Monkees Vs. Macheen: “The Audition” aka “Find the Monkees”

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“Life is so strange”

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This is one of those episodes that hits all the high points for me. It’s incredibly funny, it deals with The Monkees trying to make it as a band, and the characters are all working together to achieve a goal. And then there’s the guest cast. The two actors supporting the story steal the show. There were also some cool character moments with The Monkees themselves. Dave Evans wrote this episode which first aired January 23, 1967.

“The Audition” was directed by Richard Nunis, who died one week after wrapping at the age of thirty nine. The only other credit he has is as a production manager for a 1961 television movie called Witchcraft. Since he did such a top notch job with this episode, I can’t help but not think of what other wonderful work he would have done were it not for his untimely death at such a young age.

Micky rests on the hammock and opens his eyes to see four guys in gold lame and red costumes with stockings on their heads. He thinks they’re being invaded by Martians and runs all over the pad in spectacular bit of mania. He falls backwards over the couch and the lounge, bangs on one of the doors, and runs up the steps to gather the other Monkees. It’s just another band, The Four Martians, there to borrow a guitar string. The Monkees discover that TV producer Hubble Benson is auditioning bands for a new TV show and invited The Four Martians and two other competing bands, The Jolly Green Giants, and The Foreign Agents.

Notice how gimmicky these other bands are with costumes and makeup? The only way The Monkees could be equivalent in “style” is if they performed in actual monkey suits. Clearly they have been left out, though they try to cover. They literally put their heads together and think about what to do. Davy suggests sending the tape they made on the rented tape recorder to Benson, but Micky forgot to remove the tape. This is a fantastically cool shot, and I love the rotation when Micky gets his line.

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Now we get to the fabulous Benson and Chomsky, who should have had their own sitcom. I’d watch it. TV producer Benson is on his motorized table, receiving a massage. He wants his Dictaphone, but through the intercom, Miss Chomsky tells him it’s broken. He wheels himself out to talk to her, and she holds up her red jacket and plays bullfighter as he wheels past her, saying “Ole!” Miss Chomsky has wisely rented him a tape recorder to use while the Dictaphone is being repaired.

Over at the Facebook group Monkee Magic, group admin Melanie Mitchell has put together a “Script to Screen project” where she has the scripts of some of these episodes available with her commentary. Melanie points out a big difference between the script and the final episode is the character of Miss Chomsky. The script describes her as “thirtyish, nervous, and plain.” Irene Chomsky as played by Bobo Lewis is far from that. She’s bold and in charge, and give as good as she gets when it comes to her obnoxious boss. I’m just guessing that when the production staff saw what Bobo’s strong points were, they decided to go another way with Chomsky. There is a way you can play nervous as big and funny. Mike Nesmith was good at that. But what they did with Chomsky made for a great comedic conflict.

Chomsky sets up the tape recorder for her boss and accidentally plays the tape inside. Of course it’s the Monkees singing “Mary, Mary” (Mike Nesmith). Benson decides to skip the auditions and hire the band on the tape. Chomsky repeatedly explains she can’t possibly find the mystery band. Mr. Benson warns if she says “can’t” one more time, she’s fired. The tape player plays her back saying it and he fires her. She sarcastically thanks him.

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The Monkees, ironically, are at the TV production offices trying to figure out how to see Benson. They enter Benson’s building, cleverly located at NBC. As they head into the elevator, Peter comes down with a bad case of hiccups. The Monkees go through a couple of unsuccessful rounds of trying to cure him.

Benson and the not-fired Chomsky continue to do what they do best: argue. Chomsky tells him all the places she called to find The Monkees. Benson suggests she try the hospital. Chomsky is not intimidated because she “needs the rest.” Later she tells Benson she’s checked the film and TV studios, etc. Benson stands up from the massage chair in his glorious polka-dotted boxers and declares:

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In the lobby, Peter’s hopping on one foot and counting by twos as a cure for his hiccups. Benson runs by in his underwear. Chomsky comes out carrying pants. She asks if Benson came by and identifies him as the one with the polka dots. Peter’s hiccups disappear as The Monkees decide to chase after Benson.

Benson is at the Missing Persons Bureau to find The Monkees. Comical and subtle sight gag as he has a torn off sleeve, presumably the work of over-eager Monkees. The Missing Persons clerk can’t even find a pencil let alone any persons, and Benson loses faith quickly.

