew for certain that he had made a positive impact on all of our lives, even if all we did was know him from TV. That night, and that moment meant a great deal to Don, as he realized just how much we all loved him. I'd like to share with you a small part of the speech that I gave that night for Don and the cast and crew.

There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t receive a wonderful message from another fan, telling me how much he’s loved the show and what an impact it has had on his life. Women to whom 99 was their very first strong role models. Writers who got into the industry because Get Smart inspired them. Ordinary people who use the powerfully strong and honest character of Max as a role model to “fight rottenness.”
The term hero gets bandied about a lot these days, with firefighters, soldiers, and police officers all hearing that term routinely. And those people are heroes. But there’s another type of hero, the everyday hero. The person who through his or her efforts the world is a better place for each of us. I’m talking about people who make us laugh and make us smile and create a world special in our lives. That’s you, the people who created Get Smart. Yes, it’s just a TV show, but it’s a TV show that by its quality and its humanity has made our lives just a little better. Put a smile on our face the day we really needed one. A TV show that gave us a family that we still hold dear. The reason this show is so important to us is because it’s got a little piece of all of you in it. The humanity and grace that Don and the rest of the cast and crew put into this show lives on and permeates all our lives.

    Don Adams in 2003Two nights before the Gathering, the Museum of Radio and Television held a tribute to Get Smart. Once again, Don was witty and entertaining, even recreating a scene from the show with Bernie Kopell. One of the many great points Don made (and I'm paraphrasing) was that through Get Smart he would be forever young, handsome, funny and creative and what a great thing that was for all of the cast and crew. He was right and wrong. Right because the Don Adams from Get Smart will live forever, entertaining new generations of fans. Wrong because he was 80 years old that night and Don was still handsome, funny, creative, and talented. That's how I'll choose to remember him, as a man who gave part of himself to entertain all of us.

    Thanks Don, for sharing a little piece of yourself with all of us. You'll always live on in our memories.


Don Adams was born Donald James Yarmy on April 13, 1923 (yes, that's the correct date) in New York City. He hoped for a career as an engineer but instead joined the Marines at the beginning of World War II. Adams fought at Guadalcanal and contracted Blackwater Fever during his service. After recovering in the hospital for almost a year, Adams was reassigned to be a drill instructor stateside. Rightfully so, Adams was incredibly proud of his service in the Corps.

An engineer early in his career, Adams turned to stand up comedy in the Fifties. He also married Adelaide Adams and took her last name because he got tired of being last during alphabetical auditions. As a comic, Don won on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts in 1954. Co-written with his friend Bill Dana, Adams’ stand-up routine gained popularity, leading to many appearances on the Steve Allen Show and then to a role on The Perry Como Show. He moved from that to playing Detective Byron Glick on The Bill Dana Show. Glick's character and delivery were an clear forerunner of his Maxwell Smart character.

When the Get Smart pilot was rejected by ABC, it was picked up by NBC on the condition that they use Don, whom NBC had under contract. Don was wary of committing to any show, but once he heard that Mel Brooks, Buck Henry, and Leonard Stern were involved, he agreed to do the show without even reading a script.

Don Directing

Don won three Emmy Awards for his portrayal of Max, an Emmy record that was broken by Carroll O'Connor and tied by Kelsey Grammer. After Get Smart, Adams did the comedy series The Partners, where he played a cop. The show, which went through extensive cast and crew changes before finally airing in 1971, only lasted thirteen episodes. You can read more about this series at Chris' Partners Site.

He launched Don Adams’ Screen Test in syndication in 1973, and it lasted a full season before being canceled. He finally achieved another sitcom success with the Canadian Broadcasting Show, Check It Out. Adams played a manager of a grocery store filled with inept employees. The show ran briefly in syndication in the United States. For more details on this show, visit Kat's excellent Check It Out Site.

His success directing Get Smart led to a post-Smart career as a director of commercials. As you might expect, his superb comedic timing made him a superb director. He won the Clio Award for outstanding commercial direction in advertising in 1971. It was for his Aurora Skittle Pool commercial, in which he was also the performer.

Don Adamsí unique voice has led him to several successful voiceover roles. He was Tennessee Tuxedo during its entire run and had a smash hit as Inspector Gadget in the 1980's. He also provided voices for the ABC/Disney series, PepperAnn, in the late Ninties.

Adams was a multi-talented man and enjoyed both poetry and painting. He was also a history buff and specialized in Abraham Lincoln and Adolf Hitler. Adams loved to gamble and could often be found at the racetrack or playing cards at the Playboy Mansion with friends Hugh Hefner, Don Rickles and James Caan, among others.

Don Adams passed away September 25, 2005. Though Don had been battling lymphoma and a broken hip, he died from a lung infection. His family was with him at the time of his death. Don is buried in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, alongside some of his favorite stars from movie history.

The Unclassified Get Smart Site has some great articles about Don that have appeared throughout the years.

For an excellent and complete filmography, please visit Pete's Get Smart Page. Contents


Copyright 1995-2009 Carl Birkmeyer