“One Good Scheme Deserves Another”
Here’s one of my favorite episodes, largely because it focuses on Mike, my favorite character. When I was five and watching this show, I always identified with and had an attachment to him. If you were that kid in kindergarten, playing quietly while the other kids were running around like idiots, you understand where I’m coming from. Mike is the calm one, the smart one, the stable one. Sure he gets into wacky situations and has crazy ideas, but relatively speaking, he’s the one with the most common sense. In “I’ve Got a Little Song Here,” his wish to be successful overrules his usual intelligence. He wants it so much, and he wants other people to be proud of him, so he gets taken in by an unscrupulous business man. It also plays into one of the overall show themes: the wish for (and elusive pursuit of) success.
To start, the camera focuses on the “Money is the Root of All Evil” sign because the show doesn’t want us to miss that point. Peter and Mike are playing checkers and, while Mike is answering a knock at the door, Peter makes a bunch of moves behind his back. Nice to know Peter isn’t always the naive one. Mike gets a letter from “High Class Music Publishers” and decides he wants to bring them his song. The others didn’t know he wrote a song, so Mike humbly admits he did. I love his humble “aw, shucks” routines, very endearing. Davy and Micky launch into a Vaudevillian costume fantasy about songwriters, with Micky doing an Al Jolson impression and Davy at the piano. Mike thinks they are mocking him and tells them song-writing is a million dollar industry. They crack up as the postman comes back for the 6 cents due on the letter.
“I’ve Got a Little Song Here” was written by Treva Silverman who wrote “Monkee See, Monkee Die” and other funny episodes later in the broadcast order. Bruce Kessler directed this episode, which debuted on November 28, 1966.
At the music publisher’s office, Mike meets another song-writing hopeful, an older man who tells him he’s written a song called “My Funny Valentine.” Mike doesn’t have the heart to tell him it’s been done. The door to the office makes it clear that High Class is involved in many industries: “Greeting Cards, Storm Windows, Reconditioned Vacuum Cleaners, Magazine Subscriptions, and Door Letter Service.” Music Publishing is almost an afterthought.
In the office, Mike meets Bernie Class and tells him his song is called “I’m Gonna Buy Me a Dog.” Bernie does a fake out, saying he doesn’t like the song; he loves it! He’s going to get the song to the hottest “thing” in showbiz, Joannie Jans. He keeps saying his name wrong. “Nesslerood, ” etc. The catch is Mike has to give Bernie $100 for incidentals and legal fees. Mike doesn’t have it, so Bernie starts putting the pressure on.
I love that kind of logic. Mike says he’ll get the money somehow, and dashes off to the pay phone where he calls Micky, his Mom, and a guy he met on the bus to tell them he’s going to be a big songwriter. I think this is what it’s about for Mike; not so much the possibility of money but about being seen by others as having “made it.” I really feel for him, I can relate. He doesn’t want anyone to worry about him, he doesn’t want anyone to think he’s having a hard time. He’s going to make it. Bernie is awful for making a quick buck off that emotional need. At the pad, Micky tells Mike if Joannie performs his song he will be rich. Will he still remember them? Mike tells Davy, “Ah, you know I will, Danny,” his potential success is already going to his head.
They start to sing a little of “I’m Gonna Buy Me a Dog” (Tommy Boyce, Bobby Hart) and it cuts to the romp where they play with dogs at the park. Cute, and such a Tiger Beat ready moment. This is the song where Micky and Davy talk and joke through their performance. Of course, it’s pretty silly on its own. I found an interview with Micky Dolenz on the Huffington Post that mentions a possible straight version but someone, probably Don Kirshner, decided to go with the silly take. Seems like a great idea. The chosen version suits the loose, wacky comedy of the show.
I found a couple of fun versions of the song to share. One is Davy performing it on a The Farmer’s Daughter episode from January 1966 (several months earlier than this episode aired) with none other than Stacey Maxwell from the “Monkee See, Monkee Die” episode. The other is by a band called Gamma Goochee. I like this version. The song is still goofy, but they rock it with a little blues guitar and harmonica.
It’s interesting that they chose to use this song for the story. We knew Mike Nesmith was a real life songwriter. They could have used any of the various songs he wrote for the Monkees records. Since they make fun of the song and the songwriting business in this episode, it would probably be insulting to use one of Michael Nesmith’s actually quite good songs. Using the jokey, novelty song says something about the Bernie character. Whatever the song was, silly or serious, good or bad, Bernie was just going to take songwriters for their $100. As it is, the song is just a plot device, and when they trick Bernie in the end, he looks like a bigger idiot because the song is so goofy.
Now, back to our story. Mike is giving Bernie the money he scraped together pawning his guitar. Whenever they pawn their instruments, we know it’s a painful sacrifice. He’s a nickel short, but Bernie says he can “owe” him. Mike finally gets a little skeptical and wants to make sure Joannie will do his song in her movie. To drive the con home, Bernie places a fake call to “Joannie” in front of Mike. He’s actually randomly dialed a married couple, and the wife is obviously up to something as she takes the phone and tells “Max” never to call her there. That’s a cynical joke within an episode that is mostly one big fat cynical joke. Mike believes it, and his lack of wariness is out of character here, as most of the time he is the most suspicious. In “Kidnappers”, for instance, he questioned Trump’s every scheme to get them publicity. On the other hand, he went along with that too.
