Vintage Cable Box: “Somebody Killed Her Husband”, 1978

“When I was a kid, my father had one word of advice he gave me, I’ll never forget it.  You know what he said?  ‘Jerome, if ever you are in seriously desperate trouble, remember &#…

Source: Vintage Cable Box: “Somebody Killed Her Husband”, 1978

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Monkees vs. Macheen: “Success Story”

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“The Monkees Probably Should Have Been Arrested”

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The 6th episode, “Success Story” had an emotional story-line compared to other episodes and was also the first to feature a Monkees family member. There was an unusually stereotypical situation-comedy feel with a character getting in trouble for deceiving a loved one. I wasn’t really looking forward to writing about this one, but as I watched I rediscovered a lot of funny moments.

One of the elements creating the mood was the incidental music, composed by Stu Phillips, which expresses the sensitive nature of this episode. Mr. Phillips began composing for movies and television in 1958 and was the founder of Colpix Records (a label that signed Michael Nesmith and Davy Jones as solo artists before they were cast on the show, and later became Colgems). Phillips’ music can be heard in 54 of the 58 Monkees episodes. He’s known for his work on Quincy, M.E., Knight Rider, and many other television shows and films, including two of my favorite Sci-Fi shows from childhood, Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

“Success Story” debuted October 17, 1966 on NBC. Oddly, the writing/directing credits run at the start of the episode instead of the usual spot after the opening theme and they are as follows: Written by Gerald Gardner & Dee Caruso and Bernie Orenstein, Directed by James Frawley.

The Monkees play cards with Mr. Schneider, who gets his first line, paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw: “It’s a shame to waste youth on children.” The plot kicks off with Davy receiving a telegram from his grandfather who’s coming to visit. Davy’s distressed because he’s been lying to him about being rich and successful. Micky selfishly (and amusingly) tells Davy it’s his problem. Davy explains that when his grandfather finds out the truth, he’ll have to leave the band. Meanwhile, the telegram man is trying to shake down Mr. Schneider for $1.80 for the collect telegram.

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Mike suggests they make Davy “look” rich and so begins a series of scenes where the Monkees steal the appropriate costumes and props. Usually they just quick-change into disguises, but in this episode we see how they acquire their costumes. Micky swipes a Rolls Royce by tricking the owner into letting him “exercise” his car. Micky’s character is mechanically inclined, maybe echoing the real-life fact that Micky Dolenz worked as a mechanic for Mercedes Benz in 1964.

Mike appropriates a chef’s costume by getting hired and immediately fired as a chef, complete with a cute look to the camera when he gets away with it. The kitchen is the same set from the later “Monkees a La Carte” episode. Micky acquires a fake chauffeur’s costume by convincing the telegram man to switch clothes with him, so he can demonstrate how to get the $1.80 from Mr. Schneider.

Peter approaches an ice cream cart. In a very Harpo Marx way, he gets the ice cream seller’s jacket without even speaking. This impresses me, but not as much as the weirdness that follows: The now topless ice cream man is suddenly stampeded with men in suits, demanding ice cream as though his bare chest made everyone hot and hungry. Charlie Callas has funny, exaggerated facial expressions in the scene.

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Davy reviews his “staff” in their new costumes to prep for gramps. He takes to his rich kid roll a little too well, getting annoyed with the other boy’s antics. Davy is seriously hoping he’ll look convincing as a successful star. The storyline relates to the overall theme of the Monkees quest for success, though this time it’s just the appearance of success to keep an older adult from worrying.

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At the airport, pretend chauffeur Micky repeats his nasal doorman voice from “Monkee See, Monkee Die.” Davy picks up his grandfather while Mike and Peter work to make Davy look famous. Mike plays various autograph seekers and Peter takes pictures for the “press.” Cecil Cabot from “Royal Flush” is back and she approaches him for an autograph when she sees all the fuss. Davy thinks she’s Mike in disguise and kids around with her. The fact that Mike is about a foot taller than Cecil Cabot didn’t really clue him in to his mistake.

