Barbara Feldon is best known as the delicious Agent 99 in the hit television series “Get Smart” which ran from 1965 until 1970. She also starred in the movies “Fitzwilly” in 1967 and “Smile” in 1975. Now retired from film acting she currently resides in New York.
With her innate talent and drive, it was not too difficult to decode actress Barbara Feldon’s formula for success. The former fashion model shot to fame as the statuesque Agent 99 on the classic spy sitcom “Get Smart” (NBC, 1965-69; CBS, 1969-1970), which paired her with Don Adams as the blundering, shrill-voiced Maxwell Smart. Playing the highly competent secret agent whose looks often came in very handy during covert operations punctuated Feldon’s career, but it also limited her choice in roles following the show’s demise. Feldon continued to act, taking on supporting roles on various drama series and sitcoms, as well as earning recognition as a brilliant voiceover artist. Yet, it was Feldon’s role as the slick and sexy Agent 99 that was forever etched in most viewers’ memories, making her one of television’s most unforgettable characters.
Barbara Hall was born on March 12, 1933 in Pittsburgh, PA, where she enjoyed an average middle-class upbringing. By the time she was in first grade, the already ambitious Feldon decided she was going to be an actress. Her passion for the craft continued to flourish, and in 1955, she graduated from Carnegie Mellon University’s (then Carnegie Institute of Technology) drama department and moved to New York City shortly after. In between acting gigs, Feldon worked as a dancer in a Ziegfeld Follies revival. She also became a contestant on the quiz show “The $64,000 Question” (CBS, 1955-58), where she won the title prize for correctly answering all the questions in her particular area of expertise, Shakespeare. In the mid-1960s, the seductive, deep-voiced actress purred and growled her way to recognition after she appeared in a television commercial, sprawled on a tiger skin rug, staring deep into the camera and touting the praises of Top Brass cologne.
In 1964, Feldon landed a guest-starring role on the drama series “East Side/West Side” (CBS, 1963-64) and quickly caught Hollywood’s attention. After a few more guest spots on television, Feldon finally won the role that would provide her with pop culture immortality – the lead role of the striking and intelligent Agent 99 on the wacky spy sitcom “Get Smart” (NBC, 1965-69; CBS, 1969-1970). Starring opposite Don Adams as the bumbling secret agent Maxwell Smart, Feldon’s Agent 99, though much younger, was decidedly more competent than her older counterpart who, in spite of his clumsiness, still managed to fend off their enemies and fight the forces of K.A.O.S. Feldon’s character was frequently seen leaning, sitting, or slouching in the show’s ongoing effort to conceal that she was slightly taller than her male co-star. After “Get Smart” wrapped production after a successful run, Feldon found it hard to shake off her Agent 99 character for years to come.
Undaunted, she continued to make TV appearances, guest starring on a number of drama series as well as taking on supporting roles in numerous made-for-TV movies, most notably the 1975 satire “Smile” (CBS) where she portrayed a prudish yet obsessive beauty contest organizer. She was a regular player on the short-lived “The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine” (ABC, 1972) and, with Jackie Cooper, co-hosted “Dean Martin’s Comedy World” (NBC, 1974). Feldon also found constant work as a voiceover artist for commercials such as Nice Cough Drops and Campbell Soup, and was a regular panelist on classic game shows such as “The Hollywood Squares” (syndicated, 1965-1982) and “The $20,000 Pyramid” (syndicated, 1973-1992). In 1993, she made a rare TV appearance on the NBC comedy series “Mad About You” (1992-99), where she played a former star of a ’60s spy series called “Spy Girl.” Feldon reprised Agent 99 alongside Adams as Smart in the ABC reunion TV movie “Get Smart, Again!” (1989), in several episodes of the short-lived series revival “Get Smart” (Fox, 1995), and in the documentary special “Inside TV Land: Get Smart” (TV Land, 2001). She also indulged a lifelong passion for writing by penning the 2003 book Living Alone and Loving It, which chronicled the path she took to become content and comfortable while living single.
By Candy Cuenco
The above TCM overview can also be accessed online here.