Would you believe: Bill Dana’s contribution to Get Smart

Bill Dana as José Jiménez.

Bill Dana as José Jiménez.

Sometimes a mere word – or a few – can create something big. Thus was the case with a joke formula written by comedian and noted screenwriter Bill Dana in the early 1960s.

Dana passed away on June 15 at the age of 92.

Born William Szathmary on Oct. 5, 1924, Dana was best recognized as the thick-accented immigrant character José Jiménez. Dana also had a hand in Get Smart’s success -and in influencing the popular vernacular of the late 1960s. However, his efforts came long before Get Smart or even his own show, The Bill Dana Show, were conceived.

In the early 1950s, Dana had started out as an NBC page and performed in New York nightclubs with partner Gene Wood. After the Wood/Dana partnership ran its course, Dana set his focus on writing material.

Around this time the talent agency representing Dana, NRB Associates, expressed interest in stand-up comedian Don Adams, who had just made an appearance on the Garry Moore Show. They directed Adams to work with Dana, who would write material for him.

Adams was sent to a swank 20th floor duplex apartment on Central Park West. There he found Dana, who was decked out in a smoking jacket. Adams would learn, after Dana’s unemployment check dropped on the floor during the course of the meeting, the posh digs didn’t belong to his new partner. The smoking jacket wasn’t Dana’s either. Dana had been house sitting for Imogene Coca, who was known as Sid Caesar’s partner on Your Show of Shows.

The two would eventually expand on Adams’ depiction of a detective with an exaggerated

The cast of The Bill Dana Show, including Don Adams, Maggie Peterson, Jonathan Harris and Bill Dana.

The cast of The Bill Dana Show, including Don Adams, Maggie Peterson, Jonathan Harris and Bill Dana.

William Powell voice. “The Voice” found its way into other routines – notably as a defense attorney and a football coach.

Adams had some hesitation about using the nails-on-chalkboard voice but Dana encouraged it.

“That character, when you said the words, they just pierced right through you. It was a comedy writer’s dream,” said Dana in a 2001 documentary, Inside TVLand: Get Smart.

“Bill Dana said to me, you know, that voice is funny,” said Adams. “I said, I hate that voice. Bill Dana said, no, no, no, it’s funny. Use it.”

Dana would later defend use of The Voice when producer Sheldon Leonard wanted to “release” Don Adams from The Bill Dana Show.

Their other enduring collaboration, scrawled on a piece of yellow legal paper, was one Dana would later lacquer and frame: The Would You Believe gag.

The routine was a take off on the British in India themed movies of the 1930s, including The Lives of a Bengal Lancer  and Gunga Din, In it, Lieutenant Faversham confronts villain Mohammed Sidney Kahn:

Faversham: Not so fast, smarty Kahn. You think you’ve got me, but I have you surrounded by the entire mounted Seventeenth Bengal Lancers.
Kahn: I don’t believe that.
Faversham: Would you believe the First Bengal Lancers?
Kahn: No.
Faversham: How about Gunga Din on a donkey?

The Voice originally wasn’t used in this gag. Instead, Adams used his Cary Grant impersonation for Faversham’s lines.

Dana and Adams, circa 2001 with the original Would You Believe gag.

Dana and Adams, circa 2001 with the original Would You Believe gag.

The routine replayed itself in other acts, other shows and would find a place on The Bill Dana Show. Get Smart had a solid collection of these over the years. The joke was so strong that it became one of the elements most commonly associated with Get Smart, in addition to the Shoephone, the opening door sequence and Maxwell Smart’s voice. It’s assumed it was always there – even though it wasn’t used in every episode.

Moving forward, Dana took up the reins as a writer on The Steve Allen Show and created his own character for Allen’s Man in the Street segments – José Jiménez. These segments included a pantheon of other comedians: Don Knots, Pat Harrington Jr., Tom Poston and Louis Nye.

Dana’s Jiménez would eventually make the variety show rounds (including a take on the Ed Sullivan Show) and net a few comedy albums.

The character became a hit and in 1961 Dana made several guest appearances on the The Danny Thomas Show with José serving as an elevator operator. Riding the tide of popularity, NBC gave Dana his own show which ran from 1963 to 1965.

José Jiménez and Byron Glick ponder their fate in "Blood for Two Turnips."

José Jiménez and Byron Glick ponder their fate in “Blood for Two Turnips.”

In The Bill Dana Show, José was employed as a bellhop at the swank Park Central Hotel. Much to the annoyance of hotel manger Mr. Phillips (played by Jonathan Harris), José would either find himself in some predicament or engage in a daydream sequence ala shades of Walter Mitty.

Gary Crosby played fellow bellhop Eddie for the first season. Joining the cast later in the series were Don Adams as house detective Byron Glick and Maggie Peterson as Susie the waitress.