Beson at Missing Person office

Sight-gag callback as Davy walks along holding the torn sleeve. This also has a meta-humor value because real pop stars like The Monkees would get their clothes torn by hysterical fans [That bit in “Head” was a doozy – Editor]. They decide to go up to Benson’s office and greet Miss Chomsky at her desk. She doesn’t believe they know Benson so Peter explains that Benson cured his hiccups, but when he demonstrates he gets them again.

Outside, they mope while Peter hicks. Micky decides they need to scare Peter so the editors cut in a Monkee in a monster mask from “Monkee See, Monkee Die” and the footage of Reptilicus used in “I Was a Teenage Monster.” A blonde in a two-piece dress with a little midriff exposed catches Peter’s eye. He waves and all The Monkees ogle her. I guess that cured it! The script mentioned that the other three were supposed to get hiccups at that point, but that didn’t make it in.

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Benson is in his office getting a manicure from Tilda when the audacious Chomsky comes in and tosses her shoes on his desk. She tells him the newspapers want to know if it’s true he can’t find a “certain band.” Benson asks, what’s wrong with him? Chomsky doesn’t hesitate to tell him he’s “rude, irritable, impatient”… She goes on like this while Benson realizes his search for the band is a great publicity gimmick for his show.

The Monkees set up at a phone booth to audition for Benson via telephone. Benson has the press at his office giving the scoop on his search for the band on the tape. The Monkees play “Sweet Young Thing” (Goffin/King/Nesmith) over the phone but they’re connected to the wrong Benson. Davy and Mike tangle up in the phone cord as Davy goes into the booth to try and call. He gets the right Benson but Benson thinks he’s “Byron Jones,” someone he doesn’t want to talk to, so he puts the phone down and muffles it. Now they play for no one with Davy holding the receiver in his mouth for Mike to sing into.

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A line forms behind them for the phone, including a Clark Kent look-a-like. The operator asks them for 10 cents for the next three minutes so they get it from Peter’s shoe where he has a tape label that reads “mad money.” They’ve been cut off and give up. The faux-Kent goes into the booth to change into Superman and struggles to get out while the “Monkee Men” theme plays.

Nice scenes of The Monkees hanging together at home in pajamas. The savviest Monkees, Micky and Mike, try to cheat each other at a game of cards, while the dummy, Mr. Schneider, watches. Peter’s reading the paper in the hammock and hangs out below on a mattress. Davy grabs the paper and reads about Benson’s search for the mystery band. They’re annoyed since they’re busting their butts to audition while he’s chasing a band that “isn’t even trying.” [It appears we’ve come full circle within the music industry – Editor] Peter has the brilliant suggestion that they should be that band. The others are skeptical at first since they don’t know what kind of band the mystery band is, but Peter points out how many kinds of groups are there. In the script it’s Davy who gets to come up with that idea. I’m glad they transferred it to Peter. It makes sense with the simplicity of the suggestion. Peter’s innocence once again makes him the smartest one.

This plan leads into the romp to “Papa Gene’s Blues” (Nesmith) credited at the end as “Papa Jean’s Blues,” which reflects the printing error on the early pressing of their first album, The Monkees. They dress up and play various musical styles while chasing Benson all around the parking lot and his office building. First, they’re a Salvation Army band chasing Benson on his own motorized table. Then they’re a jug band on a bandstand. They dress as a vaudeville group on bikes and in the background you can see the Monkees cast chairs. Benson picks up Mike’s chair to beat them back. They also chase him as a marching band and a Gypsy violin band.

Benson was played by Carl Ballantine, a comic magician who did tricks that never worked. He started out as an actual magician but found he was more successful at making fun of himself when his tricks failed. It’s quite possible the Peter’s turn as The Amazing Pietro in “To Many Girls” was inspired by Ballantine. Here’s a link to Ballantine’s act on The Donnie & Marie Show.

Benson gives up on finding The Monkees, and goes through with his original scheduled auditions. The Jolly Green Giants, Foreign Agents, and Four Martians are at his office. The Jolly Green Giants are up first and Chomsky sets up the tape recorder to tape it. Of course no one can operate a tape player on this show, so she plays The Monkees back and the Jolly Green Giants identify them, calling them a no style band, which I interpret as “no ridiculous costumes.”

