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Hail To The Chief

TV GUIDE Article August 26th, 1967
'Sorry About That...'

Chief Ed Platt is anything but, as he basks in his first real fame. You've seen him a zillion times on the screen or tube. He was always the district attorney, sheriff, judge, probation officer. His bearing was grave. His voice rang with authority. His frown reflected the whole majesty of the law. He was so familiar that if you ran into him on the street you'd swear you knew him from some place. You might wonder if he wasn't some distant relative, some remote uncle on your mother's father's side. An old Army Buddy perhaps.The face was familiar, but nobody ever knew his name. For veteran character actor Ed Platt, now 51, that's the way it always was.Until last year when suddenly he found fame. In a flash "Get Smart" was a ratings winner. Overnight everybody in the whole country knew Ed Platt, "Chief" of CONTROL.Now when he walks down the street people smile and shout, "Hiya, Chief!" When he goes shopping at his local supermarket he is mobbed by kids. They like to stamp on his feet so they can voice Maxwell Smart's now classic line: "Sorry about that, Chief!"When he was spotted at the Kentucky Derby last spring a whole section of the grandstand rose from their seats to roar in unison: "Sorry about that, Chief!"
Ed Platt is a changed man. He now has something he always yearned for. Recognition. The joy of success has so enriched his life he has come to worship "Get Smart" and everything connected with it. He's carrying on a virtual love affair with his co-stars, Don Adams("so inventive") and Barbara Feldon("adorable"). He adulates his executive producer, Leonard Stern("one of the few really bright guys I've ever met"). He is friend to every member of the crew.
The soundstage has become his shrine. He is undoubtedly the only regular in the business who shows up on the stage every day whether he is scheduled to work or not. He follows closely the shooting of every scene, chuckling at every joke, wincing at every goof. He views the daily rushes, never failing to congratulate cast and crew for a job well done. As he is the first to admit: "I'm totally consumed with "Get Smart." The way producer Stern puts it:"Ed literally basks in it."
And away from the studio? "My life is excruciatingly dull. I go to bed early. I get up early. Nothing of interest goes on at all." The place where all these things are not going on is Brentwood, an upper-middle-class locality where Platt lives with his wife and three pre-teenagers, while an older daughter by a previous marriage lives in Seattle. He golfs on Saturdays. He putters in his wood-working shop, fashioning such items as salt-and-pepper shakers. And no, he hasn't yet found a way to put a stop to his kids' saying, "Sorry About that, Chief!" at the slightest provocation.
Staten Island, New York, is where he was born. His father wanted him to be a stockbroker. His mother wanted him to be an opera singer. He did study music at the Conservatory of Music In Cincinnati and the Juilliard School of Music In New York and that led not to the Met, as one might expect, but to singing with Paul Whiteman's band. Today Ed's singing is largely confined to the shower.
His first TV experience was in Midland, Texas, in 1954, where he hosted a daily program called "Uncle Eddie's Birthday Party" for little kiddies. "I had to pick up the cake and ice cream and blow up the balloons. Then it was a half hour of mayhem. I was the target for a lot of cake and ice cream. After the show I had to clean up the mess. I stuck for almost two years."
Of his hundreds of character roles, the one he empathized with most was the juvenile officer in the James Dean flick "Rebel Without A Cause." "I always try to find out why kids do what they do, the psychological reasons."
He is deeply compassionate: "I don't like to see people alone with their private unhappiness. It makes me cry." He is a humanitarian:"I am very convinced that racial discrimination is a basic wrong."
He is religious: "I'm the kind of guy who prays for the other side in a war." He is self-critical: "I have many failings. I think I'm too selfish and I don't approve of it. It eats at me." He is modest: "It's indecent to talk about oneself so much."
Probably no on knows more about "Get Smart" than Ed Platt. On that subject he is the world's greatest authority. Of his "Chief" role he comments: "I'm a foil, a frustration symbol, a wall of stone off which Max can bounce his humor. And naturally I'm bodering on psychosis--I would have to be, with a guy like Max around all time. While Agent 99 serves as a Mother image, I guess I am the forgiving Father, always willing to turn the cheek and give my 'son' just one more chance."
Don Adams, not one to wear his heart too conspicuously on his sleeve, expresses his affection for his "chief" by continual ribbing on the set. The chief's dialog has many mouthfuls of long, heavy exposition, so naturally Platt blows more lines than anybody else. On such occassions Adams has a habit of calling out other character actors' names, e.g., "Is John Doucette available?"
"Get Smart" continues to pull down a good healthy rating and the show has been renewed for a third season. "But if it ever goes off the air," says Ed Platt, "I'll probably die a little."


