Born: April 13 1923
Died: September 25 2005
by PETER TATCHELL (reproduced from LAUGH MAGAZINE #15, 1996)
New Yorker Don Adams (born Donald Yarmy) first achieved fame in the 1950s as a stand-up comic doing material co-written by Bill Dana (progressing from a disastrous opening act for a touring Mae West production to fame on television Tonight shows).
One of Adams’ routines parodied the suave William Powell screen detectives, and the distinctive voice characterisation proved so successful it would soon dominate his act and ultimately lead to worldwide mimicry.
By the end of the decade his best monologues were released on vinyl, and several years later he recorded a follow-up disc playing a variety of colourful characters being quizzed by a probing reporter. The LP features Adams and an unnamed offsider alternating in the straight man/comic roles, and the material holds up well decades later. One of the tracks (poking fun at President John F. Kennedy’s wartime exploits) was edited from later pressings owing to Kennedy’s assassination just a couple of months after the record’s release.
Late 1963 also saw Bill Dana given his own TV sitcom (as bellhop Jose Jimenez) and he made sure his friend Don Adams was cast as bumbling hotel detective Byron Glick. The series only just survived into a second season, but for Adams it would prove a stepping stone to video immortality.
With the James Bond-inspired spy boom infesting television by the mid-1960s, Mel Brooks decided the genre was ripe for lampooning, and signed Adams to star in his sitcom send-up Get Smart. Almost overnight, secret agent Maxwell Smart became a sensation and people everywhere were quoting his catchphrases and imitating his voice.
To capitalise on the program’s success, United Artists released an album of soundtrack extracts, linked by an ongoing commentary by Adams as Smart, and a further recording of a live Don Adams performance in Las Vegas (which includes a couple of anecdotes about how the character’s fame was affecting his life).
Get Smart ran five seasons, spawning two movies in the 1980s and an unsuccessful 1995 TV series revival, and for Adams proved the ultimate in type-casting. Despite appearing in two other sitcoms (Partners and Check It Out), the TV game show Don Adams’ Screen Test and providing the voice for the title character of the 1980s cartoon series Inspector Gadget, Don Adams will forever be remembered as Control Agent #86.
Happily, in his peak years Adams made wise financial investments, opting for a share of the rights to Get Smart over salary increases.
At the time of his death in 2005 he was regarded not just as one of the great comedy performers of his age but as one of television’s enduring and perennial favourites.
Signature LP SM 1010
Introduction + Russian Story + Discussion Of Sick Humor + TV Ideas
Don Adams Meets The Roving Reporter
GNP Crescendo LP GNP 91/ST 90539, Vocalion VA 7009
P.T. Boat (deleted from later pressings)
The Movie Star/The News Round-Up/The Bank Robber
GNP Crescendo EP GNP 303X
Roulette LP (S)R 25317
reissue of the Signature LP
United Artists LP UAL 3533, Raven LP RVLP 1005, CD RVCD 61
Washington 4 – Indians 3
Cone Of Silence
Too Many Chiefs – Countersign
The Latest Devices
All In The Mind
The Incredible Harry Hoo
I’m Only Human
Kisses For KAOS
Too Many Chiefs – Hotel Sequence
Sorry ‘Bout That
Don Adams Live?
United Artists LP UAL 3604/UAS 6604 (1967)
Don Adams Live At The Sands (2 parts)
Non-Scheduled Airline/Golfers Are All Crazy
United Artists single UA 50197
Kill Me With Kindness/Heartaches Deep In Sorrow
Musicor single MU 1078