The Greatest TV Characters of the 1960s: Maxwell Smart

Blogger Rick29 has recently been taking a look at the greatest TV characters of the 1960s. In today’s guest post, he focuses on the funniest secret agent ever to grace the small screen.

Name: Maxwell Smart, aka Agent 86

Portrayed by: Don Adams

TV series: Get Smart (1965-70)

Occupation: Secret agent for CONTROL.

Early Life: Born in Washington, DC, in 1930. Had a brother. Served in the Army during the Korean War. Failed the torture class three times in spy school, but still apparently graduated.

Family and Friends: He eventually married his partner, Agent 99; they had twins, whose names were never revealed. Max’s boss is The Chief (first name Thaddeus), who went bald within a few weeks of Max becoming a CONTROL agent. Max’s friends included fellow agent Larabee, Agent 13 (who hides in furniture, trash cans, mail boxes, etc.), Agent 44, and Hymie the robot.

Awards:  Won “Spy of the Year” in 1965 and 1966.Voted one of the “Ten Best Dressed Spies.”

Nemesis: Siegfried, the Vice President of Public Relations and Terrorism for KAOS.

Useful Skills:  Karate expert; fluent in several languages.

Classic quotes:  “Missed it by that much!”  “Would you believe (fill in the blank)?”  “The old (fill in the blank) trick.”  “And loving it!”

Classic episodes: “A Spy for a Spy” (first appearance of Siegfried); “The King Lives” (a The Prisoner of Zenda spoof with Don Adams doing a great Ronald Colman impersonation); and “The Impossible Mission” (a spoof of Mission: Impossible…and Max proposes to 99).

Rick29 is a film reference book author and a regular contributor at the Classic Film & TV Café , on Facebook and Twitter. He’s a big fan of MovieFanFare, too, of course!

  • Rchowe

    Maxwell Smart was great… but no one can beat Don Knotts’ Barney Fife!

    • JackJones

      Saw Don Adams on the same bill with Vikki Carr at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas in 1965.The show cost five bucks and included four drinks.

  • Rick29

    Rchowe, Barney is on our list of the 15 Greatest TV Characters of the 1960s, too!

  • Wayne P.

    Great topical biopic on Get-Maxwell-Smart(y) !  Ive always wondered if the show borrowed its opening with all the metal doors opening into each other from the 1942 classic This Gun for Hire…the ending of that one had a very similar sequence when Alan Ladd, dressed in his great gas-mask leads Laird Cregar to the inner sanctum to confront the evil corporate traitor Tully Marshall…thanks to update if this bit of trivia can be known.  Also, have always wondered if the James Bond movie producers borrowed the ending of North by Northwest for their trademark James closes film with girl scene..:)

    • Ganderson

      See also the opening sequence for ‘The Man from Uncle’ with some fun similarities.

  • Brygolf

     col. potter in mash

  • ANH

    Jeanie of “I Dream of Jeanie,” Samantha of “Bewitched,” and “Matt Dillon” of Gunsmoke  … and though he did not appear as an actor on his show … who could forget Rod Serling of “The Twilight Zone?”

  • Bryankr

    I used to live that show! It was the best spoof on spy movies you could ask for! His classic lines, Missed it by that much! Such a blowhard. Trying so hard to prove he was so much more. It was so funny!

  • Jackgwest

    Barbara Feldon can spy on mr anytime.

  • moodie4563

    get smart did funny show at was super or wonderful.max and  sgnet 99 were a wonderful pair.get smart was a hit with good writers and casts.htey created  asuper show night after night..the shoe phone is now our cell phone.the car is a classic with all gadets in it.even the chief office had hidden panelsand buttons good place to meet.

    • MissKitty


    • Lorraine M.