Micky is sure Mike’s being cheated and decides this is a job for Monkee Men! This is the first flight of the Monkee Men, who come back in “Monkee Chow Mein” and “I Was A 99-lb. Weakling.” Composer Stu Phillips gives them their own theme music as well. Davy and Micky are able to fly, but Peter has to walk.
At the High Class office, the Monkee Men disguise themselves as piano tuners, though first Peter has to lose the thick, black-rimmed Clark Kent-styled glasses he’s wearing. While Peter tunes the piano, they overhear Bernie dictating a letter into a microphone that incriminates him. He’s pulled the scheme to get $100 from 500 other songwriters.
Meanwhile, poor Mike is finding out the hard way. He gets on the set of Joannie’s movie and approaches her at her dressing table. The actress playing Joannie is very funny; she really hits that vacuous, self-centered starlet note.
Mike wants to thank her for doing his song, but she clearly has no idea what he’s talking about. He realizes she’s never heard of him or his song. My favorite off-topic joke of this is when the director approaches and she asks him to tell the actor playing the vampire not to get so “emotionally involved.” If you look at her neck, you can see it’s full of hickies.
At home, the Monkees try to distract Mike from his depression with various offers: bowling, swimming, and the movies. Poor Mike. I’ve frequently felt that way myself, when I get this feeling that my life never has and never will go anywhere. Hopefully it passes. The score is a sad, harmonica-laden bluesy version of the theme. Davy tries to convince him it wasn’t his fault but Mike’s not hearing it.
Micky tries to cheer him with his impression of the “inimitable James Cagney” and then he does “Fred Astaire doing the inimitable James Cagney,” which is the same impression but with dancing at the end. Peter gets him to smile when he says his mother thinks Mike has the best posture of anyone she knows.
One good scheme deserves another, so Micky’s dialing the phone. Mike rolls his eyes. Come on Mike, you know this is how the Monkees roll. You usually take part in these schemes yourself. Micky does that WC Fields voice and calls Bernie, introducing himself as movie producer MD and telling him to meet him at the studio in one hour. Bernie acts like he knows who the hell MD is. Mike looks skeptical and then curious.
In the next brilliant sequence, Micky steals the show as MD, film producer extraordinaire, and Davy and Peter keep the spectacle convincing as his entourage; Davy constantly sweeping Micky with a small broom and Peter pretending to take notes on his every word. They pull the Monkeemobile backwards into Dean Martin’s space at “Mammoth Studios” and fast-talk past the security guard. The three of them burst onto a set where Micky bosses the crew around and confuses the actual director and producer shooting there. Of course nobody knows who he is, so Micky tells Davy “Please, no names it will only embarrass him.” The Monkees keep the rolling bluff moving so fast the actual film crew buys it. It’s hilarious because they are all so frightened to admit they don’t know who he is. He acts like he’s in charge, and everyone accepts it. So many great logic-defying lines here.
Frequent Monkees extras Valerie Kairys, David Pearl, and David Price are sitting in the back of this scene. There is one other piece of business that I never noticed until watching this carefully. It’s Peter’s activity in the foreground.
The point of all this was for the Monkees to fool Bernie so that when he arrives, Micky convinces him he needs a song about a dog for his next big picture. Bernie suggests “I’m Gonna Buy Me a Dog” written by some kid called Nishwash. Peter almost blows it by correcting him. Bernie brings Mike, claiming to have him under exclusive contract. (Micky has switched his fake accent here.) Mike and the others exchange happy smiles. Bernie tries to get Mike to sign but Mike won’t sign for less than $200. Bernie gives it to him, a dollar short, and Mike signs. Bernie hands the contract to Micky and runs off to arrange promotion. Micky says “Good work, Nishmash.”
Good work indeed, they’ve tricked Bernie beautifully at his own game. He’s so convinced by MD and the possibility of getting rich from Mike’s song. Mike is lucky to have these friends to get him out of this. He’s usually clear-thinking, but his heart’s desire to make it as a songwriter took him over. The Monkees are genius con artists and deception is their preferred tactic for getting out of trouble, though it doesn’t always work. They do get swindled quite a bit themselves, as we saw here.
There’s a romp to “Mary, Mary” (Michael Nesmith) which is one of his originals. The Monkees run all over behind the set/back of the studio and play with the spotlight. In the tag sequence, Mike goes to see the old man songwriter from the hallway scene and gives him back his $100 from the $200 he got from Bernie. In another ironic joke, the old man says to let him know if his new song, “I’m Gonna Buy Me a Dog,” is ever played, as apparently songwriters steal from one another. Well, that’s showbiz!
What a fun episode, packed with great lines and gags. The writers/producers take a poke at Hollywood, “the false values, the phoniness, the fakery.” It’s interesting that they do this a few times during the series run because the show itself is a part of showbiz. The Monkees are a Hollywood-made show and band. The writers are not afraid to make fun of themselves and what they are, which they demonstrate over and over, with breaking the fourth wall, and drawing attention to the fact that this is all a show. This is a kind of ultimate breaking of the fourth wall.
by Bronwyn Knox
Every couple of weeks, “Monkees vs. Macheen” examines the crazy, spirited, Ben Franks-type world of the Pre-Fab Four: David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork alias The Monkees.