"I've been stealing the boss's money!" This tongue-in-cheek confession came from Ed Platt, the "Chief" in NBC-TV's zany spy spoof, "Get Smart." "I don't know how long I'll get away with it. To me, this series is pure joy: I enjoy the show so much. If they ever find out I'm having all this much fun, the producers will make me pay THEM!" Some fun! We'd been watching Ed in a street scene where he used a telephone hidden in a fire hydrant(trivia note: this is from the episode "Diamonds Are A Spy's Best Friend" where Max is buying 99's engagement ring).They filmed several takes: Every time he lifted the cap from the hydrant, he got a fat spray of water in the face. Adding insult to injury, when he hung up, a girl motorist zipped through a big puddle of water, drenching him from head to foot. It looked like it would be at least a five-shirt day for Ed, to say nothing of the wet jacket and trousers. Between takes, he came back to talk with us. "I wish to heaven Don Adams were here," he said. "I don't know if this scene is funny or not, but HE would know. He's practically infallible when it comes to knowing what people will laugh at. I might question a director or a writer, but I trust Don's judgement completely!" Ed Platt is a serious man, playing the role of a serious man. When such an authoritative personage is suddenly robbed of his dignity by getting a stream of water right smack in the face, it's funny. He needn't have worried. Still, he seemed pleased when Don arrived(would you believe in a small red convertible, chrome-marked "Tiger" along the front fender, and saying he wouldn't miss this scene for anything). The whole effect apparently passed Don's inspection because they wrapped it up and the company broke for lunch following his okay. Ed is a prominent member of a select group in the theatrical profession--the top character actors, without whom the play could not go on. For 20 years, in movies and TV, he has been portraying prominent men in other professions: district attorneys, politicians, judges, sheriffs, wardens, businessmen. Like most character actors, he became known by his face, not by his name. It took the role of the Chief to make him famous--an it surprised him. A quiet, seasoned, well-balanced, sensitive and personally humble man he never sought fame. He loved his acting chores, he made a good living and--most remarkable for a man in his profession--he was content with that. Remarkable, indeed. "I've really gotten so much out of it," he says, "that I wouldn't try to get more that I have right here and now. One day, some of us were talking about what things we'd like if we had enough money for everything there was. And nobody came up with very many answers. I guess 'things' aren't that important. We talked about yachts and cars and all that, but I don't know , after you think about it for a while, they seem to lose all meaning. I guess I'd like a cabin in the woods, near a lake. You know, fishing...maybe a little golf..."But these aren't the really important things in life. I know they say that lots of actors are juveniles, immature, not grown up, and they mistreat money and each other and marriage. But there are many who have other values, who are concerned about what's going on in the world." Ed's concern is for young people, specifically those involved in the Junior Achievment progam, which is designed to acquaint young students(primarily age 13 to 15 year olds) with the practical advantages of the free enterprise system. NBC, like most large coporations in the country, is a part of the program: Ten students have been "assigned" to the network. Ed lectures them, providing a working knowledge of business methods and responsibilities which the students then use in planning their own J.A. project. Perhaps one of Ed's motives for his dedicated interest in these activities is personal--he and his wife Suzanne have three youngsters of their own: Anne, 13, Jeffrey 12, and Robert 9. A native of Staten Island, New York, Ed spent a year at Princeton studying languages. But nature had endowed him with a good bass singing voice and a built-in interest in music, so he transferred to the Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati. A year and a half later, he returned to New York to the Julliard School of Music. Among his professional stints as a singer, Ed performed for two years as a vocalist with the Paul Whiteman band. Then, World War II touched his career with comic irony. He had a Baltimore singing engagement in "The Mikado", which opened on Dec. 8, 1941--the day after Pearl Harbor! The Gilbert and Sullivan work had its shortest and most unpopular run ever. After serving in the Army Air Corps as a radio operator from 1942 to 1946, he returned to civilian life and a career which involved more and more acting(particularly in radio dramas) and less singing. Actor Jose Ferrer attended Platt's first Broadway show, "Allegro", and was impressed with his acting ability. Thereafter he assisted Ed in securing dramatic roles in such productions as "Silver Whistle", "Twentieth Century", "Stalag 17" and "The Shrike." While Ed's countless portrayals of top law enforcement officials on screen have seemingly placed him close to the law, his only personal contact with it has been a few traffic tickets. Once, when he had been cast to play the part of a warden(trivia note: that was for the film "House of Numbers" a photo can be found on page 7 of this site), he visited San Quentin Prison. "Even though I was only a visitor there," he said with a shudder, "when I heard those iron bars closing behind me--click, click, click three times---and I knew I was locked inside, it made my blood run cold. I've always prayed to God that I'd never come any closer to the law than that!" In make believe he comes closer, but on the "right" side--in the capacity of keeping his super-blooper agent Maxwell Smart out of legal hassles. Ed got "Smart" all right, and though the consequences on screen seem dire, in real life they're...well, as he puts it, "pure joy." And we're not the least bit "Sorry About that, Chief."

(Above:Ed as Harry Downs with brother Jim Downs(Jose Ferrer) in the play "The Shrike."  A simlilar photo from the film is featured on this website. This photo is printed with permission of the Platt Family)