Mike and Peter play chef and houseboy roles while Grandfather and Davy have dinner at the house. They don’t have money for two fancy meals. Davy has plastic/rubber food, and the film rewinds to emphasize him bouncing it off the table. Davy complains that he’s hungry enough to eat a horse and we’re treated to a flash to future episode “Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth” with the boys pulling a horse through the house. It’s all over when the various victims of the Monkees theft show up wanting their stuff. Grandpa catches on quick, and Davy is busted. To make matters worse, the lights go off because they didn’t pay the electric. Grandfather tells Davy to pack for England.

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This is one of the rare times on the series where we see an older adult on the show taking care of the young Monkees or having their best interests at heart. In previous episodes the boys were on their own, facing older adults who wanted to destroy them or at least take advantage of them. This time the grandfather, though we certainly don’t want him to break up the Monkees, has his heart in the right place. There’s some nice acting on Davy Jones and Ben Wright’s part where Davy is sorry for lying and compliant about leaving with him. The music score is noticeably more serious here. Mike isn’t having it though, and tells Grandfather he’s only taking Davy because he misses him and needs him around. Grandpa won’t own up to this. For those of us living far from our parents, I think we’ve all been here. The older generation can’t understand why the younger ones aren’t living the way they want them to live. It doesn’t change when you’re out of your 20s either. The generation gap that’s represented here is something that resonates today.

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Davy walks around with pretty hair and sad eyes as the song “I Want to Be Free” (Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart) plays, and there’s footage of the Monkees playing with the kids that was used in “Monkee Vs. Machine” and other footage “memories” of them hanging out. Emotional scenes are not really what this show does best, but you have to have serious or touching moments sometimes in order for the comedy to have impact. Davy says a sad goodbye to the other Monkees and Peter gives him a parachute just in case Grandfather changes his mind on the way over. Aww…Peter. Peter is the only one he hugs. I guess the others are too manly. Looking at this now, it has an especially poignant feeling with David Jones’ sad death in 2012.

The three orphaned Monkees cry comically for a few seconds and then Mike gets it together and tells the other Monkees and the audience they’re going to stop Davy from getting on the plane. Of course they are; they’re off to create havoc!

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Now we get the scenes of airport mayhem, and watching it in this new millennium, it’s hard not to think about how much they’d be suspected of terrorism. On the other hand, I’d be disappointed if they did anything less.

Micky sets up a fake baggage claim for Gramps, and busts out a British twit voice while messing up his suitcase and directing him to the wrong gate. Peter freaks out Grandpa with an Icarus/Daedalus impression, running around with fake wings screaming “don’t fly!” Mike arrives driving an airport golf-cart and pretends to take Grandpa to his flight. He drives around chaotically, terrorizing and nearly running over other travelers. Meanwhile, Davy waits and wonders what’s keeping his grandfather. Really? I think he knows his buddies better than that.

Grandfather Jones is smarter than most of the opponents they’ve tried to fool thus far. Even quicker than Daggart, he has the wit to see through their disguises. Their insane behavior convinces him that Davy has good friends that really care about him, and he lets him stay. In the meantime, he’s picked up the Cecil Cabot character and he’s taking her to England. Well, I guess “fast-mover” is a trait that runs in the Jones family!

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In the tag sequence, the Monkees sit at the same park from “Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers” and “The Spy Who Came in from the Cool.” Micky realizes they could have tried actually playing music to impress Davy’s grandfather. This launches a video for “Sweet Young Thing” (Michael Nesmith, Gerry Goffin and Carole King) where some senior citizens dance and frolic with the Monkees. Toward the end there’s a weird bit where the seniors chase them around with cards in their hands, maybe BINGO cards. Mixed in are shots of the Monkees playing instruments with close-ups of Mike looking slightly sweaty and very attractive.

The episode ran short again and they fill time with another interview segment. This one appropriately features Davy talking about going home to visit his family. It’s a cute story about his father thinking his hair is too long and making him get his haircut twice before letting him into the house. Davy says he bought a house to give his father in Davy’s own name so that can’t happen again.