The Monkees official YouTube site released a video of the HD restored version of this episode.  The Jolly Green Giants look much greener in this version than they do on my DVD. [Slightly cleaned-up, brighter picture, but the difference is negligible with this episode – Editor]

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Benson and all the bands descend on the Monkees pad. Benson and Chomsky realize they’ve found them and shout, “Eureka!” to which Peter responds, “No, we’re Americans.” They play for him and he tells them they’re going to be stars of his new show. He asks Chomsky to perform the theme song. She sings and Benson decides she’s the new sound he wanted all along. He says she was “right under his own nose” and wonders what’s wrong with him. She begins to read off his list of flaws again as they leave together. I’m sure he’ll drop her as soon as he hears the next “sound he’s looking for.” I’m also sure Miss Chomsky knows him better than he knows himself, so she’ll be fine.

In the Monkeemobile, Peter laments losing the TV job and the chance to earn “$100 a week.” Mike points out TV stars get more than that, sometimes as much as $5,000 a week. The Monkees themselves earned something closer to the figure Peter’s naming, receiving $450 an episode for the first season, and $750 in the second season. Peter vanishes on hearing what he could’ve earned. The Monkees do the “He’s Gone!” bit and head to the useless Missing Persons Bureau. They describe Peter to the same hapless guy who still can’t find his pencil. The chaos-loving Monkees start tearing apart his office to “help” him find it.

To fill the last few minutes, they have an interview segment where they talk about the Sunset Strip riots, which occurred in late 1966 and in response to the imposed 10 p.m. curfew for kids under 18. These same riots were also the inspiration for the Mike Nesmith song, “Daily Nightly.” Micky says they were actually demonstrations, but “people and journalists don’t know how to spell demonstrations so they use the word ‘riots’ since it only has four letters.” Bob Rafelson asks Mike if he’d like to see all the kids wear their hair like his and Mike gives the best possible reply to such a question, “I would like to see all the kids in the country wearing their hair like they’d like to wear it.” That’s one of the best, if not the best, interview segment they did.

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That was one fast-moving, entertaining and fabulous episode. The story itself was short since they tacked the interview on to the end, but they packed a lot in to each scene. The terrific acting, hilarious dialogue and sight gags, and engaging plot line make this one of the classics of the 58 episodes. I also enjoyed the character moments between The Monkees themselves and the central irony of The Monkees trying to “be” the band they already are. And of course in the end, they are not on the road to fortune and fame and will be back to struggling next episode.

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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.

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Monkees Vs. Macheen: “Son Of A Gypsy”

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“Everybody Wants to be in Showbiz!”

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“Son of a Gypsy” was written by the team of Gerald Gardner & Dee Caruso and Treva Silverman. I really do enjoy the ones that Silverman wrote. The story is about a gig gone wrong, but it is also a wildly improbable, high adventure territory as their opponents in this episode are a group of larger than life gypsies who really like to murder and steal. The story isn’t about any of the Monkees in particular and they work together in funny and entertaining ways to get out of trouble. “Son of a Gypsy” was directed by James Frawley and aired the day after Christmas, December 26, 1966. Weird huh? I guess back then TV didn’t go into reruns on the holidays.

To start, the Monkees are waiting in the hallway where they’ve just auditioned to play a party. Their competition is a gypsy music band: a mother and her four sons. Both groups fervently hope to get the job, but Madame Rantha comes out and announces The Monkees have it. The gypsies are furious, but not just about the loss of the gig. Maria and her sons were hoping to get the job so they could steal the Maltese Vulture, which is the episode’s MacGuffin and a clever homage to the 1941 film, The Maltese Falcon. I remember taking film studies class in college and watching this Humphrey Bogart film. This is when I learned what a MacGuffin was – a plot device that the characters pursue that’s not important to the overall story.

Maria and Co. have invited the Monkees out to their camp to show them there are “no hard feelings” for the Monkees taking their would-be gig. Against their better judgment (except Peter), the Monkees accept their offer. Maria welcomes the Monkees and gives them gypsy clothes and boar’s tooth necklaces for “luck.” She has each son take a Monkee separately on a tour of the camp, so it’s a nice parallel that there are four sons and four Monkees. I wanted to mention the son’s names: Marco, Rocco, Zeppo, and Kiko. Zeppo was the name of a member of the comedy act The Marx Brothers and the other three names certainly sound like they could be Marx Brother’s names; that’s a nice homage.

