Monkees vs. Macheen: Peter Tork (1942-2019)

There is only feeling
In this world of life and death
I sing the praise of never change
With every single breath

Just a few weeks ago, I was writing about James Frawley; now Monkees fans have the one-two punch of grieving for the loss of Peter Tork. There is plenty of biographical information available about Tork on the internet, so I won’t spend much time on that. I’ll just do some basics. Peter was born Peter Thorkelson on February 13, 1942 in Washington D.C. He was a struggling folk singer in Greenwich Village and then Los Angeles. According to the book, Monkees Day by Day (Andrew Sandoval), he was working as a dishwasher when musician Stephen Stills (who also auditioned for the show) recommended Tork for The Monkees. The producers were impressed with his sense of humor and cast him.

Since this is a blog about The Monkees, this will be all about Tork’s performance as the charming, adorable band member character, created for the show. Monkees writer Treva Silverman mentioned in an interview that the writing team couldn’t decide if Peter should be an idiot, or a genius. They took a vote and decided on “idiot.” After recapping 58 episodes, I think that’s a little too narrow. Peter was more childlike and naive than anything, with many flashes of pure genius. Certainly, he was one of the funniest performers, though frequently he had the thankless job of being the punchline of one-liners and sight gags. The character’s innocence, gullibility, and misunderstanding of situations was always good for a laugh. His questions to Mike or Micky would often provide exposition to the audience. Tork may not have always liked playing or being identified with the character. Micky Dolenz said in the Monkees documentary, Hey, Hey, We’re The Monkees (1997), that Peter Tork had the toughest acting job, since he had to play a character the least like his real-life personality. Peter was possibly the most likable Monkee; certainly he was the easiest to root for. The band was a group of underdogs and Peter was the underdog among them.

One of the best episodes featuring Peter was “The Devil and Peter Tork,” a story based on “The Devil and Daniel Webster” by Steven Vincent Benét. In this episode Peter nearly loses his soul to the Devil because of his love of playing the harp. Tork captures Peter’s childlike wonder when he first sees and then falls in love with the harp. When the Devil supposedly gives him the talent to make beautiful music with the instrument, I smile when I see his face light up as he plucks the strings. The Devil comes calling to make Peter pay his part of the deal and, thanks to Tork’s acting, I completely buy that Peter’s intentions were pure. He didn’t care about the fame and fortune he received; he just wanted to make people happy with music. Tork’s natural gift for inspiring sympathy from the audience went a long way towards making this episode work.

As a viewer, I don’t want to see the kindest Monkee doomed to hell, and I actually felt frightened for him. Fortunately the other Monkees rally around their friend and Mike convinces him that he can play the harp without the Devil’s power. Tork is convincing in the climax of the episode, showing us his anxiety and fear and then his gentle happiness when he realizes he’s really playing! Peter Tork’s success in these performances might have something to do with the fact that he wasn’t previously trained as an actor. His portrayal comes off as genuine, not practiced. He’s the kid in all of us, and he nicely contrasts the smoother Davy and cynical Micky and Mike. Peter Tork also did well miming the harp performances. Though he did subsequently learn to play, he did not know how at the time, and he watched Harpo Marx for inspiration on faking it.

Peter Tork wasn’t usually the star of the episode and many of his best moments were as part of the ensemble. One of the funniest episodes of season one was “Monkees in a Ghost Town,” and Peter Tork contributed many entertaining moments. In one bit, Peter lists the events of the plot so far, setting up Micky for the fourth-wall breaking line, “That’s for the benefit of any of you who’ve tuned in late. Now, back to our story!” Next, Micky gets an idea and Peter holds the light-bulb over Micky’s head. Both of these gags are over the top, and could have failed, but Peter sells them with sincerity and energy. Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz made dynamic comic partners and among their best scenes is their attempt to impersonate gangsters. Micky’s Cagney impression is a scene-stealer, but Peter backs him up as gruff-voiced sidekick, Spider. For the few moments while the illusion lasts, Peter Tork captures Spider’s physical stance and aggression and he and Micky Dolenz nail the comic timing. After the duo are busted, Peter resorts to his usual little boy demeanor, protesting to the real gangsters that they can’t step on a spider because “…it’ll rain.” Again, such a silly line could have easily been a groaner but Tork could always say that kind of stuff like he meant it. At the climax of the episode, when Peter gets a hold of the gangster’s gun, even big, bad Lenny is rooting for him and prompts him with his own famous line, “You guys ain’t goin’ nowhere!”