The Jiménez/Glick episodes produced some of the funniest bits in the series. However, that was infrequent. Adams appeared in only 15 of the show’s 42 episodes.

Nevertheless, it was the Glick character that would survive. After The Bill Dana Show was canceled, Adams, still under contract with NBC, found a future with Get Smart.
Dana actually appeared in two episodes of Get Smart.

His first stint was a cameo in the third season episode “Super Sonic Boom.” In that episode, Max and 99 are gaslighted in to believing they’ve been smuggled into Argentina. Once they escape Kaos by crawling out of a sewer, Max approaches a man on the street played by Dana and addresses him in Spanish. Dana responds by saying he doesn’t speak Spanish.

Dana’s second appearance, which he was paid SAG minimum for, was in the fifth season episode “Ice Station Siegfried.”

In this episode he fills in for Don Adams, portraying CIA Agent Quigley. In DVD commentary, Dana remarked that the character was José Jiménez without the accent -and longer sideburns.

“Don and I were like brothers. It was just one of those situations where he was under the weather… a lot of personal stuff going on at the same time. He wasn’t feeling well,” said Dana.

Dana was also one of the writers of the The Nude Bomb (1980), which he had a role in as fashion designer Jonathan Levinson Seigle.

As for José Jiménez, his last TV appearance was in a 1966 episode of Batman. The character was laid to rest in 1970 with Dana actually holding a mock funeral for José on Sunset Boulevard. This character really wouldn’t fly today.

This is only snippet of what can be noted about Bill Dana. It’s also worth pointing out that his brother Irving Szathmary composed the Get Smart theme. Dana’s other brother Al Szathmary served as Don Adams’ stand-in on Get Smart.

Bill Dana with Barbara Feldon in Ice Station Siegfried.

Bill Dana with Barbara Feldon in Ice Station Siegfried.

Kisses for Kaos: The old jealous spy trick

On the job: 99 has a date night with a Kaos agent. Max offers his assistance - and disapproval.

On the job: 99 has a date night with a Kaos agent. Max offers his assistance – and disapproval.

Episode 17
Kisses for KAOS (original air date: 1-15-66)
Cast:  Savage — Michael Dante, Mondo — John Abbot, Parker — Milton Selzer, Policeman —  Ray Kellogg, Gallery Patron —  Rose Michtom
Director:  Gary Nelson
Writers:  Stan Burns and Mike Marmer
Producer:  Jay Sandrich
Filming Location: Paramount Studios, Hollywood

Synopsis:
99 masquerades as a socialite and Max as her chauffeur in order to stop creepy Kaos art dealer/chemist Rex Savage from hanging his exploding paintings in the Pentagon.

This Kaos agent's gloves? They won't be coming off.

This Kaos agent’s gloves? They won’t be coming off.

My Thoughts:
The episode opens with Max posing as a gardener and 99 as a nurse watching a fake

Exploding consulates? That may require extra paperwork.

Exploding consulates? That may require extra paperwork.

baby. Max busies himself recording the activities of a foreign consulate when said consulate blows up. He manages to turn up one piece of evidence from the scene of the explosion – a portion of a painting from a gallery owned by Rex Savage. The Chief reveals that pieces of paintings from Savage’s gallery have been found at previous explosions – an embassy and a police station.

The problem is, Savage is a ghost to Control’s records – no photo or finger prints. 99, using the alias Melissa Westbrook, is tasked with posing as a wealthy society girl in order to make contact with Savage. Max tags along as her chauffeur.

In the meantime, Savage, a chemist, and his artist partner Mondo have been mulling their plan to add an exploding painting to the Pentagon.

99 manages to charm Savage during her visit to the gallery, but the gadgets she and Max are outfitted with fail. She’s supposed to gather his fingerprints with a special pencil – but Savage always wears gloves. She then decides to met with Savage alone in the local lover’s lane in hopes he will eventually take his gloves off. Max, whose jealousy is prominently on display in this episode, wholeheartedly disapproves.

The night out, however, proves unsuccessful. While cuddling, 99 complains about Savage’s gloves – his response is to put a softer glove over the other glove. Max, in the meantime gets thrown in the clink for violating 387B of the penal code – sitting in a chauffeur’s uniform next to a rubber dummy. The rubber dummy lobby, by the way, has been trying to get this law repealed.

Cop: What kind of weirdo are you?
Max: I don’t know, just a plain, normal everyday weirdo.

Forget the fax machine - Control sends memos by hurling a rock through a window.

Forget the fax machine – Control sends memos by hurling a rock through a window.

99, however, manages to score an intimate supper with Savage after finding out that he only takes his gloves off when eating or bathing. Carlson supplies Max and 99 with a few devices for the dinner: The Soup Bowl Camera, Bread Roll Print and Fruit Recorder.

