Let’s Revisit The Monkees

“The Monkees” was a marvel on many levels. First, it was a band that was created through a classified ad. Then it became a hit TV show, albeit short-lived. The group itself was a blatant, self-admitted rip-off of the Beatles. The weekly comedy featured the four band members, Micky, Davy, Mike, and Peter reacting to daily life sprinkled with numerous outlandish characters and situations; there was a lot of slapstick humor. And, of course, Monkees tunes proliferated, all somehow tied into the show’s simplistic story lines. But what went on behind the scenes was often much more intriguing than what viewers witnessed on a weekly basis. Read on to find out stuff you never knew about their Monkee business.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

There were a few episodes in the second season where the filming was staggered, (a part of an episode was filmed, and then the rest was finished weeks later) so Micky’s hairdo fluctuated between straight and permed in certain episodes. The seesawing locks were most notable in one show where he’s on stage performing with a permed coif and minutes later walks off the stage with straight hair.

NBC
NBC

Lows And Highs

The original edition of the pilot for “The Monkees” made television history. At the time, it broke the record for receiving the lowest ratings for a pilot since TV was invented. However, the producers edited that pilot to include clips of Davy Jones’ and Michael Nesmith’s original screen tests at the show’s opening and that broadcast generated one of the highest test ratings of all time.

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John Boykin/Archive Photos/Getty Images
John Boykin/Archive Photos/Getty Images

You’ve Got A Friend

Stephen Stills of the legendary band Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young was among the hopefuls who auditioned to be a Monkee. He was rejected for looking too old for the part, so he suggested his friend and former roommate, Peter Tork, try out for the band. And, as they say, the rest is history.

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David Tan/Shinko Music/Getty Images
David Tan/Shinko Music/Getty Images

Sharing The Spotlight

When the Beatles were introduced to America in 1964 during a performance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” Davy Jones happened to be appearing the same night on that show. Jones was part of an acting troupe presenting a scene from Charles Dickens “Oliver Twist.” No word if any Beatles crossed paths with Jones.

ABC
ABC

Monkeyshines

During the first season of the show, each Monkee was paid $450 per episode, which was increased to $750 in the second (final) season. While they all received standard royalties for their songs where applicable, no one negotiated returns on merchandising, so they received nothing. A later lawsuit against Columbia Pictures netted them a measly $10,000.

NBC
NBC

Easy Pickings

Only 437 young men answered the ad in “Variety” inviting “insane boys, age 17-21 to appear in a TV series.” All were interviewed individually. Michael Nesmith was the only one in that group to get hired for the Monkees show. The three others landed their parts through different avenues.

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The Remaining Three

Davy Jones was already signed with Screen Gems as a contract actor, and they wanted him to appear in a series. Micky Dolenz’s agent set him up for “The Monkees.” Peter Tork had the aforementioned Stephen Stills referral. All four actors were required to complete a six-week, on-set improvisational acting class with director James Frawley as the instructor.

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Instrumental Incidents

It was common knowledge that none of the Monkees played any instruments on their first and second albums, supplying only the vocals on the tracks. But on the song “Papa Gene’s Blues” on their debut album, Peter Tork, in fact, played guitar when Michael Nesmith, the song’s producer, pushed the issue.

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Pimped Up Pontiac

The Monkeemobile was a customized 1966 Pontiac GTO. The trunk was taken out to make room for a third seat. A drag chute was installed between the tail lights. The front end sported a fiberglass grille and headlight shroud and the exhaust pipes were placed on the back of the front wheel wells. But wait, there’s more!

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Darryl Norenberg/The Enthusiast Network via Getty Images/Getty Images
Darryl Norenberg/The Enthusiast Network via Getty Images/Getty Images

Maxing Out The Monkeemobile

During the show’s short two-season run, there were three Monkeemobiles used. The original model had a genuine supercharger along with a tan interior and convertible top. The next two had phony superchargers, white interiors, and convertible tops. All three models had doors with different sized logos on them.

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C Brandon/Redferns
C Brandon/Redferns

Making It Real

On their third album, “Headquarters,” everyone in the group played instruments and sang on every cut. On the group’s fourth album, “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, and Jones Ltd,” studio musicians and the Monkees all played instruments. It was back to square one on album five, with only the vocals provided by the Monkees.

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Sisterhood Is Powerful

Coco Dolenz, Micky’s sister, was welcome on set and at recording sessions. These venues were typically closed to anyone except relevant personnel and VIP guests. Since Coco had sung with her brother all her life, she met both criteria. She even sang background on some of the Monkees later albums.

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Bobby Bank/WireImage
Bobby Bank/WireImage

Peter Tork, Dead At 77

In February 2019, Monkees fans around the globe were saddened to learn that the Monkees’ keyboardist and bassist had died. He had a rare form of tongue cancer and was 77 at the time of his death. Tork’s official Facebook page said “the devastating news” was being shared “with beyond-heavy and broken hearts”.