Speaking of long hair, in the documentary We Love the Monkees (2012) Micky notes that the television network at the time must have been nervous about putting The Monkees on TV because “the only time you saw long-haired kids on television, they were being arrested.” Growing up in the 70s and 80s, some men and boys had long hair and no one thought twice about it. It’s hard to imagine long hair being associated with a criminal element. But, in the episodes I’ve written about so far they’ve done a few insane things that could’ve gotten them arrested. Just for fun, here’s the rap sheet:

Arrested

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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.

Monkees vs. Macheen: “Monkee vs. Machine” (What?)

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“They Just Won’t Stop with the Social Commentary”

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“Monkee vs. Machine”, directed by Monkees creator Robert Rafelson, aired September 26, 1966 on NBC and was written by David Panich who wrote “Monstrous Monkees Mash” and “Monkees at the Circus.” This is one of my favorites because of its unusual storyline. It’s cited on the Chaos and Control: The Critique of Computation in American Commercial Media (1950-1980) website in the “Humanistic Critique” section along with “2001: A Space Odyssey”, Star Trek, “Dr. Strangelove”, and other movies and television shows from 1957-1977. The author of this essay, Steve Anderson, postulates that Hollywood stories at that time compared machines to humans frequently, addressing questions of how people compare to computers. The general conclusion of these shows and movies always seemed to be that people come out ahead in any comparison because humans have feelings, and are capable of independent thought.

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This story starts out when Mr. Babbit demands his rent again, and Peter is sent off to get a job at a toy company; a job he is perfect for because it requires no training or experience. Peter interviews with a computer, the DJ61, a machine which, by all rights, should not have a personality, but does (indeed a humorless, inflexible one). DJ61 can’t understand the emotional, nervous Peter at all and thinks Peter is a woman named as “Nit Wit.” Peter is upset and asks why he can’t talk to a live person but the unsympathetic (dare I say machine-like) secretary boots him out. His application is rejected. The Monkees vs. Machine score in my head is Monkees: 0, Machine: 1.

Before I go on with the story, I have to note that when I saw this recently on IFC, their version goes straight into the credits, and then starts with the first scene. My DVD version has the first two scenes with the Monkees in their house and then Peter going to the interview, right up to the point where the secretary shuts him in with the DJ61, and then the credits. I surmise they flipped things around for the syndicated version that IFC is using?

Now it’s Mike’s turn to take a crack at the job, and the DJ61 – armed with information from Peter. He enters the interview and takes over. I love it when he does that. The supposedly unemotional computer sure does get flustered when Mike (in true Captain Kirk fashion) turns the DJ61’s questions back on it, and starts punching its buttons. The true machine enters in the person of Daggart, the company executive. Stan Freberg plays Daggart, and he was a damn funny man. I have a vague memory of listening to his “John and Marsha” routine, which Youtube helps me to revive. Freberg’s comic skills really drive this episode. Daggart tells us the computer declares Mike a genius. Mike Nesmith pulls off this adorably proud, yet embarrassed, expression. Mike’s genius destruction of the Machine makes the score Monkees: 1, Machine: 1.

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Daggart is impressed by Mike’s ability to outwit one of his machines, so he takes him to the company owner JB Guggins, played by Severn Darden, and declares that he’s hiring Mike on the spot. Guggins lets Daggart and his computers do all the thinking for him, and he agrees to whatever Daggart says. Note the picture of Guggins father and company founder behind the desk, which is clearly also Severn Darden with hilarious hair.

Daggart then takes Mike around to meet the rest of his staff, who turn out to be computers with human names. These are Daggart’s children, and when Mike starts poking at them, Daggart gives him a “Don’t do that.” The only human member of his staff is Harper, an old man who designs toys by hand. Pop Harper has made a flexible toy that can be bent into any shape, which he shows to Mike. Daggart scoffs at him, telling him he’s part of “yesterday” and tells Mike he’s only keeping Harper around because Guggins father promised him a job for life. Harper looks dejected at Daggart’s attitude towards him, and Mike is sympathetic. Daggart leaves with disembodied “boos” accompanying him off screen. The new score is Monkees: 1, Machine: 2.