With the exception of Max’s jealousy (and his use of a gong) dinner and the devices work out smoothly – until Mondo barges in the apartment and reveals to Savage that he’s been courting a Control agent.

Max and 99 are hauled off to Savage’s gallery where 99 is instructed to paint a shirtless Max (yes, shirtless) to death with exploding paint. 99, however, stops Savage and Mondo in their tracks by dumping a can of explosive paint on the floor. Of course, this also stops Max and 99 from escaping.

The episode closes with Max having repainted his apartment – only he used Savage’s paint. Well, at least he covered the furniture.

The episode is a veritable gadget toy box. Here’s a run down of some of the gadgets and other fun items:

• Inter office top secret relay – forget those pneumatic tubes of the good old days, those

Outgoing rocks from Control's Inter office top secret relay. Did one come crashing through your picture window? No worries - just plunk it in a mailbox. Control's address is on it.

Outgoing rocks from Control’s Inter office top secret relay. Did one come crashing through your picture window? No worries – just plunk it in a mailbox. Control’s address is on it.

office instant messaging systems of the last decade or two or even texting – Control sends inter office memos via a rock through the window. If you find one, don’t worry – just return it by plunking it in any mailbox. Control’s address is printed on the rock.
• Pencil Painter – A pencil scientifically treated to obtain a suspect’s finger prints – as long as that person isn’t a smooth talking man that likes wearing gloves.
• Chauffeur’s Cap Camera – Best used for still photography.
• Steering Wheel Phone – Installed in Max’s car and in need of adjustments – every time a driver turns the corner, the phone dials the operator.
• Soup Bowl Camera – A camera in the bowl takes selfies while the person eats. The flash is absorbed by the soup.
• Bread Roll Print – The rolls gather fingerprints.
• Fruit Recorder – This bowl of fruit records conversations – just don’t eat the banana.
• Inflato Girl – It’s exactly what it says it is. How they got away with it in this episode is beyond me.
• Even Kaos has its own ammunition: A painting of a camera that is actually a camera and Savage’s collection of paints that go boom.

For those that have the TimeLife DVDs, there is an audio commentary by Barbara Feldon for this episode. She talks at length about being taller than Don Adams as discusses a conflict that occurred early on with the show’s advertiser.

This episode is fine, though for some reason it never particularly wowed me. However, watching this one via the DVDs provides the opportunity to pick up on minute details that would be overlooked otherwise – specifically the facial expressions coming from Don Adams and Barbara Feldon.

There are some things you can't explain. The Inflato Girl is one of them.

There are some things you can’t explain. The Inflato Girl is one of them.

Watch for:
Aunt Rose makes an appearance.

Footnotes:
• A former pro-baseball player, Michael Dante appeared in numerous TV westerns including Cheyenne, Maverick, Bonanza and Death Valley Days. He appeared as Maab in the Star Trek episode “Friday’s Child.”

• John Abbott’s career in TV and film spanned all the way back to the 30s, with his most notable roles being in The Jungle Book and Gigi. He had an uncredited role as Mason in Jane Eyre, staring Orson Wells and Joan Fontaine. He also appeared in The Partners and Star Trek.

• Ray Kellogg appeared in a number of TV series including Perry Mason, The Real McCoys and The Dick Van Dyke Show. He was usually seen playing a bartender or a law enforcement official.

Glick meter: Max gives us a Would You Believe for our troubles in this one: 25 Control agents quickly turns into a vicious street cleaner and a toothless police dog.

Oh Max meter: When 99 suggests setting up a date to get Savage’s photo and finger prints, she’s noticeably surprised (and delighted) to detect Max’s jealousy.

99: If I could just get him alone
Max (offended): What do you mean alone? …I don’t think you should be alone with him.
99 (smiling): Max, you sound like you’re jealous.
Max: Jealous. Now that’s ridiculous 99. It’s just that, that man might turn out to be a dangerous kisser -er killer.

Control Agents: Professor Parker returns.

Kaos Agents: Savage and Mondo.

Gadgets: Secret Message Leaves, Pencil Painter, Cap Camera, Camera Painting, Steering Wheel Phone, Soup Bowl Camera, Bread Roll Print, Fruit Recorder, Explosive Paint, Vibration Explosive Paint and Nitro-Floor Paint. It’s up to you whether you consider the Inflato-Girl a gadget. *eye roll*

Episode Locations: Max’s apartment and Rex Savage’s Art Gallery. I could include that consulate, although that’s not much of a location anymore.

When you repurpose paint from a Kaos agent, make sure it's not the exploding kind before you paint your apartment.

When you repurpose paint from a Kaos agent, make sure it’s not the exploding kind before you paint your apartment.