      You’re not from around here, are you. ;-)

  • Ganderson

    Favorite sequence from the pilot:  Smart has been captured by an evil Chinese genius/madman with a steel hook in place of his right hand.  He asks, “Mr. Smart, do you know what they call me?”  Smart replies, after some careful thought:  “Lefty?”  The evil mastermind fumes: “No Mr. Smart.  The Craw, the Craw!”  Smart asks, “The craw?!?”  “NO! Mr. Smart, THE CRAW!”  Later Smart asks the Claw if he’d believe, “eight Coast Guard cutters are now speeding to my rescue.”  The Claw says no and Smart asks, “would you believe seven Coast Guard cutters?” which the Claw also declines.  Finally Smart asks, “how about two cops in a rowboat?”  I believe that classic episode was written by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry.

  • Designer

    Although I have nothing against “Max” I will forever hate the show although I have seen some episodes. The reason for this enduring enmity is that “Get Smart” bumped my favorite show at that time “Secret Agent” which was very realistic and Patrick McGoohan was and would later be, one of the great British actors of all time. To replace that excellent series with the inane stupidity of “Get Smart” was to me at the time so heinous that I refused to watch any show on the network for the next year or so. Today I can content myself with owning every single “Secret Agent” aka “Danger Man” in Britain, show ever filmed. The show has so many young British up and comers in it that now the fun of watching is to spot the actors who would later become stars.

    • Grace

      Yes, I agree that Patrick McGoohan was great in the “Secret Agent/Danger Man” as he was later in “The Prisoner”. But, I think the British do TV and movies better overall.

      • Bruce Reber

        Gotta love that cool theme song for “Secret Agent” – “There’s a man who leads a life of danger, To everyone he meets he stays a stranger, With every move he makes, Another chance he takes, Odds are he won’t live to see tomorrow!”, performed by Johnny Rivers.

  • Vann Morrison

    Missed it by that much!

  • rufnek

    I never cared for “Get Smart”–too silly, like Jerry Lewis meets James Bond. And that actor’s voice was so damn annoying! I did like the quirky and more interesting Secret Agent, Also liked the “Man from UNCLE (but not the “Girl from ….”) and the much better “I Spy.” But my favorite spy series of that era was a short-lived series imported from Britain that featured an ex-CIA type dropped from the service and on his own in London (a situation similar to the more recent “Burn Notice series”). The best I can remember, the series was called something like “Man in a Suitcase). Unlike the ousted “Burn Notice” spy, this former agent had no access to firearms, no violent or politically connected friends to turn to for help but was being chased by enemies wanting to kill him for revenge or kidnap him for information or arrest him as an illegal alien. Usually got his butt kicked if there were any violence, but managed to survive by his wits and not much more. 

    • Lorraine M.

      I was mildly amused by “Get Smart” as a kid but seldom pay much attention to the Me-TV reruns now. I tend to agree with you that it was more silly than funny. And I vaguely remember “Man in a Suitcase,” which had a great theme. I’d love to catch a few episodes of it now just to see how it holds up.

  • John goodwin

    Adams was great as the hotel detective on the old Bill Dana show and his recordings of nightclub routines “Roving Reporter” and “The Detective” all fused together in Maxwell Smart. The show was inspired silliness, if one doesn’t appreciate it , ask yourself why you never see this kind of blend anymore – it’s difficult to achieve. I particularly like the episodes that gave Adams a chance to do impressions of movie actors like Ronald Coleman and a satire of the Prisoner of Zenda….

  • Bobby Laguardia

    always loved this show. What is Barbara Feldon up to these days?

    • daisy

      She’s retired now,; and at the age of 80, she’s earned it.

  • Bruce

    I went to college at UCI with Don Adams daughter. She was a Fine Arts major and acted in a few plays that were quite forgettable. The play were forgettable not his daughter. i forgot her , though.
    I have the Get Smart DVDs. When Don made a short revival of the series, he had Bernie Koppell on as Siegfried.
    Max: Siegfried, what have you been doing all these years?
    Siegfried: I was working on this boat….

    • Butch Knouse

      There was also an exchange between Siegfried’s daughter and Max’s son Zack where they talk about being the children of spies. She said “I didn’t know he was a spy, he told me he was a Doctor on a cruise ship.”