I could go on forever, mentioning memorable performances of Peter Tork’s from the series. But, in the interest of time, here’s a quick list of 10 more of my favorite Peter moments:

“I’ve Got a Little Song Here”–After a few failed attempts, Monkee Man Peter finally learns to fly.
“One Man Shy”–Peter gains confidence in his ability to win over the ladies and gets them all to kiss him in a game of spin the bottle.
“Too Many Girls”–Peter as The Amazing Pietro: “Notice that my fingers never leave my hands.”
“Find the Monkees”– Peter comes up with the idea to “be” the band that television producer Benson Hubbell is trying to find.
“Monkees a la Mode”–Peter sweetly menaces Robroy and blocks him from leaving the stage.
“It’s a Nice Place to Visit”– Peter’s surprises Micky, Mike and the audience with a cool, gun-twirling maneuver.
“Hillbilly Honeymoon”–Peter as Uncle Racoon pulls off an over-the-top hillbilly accent and gives marriage advice to the lovelorn Jud.
“Monkees Marooned”– Peter is miraculously able to communicate with Kimba of the Jungle, learning his entire life story from the word “Kretch.”
“The Card Carrying Red Shoes”–Peter evades amorous Natasha, who chases him around the pad. “Well, I love you and my face loves you, it’s just my body that’s out of shape.”
“Monkees on the Wheel,”–In a rare out-of-character moment, Peter as “The Professor” uses his “system” to trick the gangsters into getting drunk and passing out.

Of course I don’t want to end this post without talking about music. Peter Tork was, rightly or wrongly, considered one of the two “real musicians” of the cast. He’s the musician behind the memorable piano lick on “Daydream Believer” (John Stewart). Though he didn’t get to sing as much, I always enjoyed the duet with Micky Dolenz on “Words” (Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart) and what the heck, I even liked the novelty-folk song, “Auntie Grizelda,” (Diane Hildebrand/Jack Heller) which was certainly well-used for romps on the show. I’m also a fan of his songwriting contributions to the Head soundtrack, “Can You Dig It?” and “Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?” (Interesting that both song titles are questions.) “Can You Dig It” is one of the strongest tracks. Last but not least, one of my favorite Peter Tork-penned songs was on the album Headquarters, “For Pete’s Sake.” This tune was the closing theme in the second season and one I remember fondly. Though I was often sad to hear it because it meant the episode was over. The song has lovely lyrics and captures the psychedelic feel of the second season.

In this generation
In this lovin’ time
In this generation
We will make the world shine

After the show ended, Peter Tork was the first to leave the band in 1968. He worked as a solo musician, formed other bands, even tried his hand at a recording and film production company. He reunited with the other Monkees several times for tours, albums, the 1997 special, and the fifty year reunion album, Good Times!. He contracted adenoid cystic carcinoma in 2009. He died of complications from the disease on February 21, 2019 in his home in Connecticut.

The Monkees universe and the world in general is a sadder place without this funny, charming, brilliant man.

by Bronwyn Knox

Every couple of weeks, “Monkees vs. Macheen” examined the crazy, spirited, Ben Franks-type world of the Pre-Fab Four: David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork alias The Monkees.

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Monkees vs. Macheen: James Frawley (1936-2019)

Title-image

I was sad to hear of the recent passing of James Frawley, director of 28 of the 58 Monkees episodes. Born in 1936 in Houston Texas, he died of a heart attack on January 22 at the age of 82, in Indian Wells California. He is survived by his wife Cynthia. Frawley was an important figure in the history of The Monkees television series. I’ve frequently thought of him as a “fifth Monkee” and after writing the recaps of all the episodes, I came to appreciate how grand his contribution was to the creativity and spirit of The Monkees.

Frawley started out his career as an actor, trained by renowned teachers Strasberg and Meisner. He was a member of the Actors Studio and made his Broadway debut in a Tony-nominated production of Becket, which starred Laurence Olivier and Anthony Quinn. He also performed in New York with an improv group known as The Premise.

Outer-Limits

A year or so ago when I was on a 1960’s television kick, I stumbled across a couple of his supporting roles. Thanks to MeTV, I caught him in two episodes of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: once as  Lieutenant Manuera in “The Giuoco Piano Affair” and again as Max in “The Dippy Blonde Affair.” (Fellow cast member of “The Dippy Blonde Affair” Robert Strauss appeared in Monkees episode “Alias Micky Dolenz.”) Frawley’s performance in both episodes of U.N.C.L.E. was top-notch, though I was especially fond of his portrayal of the angry young crook, betrayed by his father-figure in “The Dippy Blonde Affair.”  I also enjoyed seeing Frawley in The Outer Limits episodes, “The Inheritors Part I” and “Part II” in which he gave a moving performance as Private Robert Renaldo, a soldier who gets shot in the head with a meteorite fragment and consequently develops a beyond-genius level of intelligence.

