Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Mr. Big – take one

Maxwell Smart and Agent 99
Invoking the gaze: Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) finally gets a good look at Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon) while Saturday night NBC viewers get their own good look at the start of a five year series parodying the 1960s spy craze.

(From the archives) 

Episode One

Max clocks in for the first episode.
Mr. Big (original air date: 9-18-65)

Cast: Maxwell Smart – Don Adams; Agent 99 –  Barbara Feldon; the Chief – Ed Platt; Mr. Big – Michael Dunn (special guest star); Dante – Vito Scotti; Zelinka – Janine Gray; Garth – Kelton Garwood; Mother – Karen Norris; Fang – Red; uncredited scientist - George Tracy; uncredited audience members - Steve Carruthers, Stuart Hall, Sam Harris, Ron Nyman and Monty O'Grady; uncredited henchmen - Charles Horvath and Bob Hoy

Director: Howard Morris

Writers: Mel Brooks and Buck Henry

Producer: Jay Sandrich

Filming Location: Paramount Studios, Hollywood


Meet counter-espionage organization Control and its top agent Maxwell Smart who has been specially trained never to disclose the fact that he’s a spy – except maybe when his shoe phone rings in symphony hall. Agent 86 must: find Agent 99, rescue Professor Dante and get his mitts on Dante’s Inthermo before Mr. Big uses it to blow up the Statue of Liberty.

Cone of Silence
The initial usage of Max's favorite useless toy - the Cone of Silence.

My thoughts 

I guess if I have to blame something for my Get Smart addiction, it would be the black and white pilot. I never get tired of this episode. Over on www.ilovegetsmart.com I have it listed as my number four favorite episode. In comparison to how the series progressed, Max, 99 and the Chief are a bit "raw," yet this really is a tight little episode.

I first saw this episode in January of 1991 when Nick at Nite began airing Get Smart. Unlike the rest of my Chicagoland pals who watched the show in reruns during the '80s on Channel 32, I had never seen it before. I lived in the Mid-Atlantic prior to the '90s and there was no Get Smart to be found on Baltimore TV.

Being an '80s kid, there was one thing that made me raise an eyebrow the first time I saw the pilot — the voice. I wondered, why does this guy sound like Inspector Gadget? He's even got an inflatable coat, a dog and a brainy female sidekick like Inspector Gadget did! My 12-year-old mind was impressed.

The scene in this episode I love the most is Max and 99's near kiss. After Fang saves Max from being vaporized, 99 takes off her hat and shakes out her hair. This prompts Max to utter, "Why you're a girl!" The two then go for a kiss, which Fang interrupts.

Logically the whole concept of this scene is absurd – evidently Mr. Smart clearly needed a stronger pair of Bino-Specs when he first laid eyes on 99. Comically it takes the opportunity to mock spy movie heroes that make out with Bond girls they've just met.

It's worth noting that the original script had 99 described as a blonde. That, of course, would change as Barbara Feldon was sought out by Buck Henry.

But unlike Feldon, Don Adams was not originally considered for Agent 86. The series had initially been pitched to ABC and Tom Poston, then known for being one of Steve Allen's "Men in the Street" was cast as Maxwell Smart. I'll write more on that in a future blog.

Watch for: Mr. Big’s little cigarettes, 99’s bad driving, the humorous fight scene on the garbage scow and Max discovering that 99 is indeed a girl. There’s a bunch of booboos in this episode and those will be discussed in the next weeks blog.

Max discovers that Agent 99 is indeed a girl - at least until Fang barks and tells them to get back to work.


• This is the only black and white episode of the series.

• The opening is slightly different. Max drives a Ferrari 250 GT Cabriolet and tosses a hat into the back

The first Get Smart car was this Ferrari 250 GT Cabriolet.

seat. This is the only time this car is used. In the rest of the episode 99 attempts to drive a limo and Max attempts to close the vehicle's door.

• During filming of the pilot Don Adams learned that his wife Dorothy gave birth to their daughter Stacey Noel.

• Michael Dunn had quite a bit of experience playing the archenemy of secret agents – he had a reoccurring role as evil Miguelito Loveless on The Wild Wild West.

• "Zelinka" is an in-joke – Executive Producer Leonard Stern’s co-writer on The Honeymooners was Sydney Zelinka.

• Howard Morris worked with Mel Brooks on Your Show of Shows and he played Ernest T. Bass on the Andy Griffith Show.

• Dante’s Inthermo is a reference to Dante's Inferno.

• Vito Scotti was probably in every old TV show known to man.

• Karen Norris had a role in the movie Fitzwilly which starred Barbara Feldon.

• A child actor, Monty O'Grady was an early member of the Our Gang group.

• George Tracy appears in another first season Get Smart episode, "Double Agent" as a barfly.

• A noted stuntman, Charles Horvath had a more substantial role in a second season Get Smart episode, "Island of the Darned" as Igor.

Glick meter: 100%

Oh Max meter: Probably the only episode 99 refers to Agent 86 as Maxwell. They haven't quite hit their stride.

Control Agents: Hodgkins, Agent 34 (in locker), Fang. Also mentioned: Agent 57 who is in Hong Kong

Kaos Agents: Mr. Big, Zelinka, Garth, un-named Kaos agent at the airport and random Kaos Frogmen

Gadgets: Cone of Silence, Shoe Phone, Mirrored Cuff Links, Bino-Specs, Locker Key, a Beretta and the Inflato-Coat

Episode Locations: Washington, D.C., New York City, Cravehaven Laboratory, South Street Novelty

After successfully defeating Kaos, a mussed Agent 99 beams with pride while Max phones it in to a wrong number.

From the Archives: School Days

Helllllpppp! Max and 99 get tied up in "School Days". (I'm back in the saddle after a few hectic work weeks. Here's anothe...