  • Tim

    Always LOVED “Get Smart”!  All the actors were great but I always thought Barbara Feldon was the true unsung talent on the show.  Speaking of un”sung”, ever hear Barbara Feldon sing “Max”?  If not, check YouTube where it’s done with clips of various episodes.  It’s a great song and always makes me smile. 

  • Daisy Brambletoes

    Of course I like Maxwell Smart.  Who could not?  He was one of the great TV characters, and Mel Brooks’ greatest creation (well, alongside the original Bialystock & Bloom).  He was very funny.  I miss him and his entourage of friends and enemies.  Still catch them on TV or DVD when I can.

  • Riccyg13

    As agent 99 once noted, Max was worth 2 agent 43s.

  • Big Mac

    Hymie actually began as a KAOS agent sent to kill Max.  They turned him around and recruited him…

  • Publius

    One of the funniest shows that was ever on television.  The air was saturated with spy shows like “The Man Fromn U.N.C.L.E., The Prisoner, et al.  We got tired of watching them as kids, and I loved spoofs and comedies of all kinds.  I think Mel Brooks wrote half of the scripts.  Who can ever forget how the show opened with Maxwell walking through all of these corridors, going into a phone booth, making a call and dropping down?  I liked the actor who played the Chief (he also played a great comedy foil on The Dick van Dyke Show that was a superb script.)  I knew that after the show was cancelled Don Adams did “screen test” which, alas, I never saw because I was in school when it was on.

    • Butch Knouse

      He also did a Canadian sitcom called Check it Out!. The show later on USA Network in 1985-1986 and syndicated from 1986 to 1988. Very funny. He was a supermarket manager who was the only normal person working there.

  • Bfre612034

    I would never miss an episode.  I still love thinking, and remembering, those wonderful shows.  Nothing since has ever kept my interest.

  • TRR

    I’m glad that I am not the only one who enjoyed a funny classic comedy show.Nothing made now is as fun or funny.I wish the movie don adams did in 1980 the nude bomb had the original people in it ,the chief of course had died in 73,but at least the tv movie had the original characters in it.It seems like almost all the shows from the past are good or great and only a few are worthwhile now a days.SORRY I HAVE TO LEAVE I’TS MY SHOE PHONE.

  • SimbasGuard

    I love Get Smart, It’s great to see Maxwell Smart considered as one of T.V.’s greatest characters.

  • jumbybird

    I wonder if Max would tweet from his shoe today?

  • jeanpierre150

    He was very, very funny – that Prisoner of Zenda episode was hilarious!  He was a very good actor.

  • Karlene

    loved Get Smart! funny thing is, as a letter carrier, my route number is 86 and I still catch myself humming the theme song as I go thru various automatic doors on my business route!

  • Beansarelli

    One of my all time favorite shows.  Smart was so wonderfully inept yet somehow successful  - KAOS agents weren’t any smarter than Max was.  One of my favorite lines was when Max came upon an agent who had been shot and was trying to pass on some kind of information with his last breath.  Max kneels over him and places his ear to the man’s lips.  When the man dies, 99 asks Max what the man said.  Max replies, “get your knee off of my chest!”  Awww – just too funny for words!

    • Admiral Hargrade

      Every time I see a similar scene in a new film or TV show (the protagonist leans over a character who has been shot or stabbed and who whispers something to him), I invariably wait for another character to ask the protagonist, “What did he say?” so I can hear the answer, “He told me to get my knee off his chest.”

  • HopeDiamond

    I did not like get smart either. His voice was annoying and I thought the show was silly, like Lost in Space. The ones I did like and enjoy were, Samantha on Bewitched, Jeannie on I Dream of Jeannie (she was also a knock-out), Alan Funt on Candid Camera, (although I know he was not an actor), Hawaii Five-O with Jack Lord. My favorite show was the twilight zone, still love it.

