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How Do You Get Smart? Don Adams Revives His Bumbling Spy in a Movie

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Would you believe—to revive the catchphrase from TV’s long-running spy spoof, Get Smart—that Don Adams, now 54, has surfaced a decade later as Macbeth’? No? Well, would you believe he’s back as a scarcely older—and certainly no wiser—Agent Maxwell Smart in a new movie called The Nude Bomb’? Sorry about that, chief, as Adams would say, but yes, he once again is fumbling with the sinister KAOS. This time the baddies have a bomb that will knock the pants (and all other garments) off anyone in range. Though Barbara Feldon, the TV show’s curvaceous Agent 99, is not in the $10 million movie, three new numbers (including Sylvia Kristel of Emmanuelle) have joined Don.

The film may be as silly as its TV predecessor, but it is serious business for Adams. He’s hoping his first movie ever (after 30 years in showbiz) will revive a career that lost its luster after Get Smart folded in 1970. “Producers felt I couldn’t do anything else,” Adams complains now of the show that is still rerunning on 39 U.S. stations and in over 50 countries. “Every time I’ve gotten a script it’s another Maxwell Smart-type character.” That was all the more galling because Don never particularly liked the series. “The first few episodes I saw angered me so much I felt like throwing the TV through a window,” he fumes. “I couldn’t stand the laugh track.”

The show, besides winning Don three Emmys in five years, also accustomed him to a lavish life that included three houses (one in Palm Springs), oil wells, airplanes and weekly tennis parties for 60 on his private court. After Get Smart Adams cashed in with TV commercials but flopped in two other TV series, and his $40,000-a-week headliner dates in Las Vegas began to dry up. “I almost felt guilty about getting that money, except I was usually giving it back at the blackjack table,” he remembers. “I’d go to the table between shows and drop my entire week’s salary.”

Adams further blames his financial problems on his admittedly “screwed-up” personal life. “I’m no longer independently wealthy,” he claims. “I guess it’s the result of too many wives [he’s on his third], too many kids [six daughters, one son] and too much alimony. I’ve been paying alimony since I was 14 and child support since 15. That’s a joke, but not by much.”

Don had four children in his nine-year marriage to singer Dell Adams and then two more with Dorothy Bracken, a onetime June Taylor dancer and his second wife for 16 years. Three years ago Adams wed Judy Luciano, 29, a sometime actress who last year appeared with him in summer stock after giving birth to their daughter, Beige Dawn. “I like getting married, but I don’t like being married,” quips Adams. And the state of his present union? “What time is it?” laughs Don. “At the moment, I don’t know whether it’s on or off.” Since his children are “spread out all over,” Adams says, “I don’t hear from them too often.” But the clan—Judy, his still friendly ex-wives (“terrific ladies”) and all his kids—gathered in January for the Miami marriage of his third daughter.

One of three kids of William Yarmy, a Hungarian Jewish New York restaurateur, and an Irish Catholic housewife, Don quit school in the eighth grade and left home at 15. He worked in construction and steel mills before lying his way into the Marine Corps and World War II as a 16-year-old. He made it to Guadalcanal but was shipped home after “I contracted blackwater fever and nearly died.” After the war he struggled as a stand-up comic and impressionist before scoring on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts in 1954. Then came TV guest shots, a regular spot on the TV show of Bill (José Jiménez) Dana, a longtime friend who co-wrote and acts in Bomb, and finally Get Smart (created and written by the then unknown team of Mel Brooks and Buck Henry).

These days Adams and Judy live in a leased three-bedroom Spanish-style home in Beverly Hills. Still a teetotaler, though he smokes half a pack a day, Adams has added only five pounds to his 154-pound, 5’9″ frame in 10 years, despite giving up his once compulsive devotion to golf and tennis. “I just got saturated with those sports,” he says.

Adams also has revised his opinion of Agent Maxwell Smart. There’s fresh talk of resurrecting the TV show or launching an annual series of Smart films if The Nude Bomb makes noise at the box office. “I didn’t think so when I was making them, but some of those episodes are funny, funny shows. Some are classics,” says Adams, who obviously has gotten wise to Get Smart’s commercial appeal. “I actually laugh out loud at them now.”