Neatorama presents a guest post from actor, comedian, and voiceover artist Eddie Deezen. Visit Eddie at his website or at Facebook.
The Monkees were one of the strangest stories in both musical and television history.
The story's genesis was actually in July of 1964, when the Beatles first movie A Hard Day's Night was released. The film's smash hit success inspired producers Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson to cook up a very interesting idea for a new TV series.
The two had the idea of a musical group, sort of like the Beatles, long-haired- yes, but not successful, rich or famous like the Fab Four. The original idea was to cast either the Dave Clark Five or the Lovin' Spoonful as the series leads, but the concept was soon changed to assembling a cast of four unknowns. The fictional rock band, and their TV series, were to be called The Monkees.
The name “Monkees" was derived from a 1957 Elvis Presley movie called Loving You, a movie whose plot featured Elvis as a singer being exploited by an unscrupulous manager. In one overly dramatic scene in Loving You, Elvis confronts his manager and says, “That's what you want isn't it? A monkey in a zoo!" (The double e's in “Monkees" was a semi-pun, like the "beat" in “Beatles.”)
On September 8, 1965, open ads appeared in the two show biz bibles, Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, seeking "folk and musicians-singers for acting roles in a new TV series.” The ad stated that they were looking for "insane boys".
A total of 437 applicants answered the ad, including later-to-become-famous musicians Paul Williams, Stephen Stills, and Harry Nilsson. (There is no truth to the later urban legend that Charles Manson was one of the applicants, as Manson was incarcerated in federal prison at the time.) Four young men, two musicians and two actors, were finally chosen.
The first one cast was Davy Jones, a good-looking British actor, already under contract to Screen Gems. Jones, a former jockey, had recently been touring in the musical Oliver! and, by an amazing coincidence, had actually appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964, the night of the Beatles legendary appearance.
George Michael “Micky" Dolenz was an actor who had starred as a child in the TV show Circus Boy in the fifties. Micky was making the rounds at local auditions and had played guitar in a band called the Missing Links.
Robert Michael “Mike" Nesmith, having served briefly in the U.S. Air Force, was a musician/composer/singer who had made a handful of recordings under the alias “Michael Blessing." (Mike was the only member of the Monkees who actually saw the ad in the trades.)
Peter Tork, the last Monkee to be cast, was suggested for the audition by Stephen Stills, his roommate, and was currently a musician playing gigs in the Greenwich Village area.
The four young men took a six-week course in improvisational comedy (taught by director James Frawley) and it was soon discovered that all four displayed real humor, talent and chemistry in front of the camera. On the show, the four would be playing a rock band and, in an unprecedented move, would actually be recording songs, which would be released as records and albums. The songs would be premiered and promoted in videos that would be featured every week on the show.