Back at the Monkee’s pad Mike is not as happy as he should be about his new job. Is Mike sad because he really thinks Harper made a wonderful toy, or because Harper is the underdog? We like the Monkees because they are underdogs themselves, and always defenders of the same. The others try to cheer Mike up with the video of “Saturday’s Child” (David Gates) where they play with some kids on the beach. They get along great with the kids because they are big kids themselves. This gives Mike the idea to help Harper by sending the other Monkees into the factory as “children” for the play tests. (It amuses me that Mike and Micky call each other “babe” in this scene.)

In a bit that would not look out of place in a Kids In The Hall sketch, Daggart coordinates play testing sessions to show Guggins how well the computer-designed toys will sell to kids. Monkees in Mommy and child drag in various combinations attend the sessions and wreak Monkee-style havoc. The kids quickly get bored and toys get destroyed. Daggart responds with temper tantrums and many rounds of “Don’t do that” Clearly he should be kept far, far away from children. In the DVD commentary for this episode, Peter Tork mentioned that Stan Freburg wasn’t scripted to tear the shelves down, he improvised that. In the office with Guggins, Daggart tries to pretend the machines knew this would happen, calling it planned obsolescence. Mike explains the play tests are going badly because “building in some happiness” should be part of making toys and machines aren’t capable of that. Daggart has lost control and it’s now Monkees: 2, Machine: 2.

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Daggart finally gets wise and realizes Peter is not a little boy and Micky’s no lady. He rips the blonde wig off Micky’s head (the same wig that Davy was using when it was his turn to be a Mommy). Then again, Daggart’s not that wise, because he disrobes an actual Mom to prove she’s also a man, for some reason going for the skirt and not the hair. I speculate that this gag was borrowed in the “Austin Powers International Man of Mystery” movie with Mike Meyers beating up Basil Exposition’s mother and shouting “She’s a man, baby!” Daggart is furious and fires everyone. With that, my count is Monkees: 2, Machine: 3.

The Monkees and Harper go back to the Monkees pad and mope. They try to throw away Harper’s flexible toy but it keeps coming back in the window because it’s now a boomerang. The Monkees and Harper take this to Guggins and convince him a toy that always comes back will sell and make kids happy. Daggart is not convinced because to him nothing can be good if it is not made by a machine. Guggins does his own thinking, not letting Daggart’s machines do it for him for the first time. It might have been a bigger victory if Daggart had seen the error of his ways, but that was never going to happen and wouldn’t have “rung true” if the writers had tried to pull that. Guggins promotes Harper and fires Daggart who storms off with a “bah, humbug.” For this the Monkees get another point, making it a tie, Monkees: 3 Machine: 3.

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Tag sequence where Mike brings home the DJ69 computer to help them figure what kind of job they could get to help make a little extra money. A “Last Train to Clarksville” (Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart) video gives them career suggestions such as a construction worker, fireman, and farmer (the farm footage is from the “Never Look a Gift Horse” episode.) Mike gives several incredulous looks to the camera, not buying what the DJ69 is selling. As we know, the Village People would not emasculate the pop culture for another nine years.

Great episode. One I can watch again and again. The points are all made in a very funny and entertaining way, though I could live without Mike’s moralizing at the end of the episode. The final score is a tie, as Daggart pointed out: you can’t stop the rise of the machine. Remember 20 years ago, when we all weren’t walking around with cell phones? Machines are great if we’re not ruled by them. Daggart would prefer to leave a creative task of designing toys to computers, since they can’t really make mistakes, and they can’t complain. But Daggart himself is full of negative characteristics of human behavior: violence, close-mindedness, and arrogance. Maybe this is why he sees the machines as superior. Hmm.

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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.

