Barbara Feldon on the Beatles, how to be happy alone, and turning down her now-iconic Agent 99 role

In this episode of "Everything Fab Four," the actress/author opens up about playing an "evolved" woman in the '60s

Published April 22, 2023 10:59AM (EDT)

Barbara Feldon (Photo courtesy of the Barbara Feldon collection)
Barbara Feldon (Photo courtesy of the Barbara Feldon collection)

Emmy-nominated actress, model and author Barbara Feldon joined host Kenneth Womack to talk about the "freedom and fun" of the 1960s, being a contemporary of the Beatles and her new memoir "Getting Smarter" on "Everything Fab Four," a podcast co-produced by me and Womack (a music scholar who also writes about pop music for Salon) and distributed by Salon.

Feldon, best known for portraying the striking, sophisticated superspy Agent 99 on Mel Brooks and Buck Henry's classic sitcom "Get Smart," started out as a showgirl and model in New York City before moving on to acting. In fact, she and her husband at the time, the charming Lucien Feldon-Verdeaux (whose shocking story she details in her memoir, which is available on her website), were living in a fifth floor apartment off Park Avenue when the Beatles arrived to play "The Ed Sullivan Show" (on which Feldon herself had previously performed as a dancer) in February of 1964. "We heard this roar coming up from the street," she explains to Womack. "And looking down over the parapet, we saw this mob of young women." When she asked what they were screaming about, someone yelled up, "It's the Beatles!"

At first, she was "totally skeptical" and expected them to be "so silly," but she tuned in to watch "The Ed Sullivan Show" and says, "I got it instantly. I was absolutely charmed by their light, the optimism of it, that spirit that they had." Feldon further saw the colorful '60s culture unfolding when she went to London for some TV work that year ("it wasn't negative, it wasn't angry – it was life.") Not long after, she got called for the role of Agent 99 and left New York for Hollywood – a move that would forever change her career and her marriage.


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Working opposite comedian Don Adams in "Get Smart," with whom Feldon says she immediately had "incredible chemistry" on camera, and playing a female role so evolved (created by the "clever and brilliant" Brooks and Henry) which "projected feminism, independence and intelligence" helped give her the confidence she needed to stand on her own. After several years, a divorce, another failed relationship and therapy, she returned to New York City (where she had a very "sweet" brush with a former Beatle) and wrote her first book, "Living Alone and Loving It: A Guide to Relishing the Solo Life" (2003).

"I grew to live alone and was happier than I'd ever been in my life," she says to Womack. "And I started writing essays about it, which turned into the book. The thing is, we're not alone. That's such a false premise. Valuable human connections are everywhere. For instance, people who are obsessed with the Beatles – it informs their lives because they go deeply into it. They know other people who are into it. When you have that, you never get bored because you're always connected. You can build a life on your own where every day truly is engaging."

Listen to the entire conversation with Barbara Feldon on "Everything Fab Four" and subscribe via Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google, or wherever you're listening.

"Everything Fab Four" is distributed by Salon. Host Kenneth Womack is the author of a two-volume biography on Beatles producer George Martin and the bestselling books "Solid State: The Story of Abbey Road and the End of the Beatles" and "John Lennon, 1980: The Last Days in the Life." His latest project is the authorized biography and archives of Beatles road manager Mal Evans, due out in November 2023.

By Nicole Michael

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Agent 99 Barbara Feldon Everything Fab Four Interview Podcast The Beatles