  • Angel

    At 12 year old Max represented adventures, humour and most important a clean life. I miss the 60′s good family values and fun. Always wanted a shoe phone and a cone of silence…

  • Charles Doughty

    do u have seasons 45?thank u charlesdoughty

  • roger lynn

    would you believe ,,missed by that much,,,,,love this show mel Brooks is a genius

  • jeff

    loved get smart. tremendous use of running gags with very clever variations. there are some hilarious cone of silence sequences on youtube. my favorite line was its craw not craw!

  • IceStormer

    I found Adams to be OK in small doses. I watched his stand-up routines on many of the variety shows of the era. He was mostly funny, but not wildly so like Jonathan Winters. So I watched Get Smart because my parents liked it. And, for the first two seasons, I actually found the show fun and entertaining. The third was sort of hit-or-miss. By the fourth season, the show was repetitive and predictable. The fifth was totally unwatchable.

    There are times when a show should gracefully bow out. For Get Smart, it would have been best if the third season had been the last. I wish Buck Henry had had the sense to see that.

  • Daisy

    I love this old show. I’ve always loved Don Adams, and the supporting cast was inspired, and even the so-called “bad” episodes were still fun and enjoyable.

  • williamsommerwerck

    If you’ve wondered why Maxwell Smart is Agent 86, go to Wikipedia and look up 86_(term).

  • laustcawz

    Don Adams–
    perhaps the only comedic actor in history
    capable of playing straight man–to himself!!

  • laustcawz

    More classic Smart quotations–

    “If only he had used his genius for niceness instead of evil.”
    “Sorry about that, Chief.”
    “The (fill in the blank). Of course it’s the (fill in the blank).
    Who else could it be but the (fill in the blank)? One question, Chief:
    Who are the (fill in the blank)?”
    “Don’t tell me…” “I asked you not to tell me that.”

    99 quotation, after she makes a suggestion
    & Smart says to be quiet, he’s thinking
    & mentions the same suggestion:
    “Good thinking, Max!”

    Siegfried quotation after flunkie Starker makes a silly noise
    involving the KAOS plan:
    “Starker!! Zis is KAOS!! Ve don’t “pkfffvwww” here!!!!!

    • Bruce Reber

      You forgot Max’s best known catchphrase – “Would you believe?”.

      • Antone

        And “So it’s the old [blank] trick.”

  • Butch Knouse

    Larrabee had one of the funniest ever bits in the very last episode. They all ran in a marthon as part of an undercover assignment. Larrabee ended up winning. He said he was going to put the trophy on the mantle right next to his wife’s. Max said “Your wife has a trophy for marathon running.” L: “No. Professional Wrestling. Have you ever seen Battling Biff Bannister? Long blonde hair, bulging chest muscles, always wears a mask.” M: “Your wife wrestled Battling Biff Bannister.” L: “No. My wife IS Battling Biff Bannister.”

  • Kenneth Morgan

    Two other episodes I’d add: “Strike While the Agent is Hot” (where Max is the CONTROL agents’ union shop steward, and we find out that KOAS agents have better pay & benefits), and “To Sire with Love” (the sequel to “The King Lives?”, with James Caan as Rupert of Rathskeller).

    Very funny show!

  • tomduck

    anyone remember what the names stod for?o what about the MAN FROM UNCLE!

    • Bruce Reber

      U.N.C.L.E. was the acronym for United Network Command For Law Enforcement.

      • tomduck

        okay what did their enemy thrush stand for?

        Subject: Re: New comment posted on The Greatest TV Characters of the 1960s: Maxwell Smart

        • Kent

          THRUSH: Technical Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and Subjection of Humanity. When the series first started, THRUSH didn’t stand for anything, but people expected it to mean something, so that was what they eventually came up with.

  • Donovan Moseley


  • kingpong

    Get Smart was created as a parody of the James Bond films of that time period. I thought it a
    brilliant parody/satire of espionage films generally with the genius of the creativity and writing of
    Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. Remember that Mel Brooks came out of the classic days of tv from
    Sid Caesar’s “Show of Shows” and his humor will always be classic and extremely funny. They also parodied other shows of that era like the episode “Die Spy” which had Robert Culp guest star in that episode as a waiter.