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Donald Kravitz/Getty Images
Donald Kravitz/Getty Images

Mickey Dolenz shared this tribute to his fallen bandmate: “There are no words right now… heartbroken over the loss of my Monkee brother Peter Tork.” After Davy Jones died in 2012, Tork, Nesmith, and Dolenz reunited for a US tour.

The Artful Dodger

When Davy Jones went off the public radar near the end of the first season, gossip quickly spread about the possibility of health problems. But Jones was fine. The fact is, he fasted for three weeks after he got his military draft notice so he’d fail the physical and be spared. Crazy idea, but it worked like a charm and Jones was rejected.

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Larry Ellis/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Larry Ellis/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Don’t Call Me That

Michael Nesmith showed up for his audition wearing a wool hat to keep his hair from blocking his vision as he rode his motorcycle to the studio. The producers admitted the hat attracted their attention. But when people started calling Nesmith “Wool Hat,” he expressed his dissatisfaction with the moniker and it quickly disappeared.

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Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Personal Days

Although only 58 episodes of “The Monkees” were made, only Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz appeared in all of them. Davy Jones had to miss a show to go to England for his sister’s wedding. Michael Nesmith was absent from three episodes, one for his tonsillectomy recovery, one for the birth of his son Jonathan, and one to visit his family in Texas.

NBC
NBC

Breaking Bonds

The singing group called the Monkees formally parted ways in 1970, two years subsequent to the show’s cancellation. Tork actually left at the end of 1968 by exercising an opt-out clause in their first contract. Nesmith paid $500K to leave in 1969. Jones resumed his solo career, and many teased that Dolenz would live on as “The Monkee.”

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NBC
NBC

Big Name Hunting

Since the fab four Beatles misspelled the word beetles, the Monkees creators decided to mimic the band’s name by misspelling monkeys. If two of the amicably referred to “Prefab Four” had used their given real names instead of their stage handles, they would have been Davy, Peter, George, and Robert. Micky Dolenz’s actual name is George Michael Dolenz, and Mike’s real name is Robert Michael Nesmith.

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John Pratt/Keystone/Getty Images
John Pratt/Keystone/Getty Images

It All Ads Up

The Monkees made amusing 30-second ad spots for the show’s sponsors for Kellogg’s Rice Krispies and Yardley Black Label Aftershave. This trend continued In 1969 when CBS started airing the show, and the Monkees (without recently exited Peter Tork) started shooting similar TV commercials for Kool-Aid, the show’s new sponsor.

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Geri Lavrov/Getty Images
Geri Lavrov/Getty Images

Too Much, Too Soon

With only two seasons to their credit, the Monkees proposed extending their show to a one-hour format and changing it to a variety show featuring new talent. NBC said no way. Negotiations stalled, the Monkees wouldn’t budge, and the show was abruptly canceled. Should’ve waited one more year to make demands, guys.

IFC
IFC

What Could Have Been

Danny Hutton, who later gained fame as part of the legendary group Three Dog Night, auditioned to be one of the original Monkees but didn’t make the cut. The Monkees’ creators and producers initially attempted to hire The Dave Clark Five, then considered hiring The Lovin’ Spoonful, but eventually opted to toss the dice and make the show with four unheard of guys.

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Representing On Sgt. Pepper

If you’re familiar with The Beatles’ song “A Day in the Life,” then you know that the tune features many different British rockers from the time. You’d think that as a member of a rip-off Beatles band, none of the Monkees would be invited to participate. But if you listen real closely, you’ll realize that guitarist Michael Nesmith had a little part to play.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Their Fanfare Was Staged

In season two of The Monkees, the band arrives in Paris to a mob of squealing French girls. As it turns out, those girls might have been paid to chase the band all over the City of Lights. Apparently, the show wasn’t airing in France back in 1967 and French people really didn’t know who the Monkees were.

NBC Television
NBC Television

They Were More Popular Than The Beatles And The Rolling Stones

According to some newspapers, at least. In 1967, it was reported that the Monkees sold more records than the Beatles and the Rolling Stones combined. Of course, the band had a television show to back them up.

Photo by NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images
Photo by NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images

They Were Censored Across The Pond

Micky Dolenz penned his own Monkees tune, “Randy Scouse Git,” about his time in England in 1967. Even though it doesn’t mean much in American English, the track’s title is a bit offensive to British listeners. The song was released in the U.K. as “Alternative Track” and still managed to reach number two on British charts.

Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

Davy Jones Was Almost Sent To War

Davy Jones was almost drafted into the U.S. Army even though he was English. According to a 1967 issue of Teen Life, when Jones applied for his immigration visa, he signed a form that made him eligible for the U.S. draft after six months. That year, Jones was classified 1A and up for service, but avoided it by purposely becoming frail to fail the physical.

Photo by Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images
Photo by Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images

Star Trek’s Own Davy Jones

Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry looked to the appeal of the Monkees when he needed a way to draw in younger fans. Enter: Walter Koenig’s Pavel Chekov. Koenig has reportedly said that his character was based on Davy Jones when Roddenberry implemented a younger teen heartthrob on Starship Enterprise.