Son-of-a-Gypsy

Of course what I’m actually here to talk about is Frawley and The Monkees. A little history I learned on how Frawley got the job: Frawley shot and edited two short 16mm films that attracted the attention of Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson. They were further interested in him because of a his experience with comedy and improv and thought that he would be a good fit to direct The Monkees. Frawley helped create the spontaneous comedy and the unique way the performers related to the viewers. Before the show started filming, he worked with the four Monkees for a few months in their own improvisational workshop, where they developed the humor influenced by classic comedy teams such as the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges. Like many directors of The Monkees episodes, Frawley had no previous television directing experience, and he gave the producers credit for allowing him room to experiment. The first episode he directed, “Royal Flush” (also the debut of the series) won an Emmy for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in a Comedy Series, 1966-67.  Not too shabby for a first-time director. He was also nominated in the 1967-68 season for the episode, “The Devil and Peter Tork.”

Monkees-Blow-Their-Minds

Frawley directed some of the strongest episodes in the run of the show. One first season favorite, “One Man Shy” in particular captured the essence of The Monkees for me. It’s a “slobs vs. snobs” story in which Peter Tork competes with rich guy Ronnie for the attention of Valerie, a young woman who Peter fears is out of his league. The Monkees friendship is undeniable and touching as the other three rally around an underdog of their own ranks. The story is good, but the Frawley-directed performances make it awesome. A particular example of Frawley-directed chaos is the party at the end of the episode. Mike, Micky, and Peter rush in with one of their patented, disguise-and-funny voice cons, each playing a different “employee” of Peter. They are both zany and transparent in their attempts to convince Valerie that Peter is rich and successful. Of course the performance of the guest cast is important as well, and Frawley got a perfect arrogant-but-insecure characterization of Ronnie from George Furth.

Another memorable Frawley-directed first season episode was “Captain Crocodile.” This classic Monkees vs. showbiz story pitted the boys against a maniacal children’s television host. There’s plenty of witty dialogue (Micky: “So this is the world of television.” Peter: “Funny, it doesn’t look like a vast wasteland”). But the truly outstanding moment is the parody sketch of television programs of the time, complete with comic book heroes, game shows, and a special-effects-enhanced weather report. Each Monkees steps up and nails their part with enthusiasm. This fantasy sequence is a riot, whether you remember the shows they’re imitating or not. It’s their comedic chemistry that makes it so much fun. Of course, the Monkees would be nothing without their foils, and Joey Forman’s performance as the paranoid, crazy-eyed Captain Crocodile is brilliant.

The Monkees was at the top of its game when it came to spoofing Hollywood genres. Frawley directed the Western-themed “It’s a Nice Place to Visit,” a dynamic second season opener. The episode starts off as a typical Davy-in-Love story, but really heats up when Mike, Micky, and Davy, try to pass themselves off as bandits in order to rescue Davy from the terrifying El Diablo (Peter Whitney). Their swaggering bluff as they pretend to be cold-blooded killers is top-notch. Frawley also gets a great performance from Dolenz in the climax of the story, as Micky becomes the traditional Western hero in white. (Mickey: “That’s right. I showed up for the showdown.”) Everything worked together to make “It’s a Nice Place to Visit” one of the funniest episodes: The production values, the sight gags, the dialogue, and of course the performances.

Monkees Marooned

Frawley also performed to one degree or another in multiple episodes. He loaned his voice as Mr. Schneider, characters calling on the telephone, and other odd talking objects. He often pulled double duty as an actor and a director. You can catch a glimpse him as the Dragon of the Moat in “Fairy Tale,” a Yugoslavian guest in “Son of a Gypsy,” and Dr. Schwartzkov in “Monkees Marooned.” In a meta-moment, he played the frustrated director in “Monkees in Paris” (directed by Bob Rafelson.) The biggest chunk of camera time he had came from the episode “The Monkees Blow Their Minds,” directed by David Winters, in which he played dim sidekick, Rudy Bayshore. All of those performances were uncredited.

Of course, Frawley directed numerous projects after The Monkees. One that’s close to my heart is The Muppet Movie (for which he also made a cameo appearance). Jim Henson hired Frawley on the basis of his work on The Monkees and because of his experience as an actor. I always thought that the humor on The Muppets television show had certain similarities to The Monkees. It was also a weekly musical comedy that did showbiz parodies and had humor to appeal to both kids and adults. Going to see the Muppets on the big screen was a huge deal for me. I played the soundtrack as often as possible on my dad’s car stereo.

muppet-movie

Frawley also directed films such as The Christian Licorice Store, Kid Blue, and The Big Bus. Most of his work was for television, including the pilot for Ally McBeal, episodes of That Girl, Chicago Hope, Law & Order, Grey’s Anatomy, American Gothic, Columbo, Magnum, P.I., and Scarecrow and Mrs. King. That’s just to name a few. He retired around 2009.