Rocco, played by Vic Tayback who was also in “Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers” and “Art, For Monkees Sake” takes Micky to read his tea leaves. Micky, maybe learning from the plot of “Too Many Girls,” says he doesn’t believe in it. Rocco tells Micky his leaves say he is soon to be unconscious and Micky passes out from the drugged tea. Like I said about “Too Many Girls”, it’s easy to predict the future, if you create it. Marco, played by Vincent Beck, who played very similar characters in “Royal Flush,” and “The Card Carrying Red Shoes,” is paired with Davy. He terrifies Davy with a knife-throwing bit. Peter gets tied up by Kiko and a female who dance around him and wrap him up with scarves. Meanwhile, Zeppo wants to use Phrenology to read the bumps on Mike’s head. No bumps on his head? No problem! Zeppo hits him with a mallet and he collapses. It’s so polite the way Mike apologizes for not having bumps.  

The Monkees are now Maria’s prisoners, and she wants them to steal the Maltese Vulture for her. Micky insists they are not thieves. Maria is actually pretty scary. She threatens to let her sons, especially the very keen Marco, torture the Monkees. Watching this as a five-year-old kid, I believed she would kill the Monkees. To emphasize this point, the camera keeps showing a hot poker on the fire. The Monkees go into a fantasy about being tortured which involves stretching Davy on the rack. It leads to a great site gag and a spin on their favorite “I am standing up” joke about the diminutive Davy.

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Marco gets out the poker to use on them until Mike, giving a deep, faux-macho line-reading, agrees to steal the vulture. He asks the others how his performance was, and they say he was good. Sort of breaking the fourth wall, but not necessarily; it could work in character. The gypsies joyfully leap up and embrace and untie the Monkees; Maria kissing Davy’s face. Hilariously, Vic Tayback picks up and carries Micky. The only one not happy is Marco, who’s bummed he won’t be torturing anyone with a hot poker [Somewhat disturbing – Editor].

Maria shows them the map of the location of the Maltese Vulture in the house where they’ll be playing the party. Maria inquires about how they will steal the Maltese Vulture. As they do in “Monkees a La Carte,” the Monkees start drawing all over her map, each with their own “plan.”

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See, because Charlton Heston played Michelangelo in the 1965 film, The Agony and the Ecstasy. That joke sounds funny, even when I didn’t know that. Maria tells them she’ll be keeping Peter as a hostage and they’ll take Marco, dressed in one of their matching blue Monkees shirts, to help with the robbery. Seems like a fair trade.

The Monkees play “Let’s Dance On” (Boyce/Hart) at the party while daffy Madame Rantha scurries happily around her guests. Marco goes off to check on the guards outside the room where the Vulture is kept, so the Monkees take the chance to find some help. They try Madame Rantha, but she’s clueless. Micky goes out into the crowd and tries to enlist the help of a party guest, played by episode director James Frawley. Frawley’s slightly confused facial expressions are terrific as he listens to Micky. He almost looks like he understands, until he suddenly starts speaking Yugoslavian (or faux Yugoslavian, I’m not sure.) Similar to “Monkee See, Monkee Die,” Micky has once again tried to get aid from someone who doesn’t speak English.

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By the way, I notice Micky drinking the champagne. There’s always some vague notion about the ages of The Monkees. The actors were old enough to drink (except Davy) but in “The Monkees Watch Their Feet” for instance, the writers refer to The Monkees as teenagers.

Mike and Davy meanwhile, have gone the absurdist route. They decide to throw a message in a bottle out the window. An unseen hand gives them back two cents deposit. Thank you, Thing.

Marco marks (pun!) the two guards stationed outside the room with the Vulture. This sets off the funniest sequence in this episode: The bits where they try to steal the Vulture. While Marco stays on stage to “play,” The Monkees sneak off into the hallway and peek around the corner.

