The Classic TV series Get Smart introduced the world to Don Adams as Maxwell Smart, secret agent 86, and Barbara Feldon as Agent 99, both working for the secret government agency CONTROL and taking on the world-threatening KAOS. The show itself is a full-blown parody of the spymania boom created by the James Bond films throughout the 1960s, though what's interesting is that a spoof usually comes at the end of a creative cycle, many of them signaling a last gasp of sorts from whatever subject is being parodied. Get Smart, on the other hand, came three years into the boom. When the show premiered in the fall of 1965, there had only been three 007 movies, with things really exploding at the end of that year with the release of the fourth, Thunderball.
Donna McChrohan Rosenthal, author of the non-fiction exploration of the show The Life and Times of Maxwell Smart, explains in an exclusive interview, "Get Smart ran [from] 1965-1970. Concurrently, you had The Man from U.N.C.L.E. from 1964-1968, I Spy from 1965-1968, and The Wild Wild West from 1965-1969, which was espionage and gadgets set in the Old West. Get Smart outlasted all three. Meanwhile, James Bond movies launched what I suppose you’d identify as the mania in 1962. It continued to 2002, from Sean Connery through Pierce Brosnan. Then it started up again with Daniel Craig. I wouldn’t call any of this a last gasp. Far from it. But let’s face it, times change. The world changes. The political climate changes. Eventually, people are ready for something new."
As to the strength of Get Smart as a premise, she points to series creators Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, and the creative strength they brought to the concept. "Mel Brooks," she says, "is a sight gag kind of guy. Think of Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and The Producers. He came up with the shoe phone. Can you imagine anything more preposterous? You have to hold it up to your mouth after you’ve clomped through muck and filth wearing it. You’ve been crashing its presumably advanced technology into pavement and puddles. And to use it, you have to stop walking or running and squat down to take it off. That’s spoofing James Bond’s sophisticated spy gear in the broadest possible manner.
"Mel Brooks is no shrinking violet as a thinker and a philosopher," Donna adds, "but he’s not primarily associated with subtlety. That’s more Buck Henry’s department — a soft-pedaled approach to fundamental issues, Cold War politics, and a growing suspicion of corporate America. You have to include executive producer Leonard Stern in 'the idea', too. He was in at the inception, and already had writing for The Honeymooners, Sgt. Bilko (“You’ll Never Get Rich”), and Steve Allen under his belt. He had a great deal to do with shaping the concept."
Were they prophetic in recogizing Bond was ripe for spoofing? "I don't think they were prophetic," she offers. "Rather, they were observant, insightful and saw what was going on."
And now you can see what was going on back in the day for yourselves as we present this look back at all things Get Smart.