Photo by John Springer Collection/Corbis via Getty Images
Photo by John Springer Collection/Corbis via Getty Images

The Necessary Name Change

It might be a stretch to say we wouldn’t have rock legend David Bowie if it weren’t for the Monkees. But early in his career, Bowie went by the stage name Davy (or Davie) Jones, since his birth name is David Robert Jones. But in the late ’60s, the Monkees’ Davy Jones was already popular. Bowie decided to rename himself after the knife used by American pioneer James Bowie instead.

Photo by Alisdair MacDonald/Mirrorpix/Getty Images
Photo by Alisdair MacDonald/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

They Could Have Been On Happy Days

Micky Dolenz and Michael Nesmith both auditioned for Happy Days. Both were up for the part of none other than Arthur Fonzarelli, and they even had Henry Winkler doubting his chances! Luckily for Winkler, both of the former Monkees were too tall for the part.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Why Real Talented Musicians Backed Out

Even though an ad was placed to cast the show, the creators originally intended to have existing musical acts. Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield and John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful both auditioned for the show but ultimately turned down the roles. They couldn’t stand the idea of turning over their song rights to a television studio.

Photo by Robert Altman/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Photo by Robert Altman/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The Unlikely Name Behind Their Movie

The Monkees may have been canceled, but they went out with a bang with their biopic Head. It’s a cult classic now, but when Head first came out it was a box office disappointment. Would you believe that Jack Nicholson, who was still unknown at that point, helped write and produce the movie? He also acted in it, too.

Photo by Jack Robinson/Condé Nast via Getty Images
Photo by Jack Robinson/Condé Nast via Getty Images

Michael Nesmith’s Connection To Office Supplies

Michael Nesmith’s own mother, Bette Nesmith Graham, was a typist who knew all too well the consequences of making a mistake. Graham came up with her own solution by inventing a water-based paint she called “Mistake Out,” which she gave to other secretaries to use. She later changed the name to Liquid Paper and sold the idea to Gilette for $47 million.

Photo Credit: Lantrix/Wikipedia
Photo Credit: Lantrix/Wikipedia

Behind The Scenes Tension

What’s having a band without a little dispute here and there? There was reportedly tension between the group when background players Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork wanted more musical control. Nesmith and Tork considered themselves real musicians, while Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones were considered actors. Eventually, the latter went along with it.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Nesmith Outed Everyone

To add to the upset over the fact he wasn’t in a real band, Michael Nesmith told Saturday Evening Post in 1967 that much of the music was originally by studio musicians. “The music had nothing to do with us,” he said. “It was totally dishonest. Do you know how debilitating it is to sit up and have to duplicate somebody else’s records?”

Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

A First For Pop Music

There were reportedly only 20 Moog synthesizers when the instrument first debuted and Micky Dolenz got his hands on one. Dolenz used the synthesizer on the 1967 track, “Daily Nightly,” which became the first pop track to use a Moog synthesizer. Dolenz reportedly had a party and introduced the Moog to John Lennon.

Photo by Nigel Osbourne/Redferns
Photo by Nigel Osbourne/Redferns

He Wasn’t Suited For Their Fans

Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork were at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967 when Dolenz discovered the talents of a then-unknown Jimi Hendrix. They offered Hendrix the opportunity to open for the Monkees, but the arrangement didn’t last long. It’s hard to believe that people would boo Jimi Hendrix, but that’s what the Monkees’ fans did. Hendrix flipped off the crowd and left the tour.

Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns
Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns

Nesmith Came Up With The Idea For MTV

In the late ’70s, Nesmith was thrilled with the idea of linking audio songs with video clips. The Monkees guitarist thought of PopClips, a music video show that aired on Nickelodeon. While Nesmith wanted to focus more on the creation of the videos, studios were more concerned about making money. Nesmith sold PopClips to Time Warner/Amex, who eventually turned the concept into MTV.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Why They’re Not In The Hall Of Fame

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame co-founder Jann Wenner refuses to admit the Monkees despite their critical acclaim. Wenner bases his decision on the fact that the Monkees were hired as actors and Peter Tork has accused Wenner of abusing his power. Wenner makes a point, but that doesn’t deny that the Monkees have made a contribution to pop music.

Photo by NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images
Photo by NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

No matter how many times tried, the Monkees can’t deny their success together. Still, the band has broken up a total of four times, spending more years apart than together. They broke up in 1971 after the show was first canceled, but were still pretty popular. That didn’t stop them from repeating the cycle back in ’89, ’97, and ’02.

Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns
Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns

You Can Thank MTV

It may seem a little odd that after 20 years, the band still got back together. But in 1986, MTV aired a back-to-back marathon of The Monkees, sparking a resurgence in their popularity. This caused one of their reunions and they even released a new single, “That Was Then, This is Now.”

Photo by Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
Photo by Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

A Monkees Legend Debunked

There has been a longstanding rumor that one of the people who auditioned for The Monkees was cult leader Charles Manson. This wouldn’t have been totally off base since Manson has a small part in music history. However, the rumor was proven untrue since Manson was already imprisoned by the time auditions were happening.

Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images