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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Not Craw -- Craw!

Don Adams, the comedian who played secret agent 86, Maxwell Smart, on TV in the late '60s, has left us. He was 82.

What a hilarious spoof that show was. With James Bond and The Man from UNCLE ruling the roost in popular culture, Get Smart was the ultimate sendup. People like Buck Henry and Mel Brooks were writing the gags, and so you knew you were in for laughs.

One of the bits I loved the best was, alas, one of the most politically incorrect ever to be seen on an American screen. You could never run it today, and of course, for good reason. But back when you could laugh at such things without even realizing how crass you were being, the showdowns between Smart and one of his arch-enemies, the Claw (played by Leonard Strong), were classic.

The Claw (pictured left) was an evil villain of Asian ancestry -- a distant cousin to Bond's "Dr. No." The Claw was so called because one of his hands was missing, a la Captain Hook. In its place, as I recall, was a powerful shoehorn-shaped magnet. (There you go -- two strikes already, both disability and ethnic stereotyping.) The Claw spoke English with a heavy accent, which was a good part of the joke. Picture Smart holding him off at gunpoint. Smart would turn to his sidekick, the lovely Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon), and say with a squinted brow, something like: "Well, 99, I see it's our old nemesis, the Craw."

Before 99 could respond, the villain would break in, growling: "No, not da Craw -- da Craw!"

The dialogue would come back to that more than once in every conversation between hero and villain, with the latter becoming more and more exasperated. Pretty soon you realized that the eternal struggles between good and evil, between life and death, were nothing compared to the confrontation between Smart's thick-headedness and the Claw's inability to correct him. "It's not Craw -- it's Craw!" I still laugh out loud when I say it, doing my best imitation of Strong. And in everybody's defense, the laughs are as much about Smart as they were about the Craw -- er, Claw.

I guess you had to be there to get it. But those of us who were, did, and 40-plus years later, we remember many other Smartisms. Who could forget the shoe phone? The secret entry to headquarters via the phone booth? The Cone of Silence? The dozens of other spy gadgets that never worked? We'll miss Adams, but perhaps not as much as we miss Max. (Via AboutItAll--Oregon.)

Comments (6)

Thanks for the flashback, Jack.
To this day there is a certain hallway in my law firm that, when I walk down its length (of course it leads to the senior partner's office), seemingly becomes the hallway from the opening credits of Get Smart; in my mind, complete with the endless variety of slamming doors (imagined, of course) and the unforgettable "duh da duuuuu....dum!" soundtrack. Guess it will always be this way now...

that show twisted me up when i was a kid. i LOVED it.

I cannot believe you did not mention "would you believe?" as Smart would run through an exceedingly exaggerated and silly response. Not only did I use the concept on my parents as a kid...but I found it prepared me for a career in government.

Lots of nice reminiscences here.

Crass to laugh at something funny??? Sorry, it was and still is funny, if you can't laugh at yourself and see humor in others then go pound sand.

Also, who can for get the robot - Hi-me (I think that would be the way it's spelled) and the other catch phrase (that I've been using lately) - "Missed it by that much" (as he would show a tiny space between his thumb and his index finger).

May God Bless him for the laughter that he brought into our lives.

Great memories here, Jack. I am working in China and would love to retrieve a short sound clip of "The Claw" so they can hear it to believe it!! Have you any idea where I can get this?

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