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Davy will break into the safe, if Mike and Micky distract the guards. First, Micky pretends to rob Mike. Mike plays scared in the flattest delivery possible: “Help, help. Robbery. Who is this masked man, anyway? Help, help gun. Oh, terror, terror burglar. Burglar, help. Help, help. Wallet, mine, His now.” The guards? Unimpressed. On attempt two, the boys execute an obviously fake fight with boxing gloves. Last, they light matches and shout, “Fire! Fire!” and then drop them on the ground. THAT gets the guards to move, pointing out the hallway trashcan that says “Keep Our City Clean.” The Guard asks, “Can’t you guys read?” Micky explains, “Uh, no. We’re musicians.” With that, Davy has managed to sneak into the room.

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Davy has a big black bag from somewhere. The score accompanying Davy’s actions is this cool, James Bond style riff. I love the incidental music in this entire episode, this and the Romani-style strings used for the scene’s at Maria’s camp. The music is credited to Stu Phillips.

Back to Davy, who goes to the picture where the safe is and under it is…a painting of a safe. With this, and all the other surreal gags from this segment, Davy breaks the fourth wall and looks at us in disbelief. When he gets to the real safe, he pulls an impossible assortment of items out of his bag: bolt cutters, a sledge hammer, a live rabbit, and the little dynamite plunger. He blows up the wrong thing in the room, just like “Monkees a la Carte.” It’s less funny when they just repeat the gag, as opposed to the cool variation in the earlier scene. The explosion draws the attention of the guard, who only takes a cursory look and says it’s okay. Davy gets a stethoscope to listen to the safe and  hears “Last Train to Clarksville,” then puts on a pair of gloves and finds he has another set of hands!

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He doesn’t get too far before Madame Rantha comes in to show her friend the Vulture. Micky and Mike follow behind them. Micky uses that sputtering voice from  “One Man Shy” and tries to create a distraction. More importantly, what is Mike doing to the women? He’s behind them, touching and sniffing both Rantha and her friend’s hair while they ignore him completely. Micky’s acting is so entertaining; I missed this weird Mike business in past viewings.

Micky tells Rantha she can see a flaw in the Vulture if she holds it up to “the midnight.” Midnight brings panic as that’s when Peter will be killed, so Davy steps out, grabs the Vulture and tosses it down to Maria. The gang all have their knives on Peter, so he looks up and says “thank you” when he catches it. His relieved expression and tone of voice are priceless. Madame Rantha thinks they’re the thieves of course, so she has Peter brought in and arrested. The gypsies and The Monkees are now all in the ballroom. Maria says, you can tell Peter’s a thief, it’s written all over him.

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Madame is grateful to Maria and asks what she can do in return? Maria wants the Vulture, so she grabs it and runs. This leads to a romp set to “I’m a Believer” (Neil Diamond). Monkees and gypsies run around, fight and play football. It’s a lot like the “Dance, Monkees Dance” romp with The Smoothies. The gypsies stand in line while the Monkees launch various attacks, and the guards and party guests do nothing. The gypsies pick-pocket the guests. The guards finally pull guns on the gypsies.

The Monkees performance footage edited into this romp is the “Too Many Girls” footage of the same song, with the four of them in the ivory Monkees shirts. That makes a trio of colors for Monkees shirts in “Son of a Gypsy”; red at the beginning, blue at the party, and ivory here. Also, I really dig “I’m a Believer,” but after hearing it for four episodes in a row, I’m glad to be done with it for the next one coming up. (The producers never envisioned some nut obsessively writing about these shows and watching them over and over fifty years later, I’m sure.)

Maria and sons have decided that showbiz is easier than thievery and will go the route of Bessy and her boys from “Monkees in a Ghost Town.” Maria: “Yes, you boys have showed us that my boys can make a faster dollar in show business.” Marco adds, “And with as little talent, too.” I don’t know why they’re allowed to just leave, but when they do, they’ve taken Mike’s watch, Micky’s wallet and Peter. Peter is just a more sweet-natured version of Marco, does she really need two of those?

