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Monday, April 15, 2013

Agent 99 visits Pittsburgh museum highlighting 1968

Actress Barbara Feldon reflects in her hometown of Pittsburgh on the time she spent in the 1960s as Agent 99 with actor Don Adams on TV's "Get Smart." (Scott Beveridge photo)

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – TV's wildly popular 1960s situation comedy "Get Smart" began as a cartoon about the famously handsome fictional spy James Bond, said Western Pennsylvania native Barbara Feldon, who starred as the show's beautiful and witty CIA Agent 99.

Then the spoof that aired from 1965 to 1970 morphed into an extreme satire on the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and some of the foolish things its agents were doing in a decade when a paranoid America dealt with the Cold War, Feldon said Saturday during a speaking engagement at Sen. John Heinz History Center.

"Everybody was spy conscious," Feldon, 80, said at the event in Pittsburgh timed for the center's special exhibit, "1968: The Year that Rocked America." 

The exhibit highlights a tumultuous year that saw assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy also welcomed an explosion in zany pop culture.

To capitalize on the buzz 1968 has been generating, the staff at the Heinz center on Saturday hosted dealers with Pittsburgh Vintage Mixer who specialize in selling mod collectibles ranging from Pyrex Ware to vinyl records.

The dealers who spread their wares across the first floor reported good sales from customers who stood in lines that stretched out the front doors of the museum at 1212 Smallman, and brought inside young faces that otherwise might never have visited this attraction.

In the seventh-floor library, Feldon drew 200 fans eager to hear the former model discuss her life and acting career.

She said her costar Don Adams, AKA as Maxwell Smart, was all business during their time together on the show, and that they didn't become close friends until years after it was cancelled.

Adams felt uncomfortable at around her because she was a lot taller than he, forcing her to slouch and use her crossed ankles as support to stand in order to make them appear to be the same height in screen.

"I was the only actress in Hollywood with callouses on my ankles," joked Feldon, who was born in Butler County and graduated from Bethel Park High School.

She also graduated from Carnegie Tech and soon relocated to New York and the opportunities in offered young actors in search of stardom.

Pittsburgh, today, "is much more cultural" than it was in the early 1940s, she said.

"I was ready to leap off that diving board and see the world."

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