  • Bruce Reber

    “Get Smart” trivia question: which three makes of car did Max Smart drive in the series?

  • Capoman

    He drove a Sunbeam Tiger when the show first aired. That was a Hot Rod.

  • Richy

    Would you believe I liked it for the acting?
    OK, how about the humor and slashing wit?
    I liked watching Barbara Feldon

  • rs71

    There were six cars piloted by Max on the TV show.

    A Ferrari 250 GT PE Spider Cabriolet (pilot episode)

    The famous Sunbeam Tiger
    A VW Karmann Ghia (VW sponsored the show)

    A Citreon 2CV (one appearance)
    ’68 Ford Shelby Mustang GT500
    An Opal GT (Buick was the sponsor

    • Bruce Reber

      I was thinking only of the cars (Sunbeam, VW Karmann Ghia and Opel Manta) he was driving when he pulled up to CONTROL headquarters at the opening of the show. Thanks for clearing that up.

  • hemmingway

    Loved Get Smart. Don Adams is vastly under rated for his acting ability. His deadpan humor was dead on. When he answers the Claw’s question as to what people call the Claw, Don Adams says, “Lefty?” Sheer genius in his delivery, both vocal and facial delivery. The show where he was manager of the grocery store, showed his talent as he was the straight man, like Mr. Douglas on “Green Acres.” Don Adams was also the voice of Tennessee Tuxedo, “You knew the job was dangerous when you took it.” was one of his funniest lines. Don Adams…a very good actor, oft times under appreciated.

  • Bruce Reber

    When “Get Smart” reruns were being aired on “Nick At Nite” (the Nickelodeon cable channel) in the 90′s, if I remember correctly a replica of Max’s shoe phone was offered for sale via mail order. I wonder how many people actually bought one?

  • Cristopher Toti

    Love the show so much I bought it all in D.V.D

  • Tom K.

    ” Would you believe that Agent 99 is smokin’ hot ? “

  • Agent 1212

    I think I have the only copy of “The Nude Bomb”
    That was really BAD.

  • Charlotte Vale

    My brother and I did not agree, as children, on what to watch after school, except for Get Smart. We loved watching that show. Years later when Saturday Night Live featured a writer/actor called Buck Henry, we realized why we thought Get Smart was so funny, my brother also had a crush on Barbara Feldon. Don Adams was great as Maxwell Smart, his dead pan delivery would have us in peels of laughter.

  • jumbybird

    My little niece and nephew have discovered “Get Smart” I watch it every Sunday morning with them…

  • Antone

    This show was one guilty pleasure that I never felt guilty about watching every week. Adams reminded me of Buster Keaton without the athletic pratfalls and chases. He had the perfect lack of awareness of the stupidity of his words or actions. No matter how badly he fumbled and bumbled, everything worked out in the end.

    I still have one carry-over from the show. My standard apology is “Sorry about that”. It has been only 10 years since I dropped “chief” from the end.

    • Antone

      I just realized that I used another Max phrase in my blog about not liking It’s a Wonderful Life—because they relied on “the old saved-by-an-angel trick”.

  • Admiral Hargrade

    I loved Larrabee. He was SO dumb, he frustrated Max as much as Max
    frustrated the Chief. There was one episode in which Max married a Kaos
    black widow, played by the elegant and sultry Dana Wynter. She married a
    succession of CONTROL agents; elicited valuable information from them
    on their wedding nights; and then killed them.
    So Max and his new
    bride are enjoying themselves in a honeymoon suite while 99, the Chief,
    and Larrabee are hiding outside on the porch waiting for the bad girl to
    incriminate herself. Sure enough, she says something that will be
    sufficient to convict her, and the three come running inside from the
    porch and place her under arrest.
    Then the Chief turns to Larrabee
    and says, “Do you have the tape recorder?” Larrabee gets a confident
    smile; pats one of his jacket pockets; and says, “Right here, Chief.”
    The Chief smiles and says, “Good boy,” at which point Larrabee replies, “Do you want me to turn it on, Chief?”