THE CONE OF SILENCE
A MOMENT OF QUIETUS FOR AGENT 86
OR

SORRY ABOUT THAT, DON ADAMS …

I’m witnessing my family get rubbed out like a gangland hit. The bullets ripping around the reunion hall as we all marvel at who’s going to go down next.

I recently watched the New Scooby-Doo Movies episode guest starring Don Adams from 1972, and of course my kids asked, “Who’s Don Adams?”

My gut response was: My uncle. He’s my uncle, isn’t he? Or was he my cousin? Somewhere in there on the family tree … The truth being, as I said of Bob Denver, Don Adams simply helped raise me.

I guess you could call me a latchkey kid, but I don’t think we called it that in the 60s or early 70s. At least I never heard of the concept until at least the late 80s. Seemed perfectly normal to me that the biological “parents” were off doing something; hunting, foraging, whateverthefuck biological parents do—while the kids stayed home, played with Gumby on the living room floor and watched Space Ghost, Frankenstein Jr., the Banana Splits or whatever else was available. Of course those were morning shows, the first round of babysitters so to speak—and at night the action began. We were “entertained” by strange adventures as a family: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Land of the Giants, the Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Get Smart. And as I grew older and off to school the second round of babysitting began, the afternoon shows when home from elementary education, the best of which were the same shows that had entertained us at night.

Get Smart was a regular for me. Just as commonly watched as Gilligan’s Island or the Brady Bunch. I loved it. My father had a peculiar habit of taking me to inappropriate films as a child, so by the time Get Smart hit the rerun circuit—I was already fully familiar with James Bond. My first Bond film seen in original release was You Only Live Twice, starring Sean Connery in 1967. I believe that film was “unrated” but surely worthy of an “R” or by today’s standards, PG-13. Depending on which month that film debuted I would have been either 3 or 4. My birthday’s in November.

Bond had quite an affect on me. It took me years to sort out normal male behavior vs. “What would Bond do?” And who the hell can live up to that? But another really interesting counter or dual influence that happened at that time came in the form of the Bond spoof. Bond was so popular its franchise inspired more imitations than any other creative property ever had or ever will. While salivating for the next Connery 007 pic—we had the Man from U.N.C.L.E., the Girl from U.N.C.L.E., the Secret Agent, the Avengers, the Flint films, the Matt Helm films, a comedy version of Casino Royale, and the great Get Smart. I’m sure I missed mentioning many influences here, but the trend continued all the way up to the present Austin Powers series.

The absolutely amazing thing about a good parody, spoof, or “rip-off” is that they, the bastard children, often invent their own legendary style that adds to the overall framework of the original influence and thus a genre is born. It’s akin to genetics. Bond was a super-strong DNA molecule that spawned a damn fine tribe—even if some of them were as naturally juvenile as children tend to be—silly reproductions of ourselves—with a potential to either become something better and stronger—thus strengthening the nucleotide chain, or merely strong enough to survive and ride the tide, or weaker and breaking the link.

So, what’s the point? Have I gone crazy with the death of Adams? Has Kaos won?

What I am getting at? Well, the argument, and therefore my opinion, is this: Get Smart is hands down the finest “knock off” on the James Bond films. Period. None of the TV or film representations were ever necessarily better than Bond, but Get Smart went a good way ahead of just swimming with the tide; it gave us something to remember, added to the overall government spy mix, and created its own immortal clichés.

Ray Bradbury once called Get Smart “the greatest science fiction show on television.” Why? The creators, Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, were not just funny guys—they were visionary funny guys. They foresaw VCRs and cell phones (from a shoe no less) and all sorts of other semi-realistic gadgets that would seem commonplace today. I believe they even cooked with radiation on that show, but nothing beats the Cone of Silence.

I guess I should admit at this point that my character Alex Adams the Intoxicated Detective takes his last name from Don. Another family connection. Don helped raise me while Mom drank vodka and read Harold Robbins novels and while my dad was out playing Willy Loman for real. Hunting, foraging, and the kid? At home watching Agent 86 judo chop that guy from Hogan’s Heroes who played an agent of Kaos with a terrible German accent—or was it supposed to be Russian?

Anyway, Barbara Feldon looked fine, just as a thriller babe should, and she certainly influenced my love for a woman who looks good in a trench coat, and therefore, gave me even more reason to respect Don Adams. They had the whole package, bizarre mystery, humor, the cool gadgets, and big love. Hell, you never get cool gadgets anymore. People are just too busy trying hard to be “realistic.”

Yeah, fuck reality.

I miss the heroes of my generation who helped create alternate ways of looking at reality, alternate landscapes that we wanted to be a part of. I miss Frank Gorshin as the Riddler. I wanted to be a part of that Batman reality. I miss Bob Denver as the only real beatnik Maynard G. Krebbs and as Gilligan, stranded with two babes and a couple of buddies in paradise. Strand me there as a kid, no problem. I miss Joey, Dee Dee, and Johnny Ramone never selling out, keeping those leather jackets and rock & roll alive, kicking ass, and laughing in the face of reality. I miss James Doohan beaming us all in to a better world. I miss Hunter S. Thompson who told the TRUTH but still kept us entertained and oblique before the governors of reality murdered/suicided him out.

Don Adams knew that real world all too well. He was a marine drill instructor before he became a comedian. Now, that’s twisted, but he knew the importance of laughter and served his country best with his portrayal of Agent 86 who said, “Missed me by this much.” He would hold up his index finger and thumb—showing us how close Kaos’s plans of annihilation or global brainwashing had come or how a simple accident had almost killed us all or just him—or  maybe he was subconsciously telling us how fragile we really are, the bullets always flying, but it’s still important to laugh. So important to laugh.

Even as the laugh track’s fading …

I’m still laughing, Don … but where the hell is the Get Smart DVD season 1 box set?

Missed it by that much …

Semper fi, American hero.

And goodnight, Don Adams.

Bradley Mason Hamlin
September 26, 2005
Sacramento, California
brad@retrocrush.com

CLICK HERE to hear out audio tribute to Don Adams on retroCRUSH Podcast #22

 

 

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