|Hollywood, CA||April 1, 2023|
Would you believe there is a gravesite that depicts a man holding a shoe up to his ear? Fans of the sitcom Get Smart surely would. The shoe phone was a device used by the government counterintelligence agency CONTROL, whose roster of agents included Maxwell Smart, played by actor Don Adams. Adams received three of the seven Emmy Awards netted by Get Smart during its five-season run from 1965 to 1970. The bumbling but result-getting Smart — Agent 86 — was the main character of the series, which also starred Barbara Feldon as Agent 99 and Edward Platt as the Chief. Created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, the show satirized the Cold War era and was a parody of the James Bond series of books and films, as well as Get Smart‘s fellow NBC program, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
My father, a goofball and a child of the sixties, is shown here emulating Adams’s Maxwell Smart by holding up his shoe to his ear. No one was on the other end, except maybe a wad of gum. He might as well have been talking inside the Cone of Silence, a device favored by Agent Smart for clandestine conversations despite being faulty. The Cone of Silence worked too well: its occupants couldn’t hear one another speak.
The plaque at the foot of Adams’s grave gives a lengthy and heartfelt send-off to the “[b]eloved husband, father and grandfather” who served in the Second World War. The inscription also notes he was a comedian, poet, philosopher, [and] movie buff” whose personality was that of a “tough but sensitive man with a sentimental heart and a passionate soul.” Maxwell Smart is the only one of Adams’s characters mentioned in his epitaph, but his other acting work included voicing cartoon characters Tennessee Tuxedo and Inspector Gadget in the 1960s and 1980s, respectively.
A marble statue of an angel is positioned at the head of Adams’s plot. At its base sits a stone with the inscription, “‘If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever.'” The rock — same as the plaque described in the preceding captions — includes the seal of the U.S. Marine Corps in tribute to Adams’s service. He participated in the Guadalcanal campaign in the Pacific theater before he contracted blackwater fever (some secondary sources proclaim Adams was also shot, but this is disputed). Adams triumphed over blackwater fever’s high mortality rate and spent a year convalescing in a military hospital in Wellington, New Zealand. As such, he was the lone member of his platoon to survive the months-long Battle of Guadalcanal. After his recovery, Adams served as a drill instructor stateside until his discharge from the service.
Adams was among the approximately 450 notable people whose graves my father and I visited during our March-April 2023 Los Angeles area trip. One celebrity we did not pay our respects to was The Thin Man actor William Powell, whose voice served as inspiration for the “famous nasally-staccato delivery” Adams used in his Get Smart role. Adams used a similar voice for the titular character in Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales, a CBS Saturday morning cartoon which aired from 1963 to 1966. Tennessee Tuxedo, a penguin, often escaped the zoo with his walrus friend, Chumley, and antics ensued before they wound back up in captivity.
Born: April 13, 1923 in Manhattan, New York, New York
Spouses: Adelaide Constance Efantis Adams (m. 1947-1960); Dorothy Bracken (m. 1960-1976); Judy Luciano (m. 1977-1990)
Military Rank: Corporal — U.S. Marine Corps
Emmy Awards: Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series (1967-1969)
Died: September 25, 2005 in Los Angeles, California
Cause of Death: Lung Infection; Lymphoma
Interment: Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, Los Angeles, California
"No one had seen a sitcom like this. ABC thought it was too weird. It was Mad Magazine, but subtler."
- Don Adams
May 1999, reflecting upon the television show Get Smart in an interview with the Medicine Hat News of Medicane Hat, Alberta, Canada
Sources Consulted and Further Reading
Bernstein, Adam. Actor Don Adams Dies at 82. Washington Post. September 27, 2005. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/2005/09/27/actor-don-adams-dies-at-82/76aff084-ea04-4048-9f9d-25a906d8da7a/.
McKay, John. “It’s on with the shoe for comic Adams.” Medicine Hat News. May 6, 1999. https://newspaperarchive.com/medicine-hat-news-may-06-1999-p-18/.
Smith, Richard Harland. “Don Adams: Biography.” Turner Classic Movies. Accessed June 2, 2023. https://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/person/665%7C0/Don-Adams/#biography.