Follow-Up Notes: “The Kung-Fu Grip”

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The very cool photograph at the top of this post is Colin and my daughter and my Star Wars action figures. I remember this was back when we had hooked up again after so many years, November of 2012. This was a rather turbulent period in our time upstate. My mother was living in the house. I had brought her up to our house in February of 2011 when it became obvious she could no longer look after herself. This was the last time she stayed with us, because later that night, completely inebriated off her butt, she flipped out and half of Putnam County showed up in my living room at 1 o’clock in the morning.

Colin stayed over and she thought he was a burglar, or so she believed even after I repeatedly reminded her he was my old friend coming up to visit. I was talking to people from the Sheriff’s Office, imploring them to take her into custody and throw her in a drunk tank. They asked her some questions. What year is it? 2009. Who is the President of the United States? George Bush. They strapped her to a gurney and took her to Putnam Hospital Center. A couple of days later, I spoke to her doctor who told me that her blood alcohol levels were dangerously high. I never let her back into my house or my life again.

I snapped this picture before all of that happened. At least the cops didn’t wake Regan.

Those action figures stayed with me most of my life. They are among the few things I have from childhood, and I cling to them as though they are priceless. They are priceless, in a way. Living with my mother had a way of destroying me, taking me apart piece-by-piece, but I kept a few of those pieces. Some of them are on that table playing with Colin and Regan.

Questions? Comments? blissville1870@gmail.com

Follow-Up Notes: “Eat Your Heart Out”

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Chicken Braised In Milk

Probably the first time I met Andrew – our mutual friend, Noah introduced us – was an all-night affair (not as sexy as it sounds).  We spoke for hours about movies, yes, of course, but in-between discussions, we went from apartment to apartment, eating food and having existential rap sessions on life, liberty, alcohol, and girls.

We went to Andrew’s kitchen, and he was in the process of inventing a potion for Noah; nothing illicit, nothing dangerous.  It was supposed to be the perfect balance of ketchup (or catsup) and mustard, which would yield an orange hue and a flawless aroma of spice and fruit.  From what I understand (based on their conversations), Andrew had made several attempts at combining these two stalwart condiments.

As promised, here are some links from the show notes:

Information about Mark Dacascos
Information about “My Kitchen Rules”
“My Kitchen Rules” Official Site
“Burger Land” Official Site
Jamie Oliver’s Chicken Braised in Milk recipe

Questions? Comments? blissville1870@gmail.com

Podcast: “Airplane Glue Not Included”

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Arthur Askey: the first stand-up comedian?

We’re going back in the history of stand-up comedy, and I wondered where it started. If you look at all the reference material, England is where it begins – officially anyway.

18th, 19th Century Arthur Askey, Ken Dodd and then there was a heavy censorship campaign so the censors would use a blue pen to cross out the material they deemed unsuitable for audiences and that is where the term “blue” was first coined, from the color of the ink.

Vaudeville Comedy started, which was, I think more performance-driven, like “Who’s On First” Abbott & Costello, than a series of monologues. Monologues started when writers would read from their works. Dickens, Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe would read their material, provide commentary or insight on a stage in front of audiences. This was like going to the movies for these people. It was a night out.

Stand-up started with comedians like Jack Benny, George Burns, Bob Hope all up on stage, facing an audience and telling jokes; basically they had a schtick like a Rodney Dangerfield – he gets no respect, The Smothers Brothers – “Mom always liked you best!”, Henny Youngman’s stuff about his wife.

Jack Benny started the wave of comedians playing fictionalized versions of themselves with his radio show that later became a television show. George Burns followed soon after.

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Lenny Bruce is dead.

Lenny Bruce was interesting to me; he’s considered the forerunner of a lot of the “obscene” humor. I wasn’t really into him, but then I feel he took away the innocence by making the dirty stuff commonplace and then the audience becomes apathetic – they aren’t shocked anymore. Listening to the “Airplane Glue” bit I can see how influential he was to George Carlin.

Questions? Comments? blissville1870@gmail.com