Local fan gets `Smart'

Baltimore man is host at L.A. reunion

November 08, 2003|By Patricia Meisol | Patricia Meisol,SUN STAFF

Carl Birkmeyer, a low-key bureaucrat in the Baltimore County Public Library, gave his first - and probably his last - dinner party in Hollywood last night.

The guests included some of the big, if retired, names in television: Leonard Stern, for starters, who was the force behind Get Smart, the wacky 1960s spy comedy, the show's star, Don Adams, who played the bungling spy Maxwell Smart, and his sidekick, Barbara Feldon, Agent 99. It was the first gathering of the Get Smart cast and crew since the show ended its five-year run in 1970.

That was around the time Birkmeyer started watching Get Smart - reruns, anyway - and today he is the national guru for all things related. He maintains the biggest Web site devoted to the NBC show about the anti-James Bond. Its address: www.wouldyoubelieve.com.

But Birkmeyer, 40, a divorced guy from East Baltimore, hasn't played host at many dinner parties, and never for celebrities and 70 of their biggest fans. He was so eager not to bungle this one that he arrived 3 1/2 hours early yesterday to check that the placards were on the right tables.

The last time Birkmeyer went out for dinner, he dined at Eickenkrantz in Highlandtown (specials yesterday were $4.49-$6.49) with his parents and brother. Last night, he was with the stars at Barsac Brasserie in North Hollywood, two blocks from Universal Studios.

Some of the people he dined with last night have made dozens of movies.

The closest he gets to making movies is training videos. He walks around the Towson library with a video camera in the hope of describing the new circulation system or how to be customer-friendly.

His boss says he's a funny guy: At long-winded library meetings, Birkmeyer is the one who makes the joke that breaks everybody up.

There was no hint of humor in his voice yesterday. On his cell phone, Birkmeyer was a man on a mission.

For one thing, he was still jet-lagged. The dinner started at 6 p.m. California time and that was 9 p.m. to him.

For another, he's been planning this for years.

Birkmeyer's interest in Get Smart began when he was about 7. He watched the show every night after dinner until age 16, when it went off the air. His Web site started as a lark; in 1995 he took a training class on websites for work, and for practice, created one for Get Smart.

The planning for last night's dinner began five years ago with a vacation in Los Angeles, where Birkmeyer landed a meeting with Stern, now 80. It lasted an hour and a half. He mentioned the idea of holding an appreciation event for the cast, and Stern endorsed it, letting the cast know that Birkmeyer was a normal person, not a fanatic. It helped that Birkmeyer put together a book of e-mails from appreciative fans. It made Stern teary eyed.

Next, Birkmeyer found somebody who got him a cut rate at the restaurant.

He advertised the event on his website, first come, first served, and suggested a half dozen hotels.

Eventually, he hired security: his friend, a lieutenant colonel in the Maryland Transportation Authority police.

Then, there were instructions to the fans so they wouldn't make fools of themselves. Forget about autographs or sneaking cameras out of their bags, he warned. And, please, dress up. No T-shirts showing Don Adams talking into a shoe phone. Birkmeyer himself, who wears khakis and a pressed shirt to work, wore a dark gray suit.

To keep it intimate - two cast members at each table - Birkmeyer limited the number to cover the cost, $125 per person. He urged fans to talk about "non-Get Smart things," to talk to the cast and crew as people.

He didn't want a Star Trek convention where people ask things like, "in Episode 57, what's the combination in the safe in the chief's office?"

He planned to be the master of ceremonies, although it's a job he rarely does in public. The closest he's come is moderating his Web site, or answering e-mail. He gets between 1,200 and 2,000 visits a week even though there's nothing new.

"It's fun, but it's not a consuming thing," he says. "I am not one of those Star Trek guys who wear clinging suits."

Birkmeyer said he planned the dinner to honor the writers and actors for bringing him so much joy.

His reward, he says, is the friendships he's developed with Stern and the children of Edward Platt, who played the Chief.

Until last night, Birkmeyer hadn't met Adams. He came as close as Adams' daughter Wednesday night at a reception at the Television Museum. Adams himself was busy talking with his best friend, Hugh Hefner, and Birkmeyer instead talked with Feldon about books they are reading in common.

"It's surreal in a lot of ways. You are there with people you've watched so long," he says. They are normal people, he says - even if they have an Emmy in their cabinet.

He was looking forward to seeing them all last night and sharing what made the show so funny.

What appeals to him most, and he suspects to most people, is Don Adams' portrayal of Max. "We are all a little bit like Max. We all want to be James Bond, but we are all really Max. He bumbled a lot, but he got the job done."

So did Birkmeyer.

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