A note about the ballroom where this party takes place, this was an often used set on The Monkees. The same space was used in: “Royal Flush” as The Ritz Swank Hotel ballroom, “Monkee See, Monkee Die” as the parlor, the discotheque in “The Spy Who Came In From The Cool,” Pop’s restaurant in “Monkees a la Carte,” Renaldo’s Dance Au Go-Go school in “Dance, Monkee, Dance”, a banquet hall in “The Case Of The Missing Monkee”, a bandstand in Dr. Mendoza’s castle for “I Was A Teenage Monster,” the throne room in “The Prince And The Paupers”, a TV show set in “Captain Crocodile,” the banquet room for “Monkees A La Mode,” a hotel suite in “Everywhere A Sheik Sheik,” an art museum in “Art For Monkee’s Sake,” a gambling casino in “The Monkees On The Wheel,” a department store in “The Monkees Christmas Show,” the setting for The Secretary’s narration in “The Monkees Watch Their Feet,” a nightclub in “The Monkees Paw,” and “The Monkees Blow Their Minds,” and the stage in the KXIW-TV studio for a Rock-a-thon Contest in “Some Like It Lukewarm.” Shout out to The Monkees Film and TV Vault for help with that list.

And a note about the gypsies: I’m well aware that The Monkees writers frequently dealt in cultural stereotypes. Romani (or Gypsy) people were characterized in fiction as associated with occult powers, such as fortune telling, and thievery and cunning as well as having passionate temperaments. Obviously not realistic depictions of Romani people. However, The Monkees were satirizing old movies and TV shows, not real people. Throughout the series, cultural stereotypes are used in “Monkees Chow Mein,” “It’s a Nice Place to Visit,” “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik” and others. If these were being written today, my guess is that it would be done with more awareness and sensitivity [If written today, these examples would only be used to ridicule the culturally “insensitive” – Editor]. Even if they still chose to use the broadest characterizations, there would be a knowing, meta-nod to it, I imagine. However, all comedy somewhere is offending someone. If comedy isn’t risking offense, it’s probably not very funny. “Cultural Appropriation” wasn’t something on people’s minds at the time.

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And finally, I guess everyone is really loving the new Monkees album as much as I am? I really like the title track and “Me and Magdalena.” Who would have thought 50 years later we’d be enjoying such a cool new album?

Dedicated to the memory of Muhammad Ali (1942-2016)

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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 See, Monkee Die”

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“And Then There Were Four”

Monkee See, Monkee Die

“Monkee See, Monkee Die,” directed by James Frawley, first aired September 19, 1966 on NBC. Episode writer Treva Silverman wrote some other very funny Monkees episodes: “I’ve Got a Little Song Here”, “One Man Shy”, “Son of A Gypsy”, and “A Nice Place to Visit.” According to the IMDB, she wrote “The Card Carrying Red Shoes” as Lee Sanford. Other interesting facts about Silverman: she wrote episodes for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, for which she won an Emmy and created the character of “Georgette”, and she was one of the few working female writers in television at the time of The Monkees.

The story begins with the Monkees rehearsing, which is the first real reference to them as a band. Also appearing for the first time is Mr. Babbit, who sweeps in accompanied by villainous harpsichord music. Babbit is demanding the rent, or his lawyer will toss the boys out. Mike ferociously defends them, saying Babbit is not making any needed repairs to the house. I think I’ve rented from this guy before. Mike quickly comes up with the idea they should pretend not to know the Monkees when the lawyer shows up, so they bring out the costumes and funny voices. The person they end up fooling is a solicitor who came to tell them they’ve been named in the will of an eccentric millionaire. Surely their rent problems are over now?

The Monkees arrive at the late Mr. Cunningham’s spooky house and are immediately startled by an obviously fake bat. The creepy butler Ralph takes them to the reading of the will. I love the shot of Ralph leading them to the parlor with Mike in front and the other Monkees hiding behind him. Next, they meet the fabulous Madame Roselle, Mr. Cunningham’s spiritualist and Mr. Kingsley, Cunningham’s travelling companion and hack travel author. Ellie is Cunningham’s cute niece and she and Davy fall instantly in love, to Mike and Micky’s distress.

He's in love. For the very first time today.

Young, sweet Ellie will be the one to inherit Cunningham’s mansion, provided she spends one night there. This is an unpleasant surprise for Kingsley, Roselle, and Ralph. Cunningham has left the Monkees his library organ, with the stipulation that they play it once before they take it. They get up to play their inheritance and get out, and it really is an awesome organ because when Peter starts to play it, the “Last Train to Clarksville” (Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart) video comes out. This was first time the song, and the Monkeemobile, appeared on the show.

