“Once Upon a Time, In the Land of Kirshner”
“Fairy Tale” was directed by James Frawley, written by Peter Meyerson, and aired on January 8, 1968. This is a memorable episode, and when you think of the series, this one’s bound to come to mind. It’s funny and unexpected. They break with the regular episode format and the usual premise of them as an out-of work band to show them acting out a comic stage play. I’m all for shows that can experiment and then return to their usual format. The episode takes place on sets with colorful backgrounds, such as ones used in some of the musical performances for “Valleri,” “Words,” and “Papa Gene’s Blues.” The sets are all cardboard and look like they were made for a school play. Instead of the usual poking fun at old movies, this story is a parody of the fairy tale genre, reminiscent of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends “Fractured Fairy Tale” segments. Most kids watching the show had probably read books of fairy tales many times.
The Town Cryer, played by Regis Cordic, who was also the Doctor in “The Monkees Christmas Show,” blows a horn and sets up the story for us, “Once upon a time in Avon-on-Calling…” Avon-on-Calling is a joke referring to the “Avon calling” door-to-door cosmetics sales company and commercials. I remember Avon – both my grandmothers were into it. The Town Cryer introduces Mike the cobbler, Davy the tailor, Micky the innkeeper, and Peter the unemployed. The Cryer continues to narrate that Peter is out of work because he can’t stop dreaming about the princess. The other three advise him to give it up.
Peter plays the underdog role in this one, and he’s the perfect choice, having done it so well in “One Man Shy.” He’s the poor young hopeful hero, like the youngest son from “Puss in Boots” who ends up marrying a princess. Speaking of princesses, she’s in a carriage that just so happens to be stuck in the mud in Peter’s little town. Princess Gwen is played by Mike, with a long blonde wig (sideburns fully visible), false eyelashes, and an extremely unpleasant attitude. Mike’s Gwen performance contradicts the expected beautiful, sweet, and virtuous princess. Gee, I wonder if these two kids can work it out.
After the opening titles, Mike as-the-cobbler starts carrying on about what a great-looking chick Mike-as-Gwen is, (“those sideburns, that body”). This gag of Mike lusting after himself happens several times and is weird and funny. The Princess Gwen version of Mike shouts for her knight, Harold, to get her out of the mud. To my amusement, there’s a sign with an arrow helpfully pointing out where the “mud” is supposed to be on the set (as seen on the “title” graphic in this post).
Harold promises his “fair jewel of the east” that he’ll have her out of the mud in a moment. Mike bats false eyelashes at Harold. Just reading the previous sentence makes me laugh. Mike as a “pretty girl” is the funniest way the show could have gone. Micky does crazy things all the time, so if he’d played Gwen it wouldn’t be as unexpected. Davy as “pretty” is a little too obvious. Mike is the perfect choice for maximum comic effect.
Peter offers to carry Gwen out of the mud, but she says she’ll walk across his back instead. That’s a shame: I would’ve loved to have seen Peter Tork carry Michael Nesmith. Gwen warns Harold that if he doesn’t get the carriage out of the mud in 10 minutes, she won’t marry him. She walks across Peter’s back to get back into the carriage, and then Harold steps on Peter to talk to her. Micky pulls Peter out of the “mud,” and Peter kicks the sign in frustration.
Harold and his fellow knight, Richard, go to the Inn and demand food, launching a montage of them eating like savages with twinkly “la la” music playing. Mike and Davy help Micky wait on the unruly knights, giving them a plastic and rubber food feast (but real bread). It gets ridiculous as they start piling furniture on the tables for the knights to eat, and then the gag escalates as they bring lights, stands, and film equipment to the banquet.
Peter hears Harold telling Richard his plan: Richard will lock Gwen in the tower, torture her, kill her, and then Richard will stab himself. What’s in this for Richard? Before Peter can warn Gwen, the knights return to the carriage. Peter supplies his back for them to walk across again. Gwen rewards Peter by giving him her locket (Mike gets it caught in his wig but yanks it out and keeps going in character). They order the horsemen, Ric Klein and David Price, “let’s away!”
