Barbara Feldon rose to fame in the 1960s as the smart, stylish secret agent 99 on the classic comedy series Get Smart. With her wit, charm, and undeniable beauty, Feldon became an icon of 1960s popular culture.
But after Get Smart ended in 1970, what happened to the breakout star? Where did Barbara Feldon go after saying goodbye to Maxwell Smart and the spy life?
Barbara Feldon, born Barbara Anne Hall on March 12, 1933, in Butler, Pennsylvania, first tryst with the stage was during her first-grade band performance.
Holding a triangle, she played a solo that became an epiphany for her, marking the beginning of her love for the stage. This early experience was deeply anchored by the gaze of her mother, who watched her intently from the audience. Feldon believes that this gaze, full of attention and love, later translated into her attraction to the camera during her acting career.
As Feldon grew, her comedic talent became evident, especially during her high school plays. This knack for comedy played a pivotal role in her acceptance into Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon) in Pittsburgh. While her parents did not overtly encourage her artistic pursuits, they never stood in her way, allowing her the freedom to chase her dreams.
Upon moving to New York, Feldon’s professional journey began with a dance gig at the iconic Copacabana. For Feldon, this experience was the pinnacle of her career, enveloped in fantasy and the glamour of the era. Her talent and determination soon led her to participate in a revival of the legendary Ziegfeld Follies, further cementing her place in the world of entertainment.
Before her big break, Feldon had a stint as a showgirl, model and dancer, even performing on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in February of 1964, a significant event as it was the same show where The Beatles made their iconic American debut.
She gained significant attention from a popular television commercial for “Top Brass,” a hair pomade by Revlon. This exposure paved the way for her to secure roles in various TV series during the 1960s, such as “Twelve O’Clock High,” “Flipper,” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”
Feldon even showcased her knowledge of William Shakespeare by winning the grand prize on “The $64,000 Question” in 1957. Her early career was marked by a combination of her modeling endeavors, television appearances, and her notable win on the quiz show.
Her rise to fame came with her portrayal of Agent 99 in the iconic TV series “Get Smart,” which aired from 1965 to 1970.
Get Smart is an American comedy television series that parodied the secret agent genre, which had gained immense popularity in the 1960s due to the James Bond films.
Created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, the show premiered on NBC on September 18, 1965. The series stars Don Adams as the bumbling secret agent Maxwell Smart (Agent 86), Barbara Feldon as his competent partner Agent 99, and Edward Platt as their boss, The Chief.
Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, the show follows the misadventures of Agent 86 and Agent 99 as they work for the secret U.S. government counterintelligence agency, CONTROL, battling the forces of the rival agency KAOS.
While Maxwell Smart is often clueless and relies on sheer luck, Agent 99 is the brains of the duo, often saving the day with her intelligence and skills. The series is known for its iconic catchphrases and comedic take on spy gadgets and tropes.
Barbara Feldon’s character, Agent 99, is a top agent at CONTROL and works alongside Agent 86, Maxwell Smart. Her real name remains a mystery throughout the series.
Agent 99 is portrayed as highly skilled, professional, and competent, often serving as the foil to Smart’s bumbling nature.
While she is deeply in love with Max, he often remains oblivious to her affections, though he does show concern for her well-being.
Despite her on-screen chemistry with Don Adams (Maxwell Smart) in “Get Smart,” Feldon revealed that their off-screen relationship was formal, with the two rarely interacting outside of work.
Post Get Smart Career
Feldon revealed that at the time she was cast for “Get Smart,” she had also been selected for a significant movie titled “The Group,” which marked Candice Bergen’s film debut.
Her agent presented her with a choice: either take on the movie role, which would likely be overshadowed by Bergen’s performance and the publicity it would garner, or opt for the TV series “Get Smart,” which would provide her with financial security.
However, choosing the TV series meant giving up aspirations of becoming a movie star, as during that era, there was a clear divide between television and film, with little crossover between the two.
Feldon confidently stated that she believes she made the right decision in choosing “Get Smart.” However, she acknowledged the challenges that followed.
After the first year of “Get Smart,” she found it difficult to secure roles, especially in dramatic projects.
The typecasting was so profound that audiences expected to laugh whenever they saw her on screen, associating her so closely with her comedic character. This typecasting led to a period where she didn’t work at all, as offers were scarce.
After her iconic role in “Get Smart,” Barbara Feldon took on various roles in television series and movies.
Some of her notable appearances include roles in TV series such as “Emily of New Moon,” “American Experience,” “Chicago Sons,” “Something So Right,” “Mad About You,” and “Cheers.”
Feldon also reprised her role as Agent 99 in the TV film “Get Smart, Again!” in 1989. In addition to her acting endeavors, she lent her voice to the series “Square One Television” in 1987.
Barbara Feldon did not have any other major regular TV parts or starring roles after playing Agent 99 on Get Smart. Her career wound down in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Her last acting credit came in 2006 for the movie The Last Request.
Leaving Hollywood and Living Alone
In 1980, seeking a change, Feldon left Hollywood for New York. Embracing solitude, she rebuilt her life, forging new friendships and immersing herself in the city’s vibrant culture.
Her 2003 book, “Living Alone and Loving It,” delves into her journey of independence and the joy of solitude.
Feldon’s perspective on living alone resonated with many, as she emphasized the importance of self-reliance and not relying on romantic relationships for happiness.
She emphasizes that one is never truly alone and that valuable connections can be found everywhere.
What is Barbara Feldon Doing Now?
At the age of 90, Barbara Feldon recently penned an intimate memoir titled “Getting Smarter: A Memoir.“
In this book, Feldon delves deep into her personal life, sharing the story of her romance with Lucien Feldon Verdeaux, a glamorous European she married and who turned out to be a stranger after marriage, leading her into a whirlwind of unexpected events.
The memoir not only touches upon her relationship with Lucien but also offers insights into her initiation into show business.
Readers are taken on a journey through her experiences as a showgirl, her modeling days during the Mod era, and her memorable time working in Hollywood, especially her iconic role as Agent 99 in the award-winning TV series, “Get Smart.”
Feldon still resides in New York City, cherishing its vibrant culture and the daily surprises it offers. She finds immense joy in conversations, reading, and being an audience to various art forms.