Mostly Credited As: Don Adams
Birth Name: Donald James Yarmy
Date Of Birth: April 13, 1923 (Age 82)
Country Of Birth: USA
Birth Place: New York City, New York
Date Of Death: September 25, 2005
Cause Of Death: Pulmonary Infection (Beverly Hills, California)
Height: 5' 9" (1.75 m)
Born Donald James Yarmy on April 13, 1923 in New York City to Irish-Hungarian parents, Adams prepared for a career as a commercial artist. He joined the U.S. Marines in the early days of World War II. He saw combat in the invasion of Guadalcanal and was the only survivor of his platoon. He contracted blackwater fever and nearly died, remaining hospitalized for more than a year. After his recovery he served as a drill instructor.
Following the war, he embarked on a career as an impressionist and stand-up comedian, appearing in small clubs in Florida and Washington D.C. He married singer Adelaide Adams and took her professional last name as his own stage name. In 1954, his stand-up act, written with his boyhood friend "Bill Dana" , landed him a contestant spot on Arthur Godfrey's "Talent Scouts" (1948), which he won. This led to scores of appearances on comedy and variety series such as "The Steve Allen Show" (1956) and Ed Sullivan's "Toast of the Town" (1948), and ultimately to a regular job on "The Perry Como Show" (1948). He also played in stock and in 1962 starred with Anthony Perkins in the Broadway play "Harold".
Divorced and remarried (to dancer Dorothy Bracken), Adams in 1963 reunited with Bill Dana on "The Bill Dana Show" (1963), playing inept hotel detective Byron Glick, a forerunner to his most famous characterization. NBC placed Adams under contract and gave him the starring role in the Mel Brooks and Buck Henry spy spoof "Get Smart" (1965). As the bumbling yet intrepid secret agent Maxwell Smart, Adams was an instant success. With his alluring straight-woman partner Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon), Adams became a comic icon of the 1960s, popularizing dozens of catch-phrases that still resound today: "Would you believe?", "Missed it by THAT much!", "...and LOVING it!" and "Sorry about that, Chief." Adams reveled in the show and its popularity, and particularly enjoyed writing and directing several episodes. "Get Smart" (1965) ran for five seasons and brought Adams wealth, awards, and worldwide fame. At the same time, he continued to achieve recognition as one of the funniest and most popular stand-up comedians of his generation.
Adams returned in a new series in 1971, "The Partners" (1971), which, though slightly more serious than Get Smart, still had him playing a bumbling law-enforcement officer. This time he starred with Rupert Crosse, the two playing a pair of none-too-bright detectives. The show lasted one season. Except for the intriguing but unsuccessful "Don Adams' Screen Test" (1975) (a contest show in which Adams directed famous stars and amateurs in scenes from classic movies), he did not return to series television for fourteen years. Instead he guest-starred on sitcoms, variety shows, and occasional TV movies. He played Las Vegas showrooms and nightclubs, though he grew increasingly reluctant to perform before live audiences. With the distinctive voice of his on-screen persona, he had long been active in voice-over work. Even during the Get Smart period he had been popular among children as the title voice of the animated "Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales" (1963), and later was even more popular in his title role as "Inspector Gadget" (1983).
Divorced again, he married a third time in 1977 (to Judy Luciano). During this period, Adams starred in and directed a number of commercials, winning a CLIO Award for directing. In 1980, he reluctantly returned to the Maxwell Smart character in a feature film, The Nude Bomb (1980), which he hated. He also brought the character briefly back to television in the 1989 TV movie Get Smart, Again! (1989). In 1985, he returned to series television in a Canadian sitcom, "Check It Out" (1985), in which he played the manager of a supermarket. The show was popular enough to run for three seasons on American TV, but it mainly provided a paycheck for Adams and a co-starring role for a pre-"NYPD Blue" (1993) Gordon Clapp.
In later years, he hoped for a chance at serious roles, of which he had done many in his early years in summer stock. But the opportunity never arrived. A role was actually written for him by his son-in-law Jim Beaver for the revived "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" (1985) in 1986, but the producers feared he could not subsume his comedic persona, and the role went to Martin Landau. Instead, he returned to the role that had made him world famous, in a third revival of Maxwell Smart. The 1995 series version of "Get Smart" (1995) featured Adams as Smart, now promoted to Chief of the secret agency CONTROL. Barbara Feldon also returned as his wife and colleague, but instead of the couple who had made television history, the show focused on the bumbling spy efforts of their son Zach Smart. Only seven episodes aired before the new show was cancelled.
Adams spent the remainder of his career doing commercials and voice work, mostly in new Inspector Gadget productions. In 1999, he made a cameo voice appearance in the live-action Inspector Gadget (1999) feature film starring Matthew Broderick as Gadget. Like his brother, the late comic actor Dick Yarmy, Adams was an inveterate horse-player. His leisure time was largely spent either at racetracks or in card games at the Playboy Mansion, and with pals such as 'Hugh Hefner' , James Caan, and Don Rickles. Divorced for the third time, he lived alone in a luxury apartment in Century City. He was a devoted history buff, and was an amateur expert on the lives of Abraham Lincoln and Adolf Hitler. He was a talented poet and painter.
His health declined in later years with the onset of bone lymphoma, but took a precipitous turn for the worse following the death in 2004 of his daughter, actress-casting director Cecily Adams. He died from a lung infection at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Beverly Hills on September 25, 2005. Two of his former wives and three of his children, as well as other family members, were with him when he died.