Peter tells Micky, Mike, and Davy (innkeeper, cobbler, and tailor) about Harold’s plan to lock Gwen up in a tower with “an imp-penetrable dragon.” He uses the p-popping trick that he used on the “Peter Percival Patterson’s Pet Pig Porky” track on Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. Micky suggests the locket might be of use. Peter disagrees and bites it to demonstrate its cheapness. There’s a puff of smoke and the Fairy of the Locket appears, complete with a Bronx accent and hair half in curlers. They tell her the princess is in trouble. The Fairy identifies her as, “The selfish, conceited, overbearing one, oh, with the Texas accent?” This is classic fairy tale stuff gone goofy: the dragon, the magic locket, the fairy, and the rescue.
The Fairy starts giving orders. She tells Mike to make shoes that will “scale high walls.” Davy is to “sew me a suit of mail that nothing can penetrate.” Micky is supposed to turn a kitchen knife into a sword that can cut through iron. When this is done, Peter will take these things and save the princess. The Fairy tells Peter not to drop, crush or lose the locket. Not because it would lose its magic as Micky assumes but because, “I’ll be killed, stupid; it’s my home.”
Much miming and physical acting to “la-la-la” music as Mike, Micky, and Davy make enchanted objects for Peter. The score to this episode, with all the “La las,” “Uh-huhs,” and “magic lockets”, is funny all by itself and enhances the goofy tone. Peter ends up with chain-mail armor, a prop sword, and (to my amusement) wingtips. Mike, Micky, and Davy push Peter into the forest. Comically contradicting the hero archetype, he is not brave and wants to get out of it, “I don’t even like her anymore.” He suggests, “What about the army, 10,000 strong?” Nice Lord of the Rings reference, Peter. Once he’s on his own, the first person he meets is Davy as Little Red Riding Hood, Micky as Hansel and Davy as Gretel, and then Micky as Goldilocks. These are funny little bits, clashing with the expected image of well-known childhood fairy tale characters.
Peter gets to the castle and approaches the Dragon, who appears to me to be more the Asian New Year’s style than the medieval fantasy I would have expected. Peter is prepared to fight him with his magic sword, but the dragon doesn’t want to play that game. He asks Peter a riddle instead. Director James Frawley supplies the voice of the dragon, “What has two ears, two eyes, and a very short life.” Peter doesn’t know but that’s good enough for the Dragon, who lowers the drawbridge and allows Peter entrance to the castle.
Unfortunately, it’s a trap; Richard is waiting for him. Richard tries hitting him with a mace and club but the score tells us the “magic locket” is protecting Peter. Richard tries beating at him with his sword and shield but nothing hurts Peter. He has this beaming, adorable smile on his face the entire time as Richard is trying to kill him, as only Peter Tork could do. Richard runs off and Peter looks up at a stock footage shot of the Empire State building, identifying it as where the princess must be languishing. (“Languish, languish.”)
Peter does the Batman-style crawl up the wall with his anachronistic wingtips. He gets to the tower and asks Gwen to escape with him through the window, but she’s afraid of heights. Peter says she has nothing to fear because of his magic locket. Gwen realizes she gave him a valuable magic locket and demands it back. Harold and Richard enter the scene, and Harold orders Richard to “Get them.” Richard, showing more logic than his boss, asks, “Why should we do that? They’re already in prison.”
Because he no longer has the luck from the locket, Peter’s sword gets stuck when he tries to defend himself. He asks Gwen to return it, but snarks, “You’re going to fight them with a magic locket? You might as well do a dance to Spring.” The knights pull knives on Peter. Harold promises Gwen a torturous death, so she dumps him. With that, Peter and Gwen are now cellmates.
