You’ve got to admire actress Barbra Feldon, and not just because she starred, alongside Don Adams, as Agent 99 on the Classic TV spy sitcom Get Smart from 1965 to 1970. In 1980, following the dissolution of a 12-year relationship, she decided it was time to drastically shake things up to live the life she had always imagined, and she’s never looked back since or had a single regret.
“When I left Hollywood, I threw my life in the air and let it fall down in new shapes,” she related to The Press Democrat of Santa Rosa, California. “I went to New York to see what would happen. To me, a person’s life is like a kaleidoscope. You hold it still and look at all the beads making a set pattern. Then you turn it a little and everything changes. Well, I needed that sort of change. I gave the kaleidoscope of my life a real big twist.”
It was, she says, a “tremendous” upheaval as she had lived in New York a dozen years earlier, but didn’t have friends there anymore. She nonetheless sold her sailboat in California, closed up her house, packed her clothes and pretty much restructured her entire life.
“I bought part of a Manhattan townhouse and tried to meet the kind of people I hoped would become my friends,” she explained. “I accomplished this by accepting every invitation that came my way. The result was that I did meet hundreds of people. I now have the seedlings of satisfying friendships along with the adventure and excitement of new discoveries and challenges.”
And it’s interesting to see how those “seedlings” took root. In 2003 she wrote the book Living Alone and Loving It, in which she proclaims the virtues of being on her own, not dependent on a romantic relationship, living life under her own terms and answering to no one but herself. And it’s something she’s continued ever since, as discovered by author Jim Colucci (Golden Girls Forever, Will & Grace: Fabulously Uncensored), who visited her New York City home to conduct a three-hour interview with Barbara for the Television Academy Foundation.
“She’s exactly what I thought she’d be from everything I’ve heard about her,” laughs Jim, who is currently working on a definitive look at The Love Boat. “She is so cultured and has kind of a waspy persona. The way she describes it in our interview is she talks about her father’s family as being very English and proper and puritanical, and that she preferred her mother’s Scottish side of the family that lived in Michigan, who were warm and musical and fun. What’s funny is she could be very patrician if she wanted to be, but she’s also very warm and it’s a great combination.”
As Jim describes it, she lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in a townhouse with art on the walls “where she was friends with the artists. She’s got this patron of the arts lifestyle where she’s very into the arts, theater and classic literature. Now compare that with this character of 99 who she says in the interview is cartoony or a line drawing in a comic strip brought to life, and something that could be dismissed as being a simple and silly comedy. It did, of course, have its subversive nature and it was a parody — which is deceptively hard to pull off — so I’m not denigrating the show at all. But if you were to take a surface look at the show and that she played a woman named 99, who didn’t even have a name, and then contrast that with the brilliant, learned and hungry-for-knowledge woman that she is, it’s kind of funny.”
For much more on the life and career of Barbara Feldon, please scroll down.
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