Monkeemobile

Ralph tells the Monkees they’re trapped on the island due to the foggy season, so they go upstairs to bed. I’d ask where they got their pajamas since they didn’t have any luggage (perhaps they have TARDIS technology), but then I’d have to ask why they wear boots to bed. Peter startles Micky, who utters the first “Don’t do that” line that recurs in many future episodes. After getting frightened out of their room, they run into Madame Roselle who tells them the butler may be dead. They run downstairs and see a knife in the wall, but no dead Ralph. Micky and Davy act out a Holmes/Watson fantasy and work on solving the mystery. Failing that, they go back to the room to think of a way to escape. This leads to my favorite scene of the episode: Mike explains his plan to get a message out of the mansion with a carrier pigeon and then a Saint Bernard. Including a link to the clip, because my words can’t do that justice.

The Monkees are trying to sleep all in the same tiny bed, when they hear what sounds like gunshots. Out of nowhere, Roselle appears and dramatically tells them Kingsley has been shot. Those that are left in the house sit downstairs discussing Kingsley’s and Ralph’s missing bodies. Micky gets inspired to get the phones to work and scrambles around attaching the telephone receiver to the tubes on an old radio. He successfully contacts some foreign sailors who only know three words of English: “yes I do.” It was pretty impressive, all the same.

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Madame Roselle has them join hands for a séance to reach John Cunningham. The actress playing Roselle is hilarious in this episode, going in and out of her “spiritualist” persona in a snap, and she conducts a séance in curlers. Watch the episode one time just keeping an eye on her. Mike is pretty skeptical of this whole thing, and her attempt to reach Cunningham fails. The lights go out, and she disappears. Here’s the first use of Monkee’s running gag “She’s/He’s/It’s gone!” when they see she’s missing. 

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The Monkees and Ellie get out of the mansion as fast as they can before they vanish like the older adults. Mike suggests they play a little music to cheer them up while they wait for the ferry. The song “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day” (Tommy Boyce/Steve Venet) plays to a romp which ends with them in monster masks and a fifth guy in a Monkees shirt and mask who scares them off.

Now we get to the real plot: the three older characters are conning Ellie and the Monkees. Davy, Micky, and Mike sneak back into the house and find a very alive Roselle, Ralph, and Kingsley bragging about driving off Ellie so they can take the mansion. Davy wants to use Micky’s experimental knock-out drop to stop them, so he sneaks off to slip them a mickey, so to speak. Peter and Ellie enter noisily and the villains hear them, each in turn coming out to threaten the Monkees with a gun. Who knew so many old folks in the 60s were packin’ heat? Conveniently, the knock-out drops kick in and the bad guys end up in a heap on the ground. In the tag sequence, the Monkees tell their story to the police.

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This is one of the funniest episodes of the series and one of my favorites. The guest cast, especially Lea Marmer, is excellent. The pigeon sequence and the séance are two stand-out funny bits in an entire episode full of laugh-out-loud scenes and dialogue. It’s a well-written, solid all-around spoof of Agatha Christie type mystery stories. The personalities and dynamics of the Monkees are clearer here than in the first episode with Mike emerging as the leader, Micky the one with the crazy ideas, Davy the young romantic, and Peter the oddball.

In this episode, as well as “Royal Flush,” there is a division between the old and young characters. The bad guys in this episode are all the older adults. Mr. Babbit wants to throw the young Monkees out on the street, though he is not a responsible landlord. The adult villains in the mansion are plotting to rob teenage Ellie of her inheritance and it’s up to the Monkees to figure it out. There’s no wise grown-up to help or guide them, no adult to be trusted. This was the age of the generation gap and “don’t trust anyone over 30.” The kids are alright, but they’re on their own.

Happy Thanksgiving, Monkees Fans!

You're Evil

Look out for (guest cast)

Sweet Young Thing

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: “Royal Flush”

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“This Is Supposed To Be About A Band, Right?”

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The Monkees television show debuted 49 years ago, and as the 50th anniversary approaches, I wanted to write a little bit about each episode of this amazing show that makes me laugh as much now as it did when I first saw it in syndication as a tot. “Royal Flush,” the first Monkees episode, aired September 12, 1966 on NBC. It was the third episode shot and the first directed by James Frawley, who went on to direct 32 of the 58 Monkees episodes. Frawley won an Emmy for “Royal Flush”; Outstanding Directorial Achievement in a Comedy Series, 1966-67. He worked with the Monkees for a few months before the show started to develop the spontaneous improvisational style that defined the Monkees humor.