All of the above is my humble attempt to pay tribute to a talented director who knew how to get the best from his performers. I’d say he’s an unsung hero of The Monkees. When I watched the show as a kid, I never gave a thought to the artists behind the scenes. I tended to credit the actors themselves as just being naturally funny, but ultimately a director can make or break a film, television episode, etc.  It’s the unique comedy and the lively performances that made The Monkees a joy to watch again and again. James Frawley will always have a place in my heart and mind.

Monkees in Paris

Full list of episodes directed by Frawley.

Some Like It Lukewarm (1968)
Monkees Race Again (1968)
The Devil and Peter Tork (1968)
The Monkee’s Paw (1968)
Monstrous Monkee Mash (1968)
Fairy Tale (1968)
Monkees in Texas (1967)
Hitting the High Seas (1967)
The Card Carrying Red Shoes (1967)
Monkees Marooned (1967)
Hillbilly Honeymoon (1967)
The Picture Frame (1967)
A Nice Place to Visit (1967)
Monkees on the Line (1967)
Monkee Mother (1967)
Monkees Chow Mein (1967)
Captain Crocodile (1967)
Monkees in the Ring (1967)
Son of a Gypsy (1966)
Too Many Girls (1966)
Dance, Monkee, Dance (1966)
One Man Shy (1966)
Monkees à la Carte (1966)
Monkees in a Ghost Town (1966)
Success Story (1966)
Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers (1966)
Monkee See, Monkee Die (1966)
Royal Flush (1966)

by Bronwyn Knox

Every couple of weeks, “Monkees vs. Macheen” examined the crazy, spirited, Ben Franks-type world of the Pre-Fab Four: David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork alias The Monkees.

Two Davids Walk Into A Bar: History of Cable (Audio Only)

Two Davids Walk Into A Bar: History of Cable “HBO”

Home Box Office (HBO) is an American premium cable and satellite television network that is owned by the namesake unit Home Box Office, Inc., a division of AT&T’s WarnerMedia. The program which featured on the network consists primarily of theatrically released motion pictures and original television shows, along with made-for-cable movies, documentaries and occasional comedy and concert specials.

HBO is the oldest and longest continuously operating pay television service (basic or premium) in the United States. In 1965, Charles Dolan, who had already done pioneering work in the commercial use of cables and had developed Teleguide, a closed-circuit tourist information television system distributed to hotels in the New York metropolitan area—won a franchise to build a cable television system in the Lower Manhattan section of New York City. The new system, which Dolan named “Sterling Information Services” (later to be known as Sterling Manhattan Cable, and eventually becoming the then Time Warner Cable which merged into Charter Communications in 2016), became the first urban underground cable television system in the United States.

Two Davids Walk Into A Bar: History of Cable “Pay-As-You-Look”

Cable television is a system of delivering television programming to consumers via radio frequency (RF) signals transmitted through coaxial cables, or in more recent systems, light pulses through fiber-optic cables. This contrasts with broadcast television (also known as terrestrial television), in which the television signal is transmitted over the air by radio waves and received by a television antenna attached to the television; or satellite television, in which the television signal is transmitted by a communications satellite orbiting the Earth and received by a satellite dish on the roof.

Cable television began in the United States as a commercial business in 1950, although there were small-scale systems by hobbyists in the 1940s.

The early systems simply received weak (broadcast) channels, amplified them, and sent them over unshielded wires to the subscribers, limited to a community or to adjacent communities. The receiving antenna would be higher than any individual subscriber could afford, thus bringing in stronger signals; in hilly or mountainous terrain it would be placed at a high elevation.

At the outset, cable systems only served smaller communities without television stations of their own, and which could not easily receive signals from stations in cities because of distance or hilly terrain. In Canada, however, communities with their own signals were fertile cable markets, as viewers wanted to receive American signals. Rarely, as in the college town of Alfred, New York, U.S. cable systems retransmitted Canadian channels.

Superman: The Extended Television Cut

We get into the weeds with this discussion of Superman, as it was seen on broadcast television. This extended version of the movie was released on Blu Ray. I acquired the film after seeing the 40th anniversary remaster in theaters last year. We also talk about film grain and edge-smoothing!

