Older brother of Dick Yarmy, cousin of Robert Karvelas and brother-in-law of Alice Borden.
In 1999 he started to play Maxwell Smart once again, this time in a successful series of Canadian TV commercials for the "Buck-a-Call" long-distance service.
Biography in: "Who's Who in Comedy" by Ronald L. Smith; pg. 4-5. New York: Facts on File, 1992. ISBN 0816023387
He had a daughter, Cecily Adams, with his first wife, Adelaide. He also had a daughter, Stacey Adams and his only son Sean Adams, with his second wife, Dorothy. His other daughters are Carolyn, Chris, Cathy and Beige.
Father-in-law of Jim Beaver.
Claims he changed his last name from Yarmy to Adams because he was tired of having to go last at auditions, which, he said (inaccurately), usually went in alphabetical order. In reality, he took his stage name from his first wife, singer Adelaide Adams, with whom he shared a bill on the nightclub circuit.
Served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, and took part in the landings and battle at Guadalcanal, where he contracted malaria.
Was a close friend of "Playboy" publisher Hugh Hefner, and spent one night each week with Hefner (and other friends) playing cards.
His father was of Hungarian Jewish descent. His mother had German and Irish ancestry.
His TV writing partner in 1954 was comedian Bill Dana. Dana used Adams on his own TV show, The Bill Dana Show (1963) from 1963-65, by incorporating one of Adams' stand-up characters, inept house detective Byron Glick.
Had stopped performing in the postwar years and became a commercial artist because he had trouble finding stand-up work. In 1954, on a fluke, he auditioned and became a winner on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts (1948). This led to TV appearances with Steve Allen and Ed Sullivan, among others, and stardom.
Instead of taking a large paycheck per episode ($12,500 per week) of Get Smart (1965), Adams decided to take a smaller salary and 33% share. It paid off in spades--the show has been running in syndication for decades.
His clipped Maxwell Smart voice came from a much exaggerated takeoff on William Powell's "The Thin Man." He used to get laughs using the exact same voice years earlier on the stand-up circuit in different character set pieces--a baseball umpire, a football coach, a defense attorney.
As the inept Agent 86 on Get Smart (1965) Adams used to have a script assistant read his part to him once or twice just before a scene, instead of learning his lines.
Uninterested in doing the James Bond spoof Get Smart (1965) series at first, he got on board after learning that Mel Brooks and Buck Henry were involved with the pilot script. Tom Poston was the first name being considered for the role, but Adams, under contract to NBC at the time, was promoted for the job by the network.
Won three Emmys for bumbling secret agent Maxwell Smart in Get Smart (1965) and the show itself won two awards for "Best Comedy," but he was severely typecast after this and never did find another proper showcase to display his comic range.
One of the first (if not the first) stand-up comedian to have his own sitcom.
Did not like the (badly timed) laugh track in Get Smart (1965).
He died of a lung infection while undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA. Adams had also a bone lymphoma as a result of breaking a hip more than a year before his death. He was buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, Los Angeles.
His Agent 86 catchphrase, "Would you believe . . . ?", became the slogan for commercials for the White Castle hamburger chain in 1992, in which he also acted.
His two best known roles--Maxwell Smart and Inspector Gadget--were both James Bond parodies. Get Smart (1965) parodied the secret agent stories, while Inspector Gadget featured the unseen villain The Claw, who is shown as an arm stroking his cat, an obvious reference to Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
One of his duties while serving in the Marine Corps was a drill instructor.
Best remembered by the public for his starring role as "Maxwell Smart/Agent 86" on Get Smart (1965).
Was in a comedy team called The Young Brothers with Jay Lawrence.
Was only two inches inches shorter than ex-Get Smart (1965) co-star, Barbara Feldon. In order for make it appear that Adams was taller than her, he'd either stand on a small platform or Feldon would stoop down.
According to former Get Smart (1965), co-star, Barbara Feldon, Adams had an amazing memory that allowed him to take an unusual approach to filming.
Daughter Cecily Adams died in 2004, and son Sean Adams died in 2006.
When the pilot of Get Smart (1965) was shooting for CBS, the producers wanted Tom Poston for the role of Maxwell Smart, but when they sold it to NBC, Adams was already under contract with the network, so he got the part.
Before he was a comedian/actor, he worked as a theater usher.
Dropped out from DeWitt Clinton High School in 1941 (which was his senior year).
He was known to not be a morning person.
Remained good friends with Barbara Feldon during and after Get Smart (1965).
Disliked the two Get Smart (1965) revival films and the sequel series. Admitted that he only agreed to star in them for the paychecks.
Started out doing engineering designs but with no success tried comedy and won a talent contest which was seen by talent scouts resulting in him making appearances on shows such as Steve Allen and moving him further up the ladder of fame.