“Royal Flush”  was written by Robert Schlitt and Peter Meyerson. The story begins, as so many of these episodes do; with the romantic British pop star character Davy Jones falling for a pretty girl. He saves Princess Bettina of the kingdom of Harmonica (where?) from drowning and then meets the first of many Monkees bad guys: her Uncle Otto and his bodyguard Sigmund. Otto and Sigmund clearly want to eliminate Bettina and possibly Davy as well. The actors playing the bad guys are really funny. I never appreciated the guest actors enough when watching this as a kid.

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After the opening theme we see the first shots of the Monkees beach house, accompanied by the Harpsichord version of The Monkees theme, composed by Stu Phillips. Inside the house, we see the famous Monkees décor. Micky helps Davy find Bettina in the newspaper while Mike talks about their lack of jobs and money, setting up a central show premise. Mike tells Davy not to get involved but the Monkees go into a fantasy sketch, dressed for a military invasion. Micky’s got his British military voice on, and he leads them through the plan to break into the hotel where Bettina is staying.

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The Monkees arrive at the Rich, Swank Hotel in individually styled gray suits. These scenes are the best part of the episode, with the Monkees doing what they do best: using their wits to con their way into or out of trouble. They get the maid to leave and spy on Otto and Sigmund. After they find out he is indeed up to no good and get it on tape, Micky uses a phony salesman-voice to get Otto to come to the room to look at some thrones. Otto and Sigmund show up and Micky dazzles them with his spiel and appeals to Otto’s vanity, while Davy sneaks off to warn Bettina. Davy and Bettina figure out Otto wants to get rid of her before she officially becomes queen that night at midnight, so he can take the crown. This takes a while because Davy sucks at operating tape recorders. The Monkees distract Otto and leave the hotel.

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Next we get the Monkees traditional musical sequence, this time to “This Just Doesn’t Seem to Be My Day” (Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart). There are some pretty funny moments while Mickey tries to evade Sigmund and Bettina and Davy frolic on the beach. Micky jumps into Sigmund’s arms, mimicking Bettina and Davy. Peter digs a hole and as he goes along progressively sillier signs warn: “Danger Hole Started,” “Watch Out Half Hole,” and then “Caution Whole Hole.” Sigmund, of course, falls into it.

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Outside the Monkees house we see the “Keep Off the Grass” sign for the first time. Inside, Micky rigs a safe on a rope to trap Otto, but it fails. Bettina tells Otto she’s sent a letter to the embassy, to be opened if she doesn’t arrive at her own birthday reception. Otto takes Bettina away, leaving Sigmund with the Monkees to make sure she behaves. Later, The Monkees try to get away from Sigmund, who jumps up and blocks the way. Catch Micky’s look to the camera to tell us, “He’s fast!” The safe finally falls, and the Monkees split.

At the birthday reception, Otto sees the Monkees and tries to abscond with Bettina. Bold little Davy jumps in front of him and they have a duel to the song “Take a Giant Step,” (Gerry Goffin/Carole King) complete with instant Errol Flynn costume changes. During the fight on screen captions during the fight read “We can’t go on meeting like this” and “It always worked for Errol Flynn.” Otto corners Davy and is about to go in for the kill, but Peter calls for “the time.” (Remember before the days of cell phones and digital cable boxes, you could call for “the time” if you wanted to set your watch?) It’s midnight and as Bettina’s first official act as Queen, she has Otto arrested.

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In the tag sequence, The Monkees go back to the hotel room and run into the maid again, who now owns the hotel. There’s an interview sequence because the show is one minute short, and 11 more would be featured on the show. Peter thinks Davy’s too short to do a fencing scene. This begins the running gag about Davy’s height.

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I love watching the Monkees trick the bad guys with their logic-defying, Marx-Brothers style antics. Many of my favorite gags originated in this episode such as breaking the fourth wall by looking at the camera, the screen caps, and the fast-motions scrambling around. I only wonder why they chose this episode as the debut, since the story has nothing to do with them as a band. It’s barely even referred to, which is an interesting choice for a show about a rock group.

Evil

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Bettina_web

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.