© Frequent Wire, David Lawler and David B. Anderson copyright 2019 for all original vocal and audio content featuring David Lawler and David B. Anderson. This podcast, “Superman: The Extended Television Cut” is not affiliated with Warner Bros., DC Comics, Tollin/Robbins Productions, or Millar Gough Ink. Any and all images, audio clips, and dialogue extracts are the property of their respective copyright owners. This blog and podcast was created for criticism, research, and is completely nonprofit, and should be considered Fair Use as stated in the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. section 107. It is not an official product, and it should not be sold nor bought; this is intended for private use, and any public broadcast is not recommended. All television, film, and music clips appear under Fair Use as well.

“Nobody Beats The Wiz!” The 40th Anniversary of The Wiz

HAPPY NEW YEAR! David Lawler and David Anderson discuss the 1978 movie, The Wiz, starring Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Lena Horne, and Ted Ross.

The Wiz is a 1978 American musical adventure fantasy film produced by Universal Pictures and Motown Productions, and released by Universal Pictures on October 24, 1978. A re-imagining of L. Frank Baum’s classic 1900 children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz featuring an all-black cast, the film was loosely adapted from the 1974 Broadway musical of the same name. It follows the adventures of Dorothy, a shy, twenty-four-year-old Harlem schoolteacher who finds herself magically transported to the urban fantasy Land of Oz, which resembles a drug-induced dream version of New York City. Befriended by a Scarecrow, a Tin Man and a Cowardly Lion, she travels through the city to seek an audience with the mysterious Wiz, who they say is the only one powerful enough to send her home.

Produced by Rob Cohen and directed by Sidney Lumet, the film stars Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Ted Ross, Mabel King, Theresa Merritt, Thelma Carpenter, Lena Horne and Richard Pryor. Its story was reworked from William F. Brown’s Broadway libretto by Joel Schumacher, and Quincy Jones supervised the adaptation of Charlie Smalls and Luther Vandross’ songs for it. A handful of new songs, written by Jones and the songwriting team of Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson, were added for it.

Our YouTube channel!

© Frequent Wire, David Lawler copyright 2018 for all original vocal and audio content featuring David Lawler and selected guests each episode. This podcast is not affiliated with Universal Pictures, Motown Productions, or the estate of Michael Jackson. Any and all images, audio clips, and dialogue extracts are the property of their respective copyright owners. This blog and podcast was created for criticism, research, and is completely nonprofit, and should be considered Fair Use as stated in the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. section 107. It is not an official product, and it should not be sold nor bought; this is intended for private use, and any public broadcast is not recommended. All television, film, and music clips appear under Fair Use as well.

SHIP TO SHIP: A Star Trek Podcast “Christmas Special”

HAPPY HOLIDAYS! David Anderson and David Lawler discuss the Star Trek franchise, the weary fandom, and the hate between groups. Star Trek: Discovery premiered September 24, 2017 to a polarized fan base. After the 2009 re-boot, fans are wondering if the “golden age” of Star Trek has ended.

Our YouTube channel!

© Frequent Wire, David Lawler copyright 2018 for all original vocal and audio content featuring David Lawler and selected guests each episode. This podcast, “SHIP TO SHIP: A Star Trek Podcast” is not affiliated with CBS Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, Paramount Television, Desilu Television, Gulf + Western, or the estate of Gene Roddenberry. Any and all images, audio clips, and dialogue extracts are the property of their respective copyright owners. This blog and podcast was created for criticism, research, and is completely nonprofit, and should be considered Fair Use as stated in the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. section 107. It is not an official product, and it should not be sold nor bought; this is intended for private use, and any public broadcast is not recommended. All television, film, and music clips appear under Fair Use as well.

“You Will Believe: Superman’s 40th Anniversary”

Superman is a 1978 superhero film directed by Richard Donner starring Christopher Reeve as Superman based on the DC Comics character of the same name. David Anderson and David Lawler discuss the 40th anniversary restoration and re-issue of this classic film.

© Frequent Wire, David Lawler and David B. Anderson copyright 2018 for all original vocal and audio content featuring David Lawler and David B. Anderson. This podcast, “You Will Believe: Superman’s 40th Anniversary” is not affiliated with Warner Bros., DC Comics, Tollin/Robbins Productions, or Millar Gough Ink. Any and all images, audio clips, and dialogue extracts are the property of their respective copyright owners. This blog and podcast was created for criticism, research, and is completely nonprofit, and should be considered Fair Use as stated in the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. section 107. It is not an official product, and it should not be sold nor bought; this is intended for private use, and any public broadcast is not recommended. All television, film, and music clips appear under Fair Use as well.