Back at the inn, the Monkees drink milk, as they did in “Hitting the High Seas.” The Town Cryer announces, while crying, that Peter will be executed. (Mike is mouthing the Cryer’s lines for some reason.) Mike, Micky, and Davy head off through the woods to rescue Peter. After searching for him for three days, they decide to split up. Micky runs into Little Red Riding Hood (Davy), and Davy runs into Goldilocks (Micky).
Nothing quite like a smutty joke in the middle of a fairy tale, eh kids? Micky, Mike, and Davy reach the castle and freak when they see the dragon. The dragon asks the riddle: “What has six eyes, six ears, and a short life?” Sharp-witted Micky quickly figures it out, “Three dumb peasants.” The dragon lowers the drawbridge and the Monkees jump to show the impact, and their jumps are deliberately out of sync with each other.
Gwen is shrieking in the tower as the knights are about to kill her. Mike, Micky, and Davy get up there and the knights and the peasants fight, mixed with footage of knights climbing a castle wall and fighting from some old film that I can’t identify, unfortunately. Gwen is flattered, “Defending my honor, isn’t that groovy? A bunch of long-haired weirdos and some vicious people.” Harold says he’s basically non-violent and Peter agrees, so they arm wrestle instead of sword fight.
Gwen finally tosses the locket back to Peter. Once he has it, Harold and Richard instantly give up the fight. Micky and Mike sing, “Robin men, Robin men, riding through the woods,” their own variation on the theme song to The Adventures of Robin Hood TV series. Gwen offers Peter anything he wants for a reward. Mike, Micky, and Davy prompt Peter to ask her to marry him, especially Mike who goes on about how hot she is again. Peter asks Gwen, but Mike breaks character, takes the wig off, and turns him down, “Yeah, I’m already married, man, Phyllis and Christian and my little kids.”
Mike-the-cobbler ends with, “Well, that wraps up another laugh riot” and reminds us to “Save the Texas Prairie Chicken.” They sing the Monkees theme a capella as they walk off and wave to the camera. The episode proper is followed by a brief interview segment. Bob Rafelson and the other Monkees tease Mike about playing Princess Gwen. He only comments, “I fail to recognize that I really did that you know.”
After this is the performance clip for the song “Daily Nightly” from the album, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. The song was written by Michael Nesmith and the lyrics refer to the Sunset Strip curfew riots from 1966. This same riot was also mentioned in the interview segment for the episode “Find the Monkees.” The lyrics are beautiful and poetic, “Darkened rolling figures move through prisms of no color/Hand in hand, they walk the night/But never know each other.” The song also uses the Moog instrument, as did “Star Collector.” For “Daily Nightly” Micky played the unusual instrument himself. In the book the Monkees Day by Day (Andrew Sandoval, 2005), Peter mentioned that he thought Micky did a better job playing the Moog on “Daily Nightly” then session musician Paul Beaver did on “Star Collector.” According to Tork, instead of trying to play it like a “monophonic musical keyboard,” “Micky just made the Moog stand up and speak in a way that Paul Beaver didn’t have a clue.”
“Fairy Tale” really was a laugh riot, despite Nesmith’s sarcasm. Everyone’s big over-the-top acting suits the visual style with the flat sets and grade school theater costumes etc. There are so many good lines and funny sight gags. Nearly all the dialogue makes me laugh. The Monkees carry most of the comic weight themselves in “Fairy Tale,” playing multiple roles. The best part for me is that the two non-actor Monkees took the lead roles, and they really committed to it. The guest cast did their part to be hilarious as well; the dastardly Harold, and post-modern fairy.
“Fairy Tale” was an experiment that worked. It could’ve gone either way when they risked breaking the format, but it paid off in big laughs and a fun premise that kids can relate to, since they most likely know all those common fairy tales. It was fun to see those stories taken apart and played with, Monkees-style. The episode was obviously, for whatever reason, low budget. It seems to me that the crew and performers used their creativity to make that work for them and came up with hilarious episode.
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.