Monkees vs. Macheen: “The Monkees Blow Their Minds”

The Monkees Blow Their Ending

“The Monkees Blow Their Minds” was directed by David Winters, written by Peter Meyerson, and aired March 11, 1968, second to the last Monkees episode in the original run. To my delight, this episode features James Frawley, director of 29 of the 58 Monkees episodes, as Rudy, dimwitted henchmen to Oraculo. When I saw this episode in the 1980s, I had no idea this actor was one of the directors, possibly the best director of the series. Knowing this makes it so much more fun. Thanks to MeTV, I’ve recently enjoyed Frawley’s performances in The Outer Limits episodes, “The Inheritors” Pt. 1 and 2 and various episodes of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

“The Monkees Blow Their Minds” kicks off with a musical guest segment, like the one from “Some Like it Lukewarm” with Davy and Charlie Smalls. Frank Zappa (1940-1993), musician and founder of the band The Mothers of Invention, was Michael Nesmith’s pick. Zappa, who also appeared in Head, makes this episode memorable for me. (It certainly wasn’t the storyline.)

For this chat, Mike and Frank impersonate each other. Aren’t they tricky? Zappa wears a Monkees 8-button shirt and has his hair tucked up in one of Mike’s green wool hats. Mike wears a long, bushy wig and a rubber nose. “Mike” introduces “Frank” and pretends to interview him about the psychedelic music scene. Frank, as “Mike,” comments on the tricky editing style of The Monkees and overall, the conversation is full of the ironic self-parody that frequently characterized the second season. I wonder how much of the Monkees audience at the time were into Zappa, The Monkees being a popular show for kids and The Mothers of Invention being an experimental, underground phenomena. That’s more or less what Nesmith and Zappa were joking about in their conversation.

The best part is when Mike conducts Zappa as he musically destroys a car. This is set to the song, “Mother People” by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention from the 1968 album We’re Only in it for the Money. I wish this part had gone on longer. By the way, you can also see Zappa playing a bicycle on this clip from The Steve Allen Show in 1963.

My first memory of Frank Zappa was the 1982 song “Valley Girl,” featuring his daughter Moon. (So shoot me, I’m a child of the ’80s.) He was in the news a lot in the mid-eighties for testifying before the United State Senate against the PMRC, a story that I followed closely. I would imagine that by the time this episode aired on MTV in the 1980s, a lot of people were as tickled as I was to see him on The Monkees. I even became a casual fan; intrigued enough to listen up for his songs on classic rock radio, sit through his surreal film 200 Motels, and buy a copy of the album Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch. That album has some hilarious cover art. Speaking of cover art, the cover for We’re Only in it for the Money is a parody of the Beatles album cover for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Relevant because of the various Monkees references to that album, and because Mike was present at the recording of “A Day in the Life.” You can see Mike about 2/12 minutes into the promo clip.

Back to the recap. Peter arrives at a spooky shop, looking for the “World’s Leading Mentalist,” a.k.a. Oraculo– a scruffy looking magician played by Monte Landis. Oraculo’s dim-witted assistant Rudy (Frawley) greets him. I love the set decoration: weirdness and skulls everywhere, including Oraculo’s staff. Peter explains that he’s got writer’s block and hopes Oraculo can help him. He needs to write a song for the Monkees audition at the club Cassandra. Oraculo perks up at the mention of an “audition.” He tells Peter to look deeply in his eyes and tries to mesmerize him.

That failing, Oraculo pours him a cup of tea. Rudy distracts Peter with a full size skeleton while they sneak a potion into Peter’s beverage. This little bit of physical comedy was funny and I hope Frawley had a good time performing with the Monkees when he wasn’t directing them. The drug completely zones out Peter, which I interpret as a possible subversive statement about drug use.

Next scene: Mike, Micky, and Davy set up for their audition at the club. There are indications that this was filmed much earlier in the second season (April 1967, nearly a full year before it aired), such as the black velvet matching 8-button shirts and Mike wearing the wool hat as well as Micky’s merely wavy rather than full on curly hair. The black shirts were previously seen in “The Card-Carrying Red Shoes.” Peter walks in late, still zombified. Latham, the club manager, was played by Milton Frome, who appeared in The Monkees first season episode, “Monkees on the Line.” Peter can’t remember how to play his bass. He crows like a rooster, destroys Micky’s drum, and over-all wrecks their chance to impress Latham in the audition.

Oraculo summons Peter backstage. Peter’s now wearing an outfit that looks similar to Rudy’s fake Middle East-style costume (they resemble organ grinder’s monkey outfits). On stage, Oraculo auditions for Latham. His act is to levitate Peter four feet off the ground. We see that it’s a trick aided by Rudy who is off stage using ropes to pull him up and down. Latham hires Oraculo instead of the Monkees. Micky, Mike, and Peter suspect that Oraculo has “stolen” Peter’s mind.

The Monkees go back to their pad and plan one of their cons to distract Oraculo and free Peter. (There’s a rare voice-over from Davy setting this up, making me think scenes were dropped or missing.) Mike calls the mentalist, pretending be an amnesiac who has forgotten where he put his suitcase containing 50,000 dollars. Naturally, Oraculo is interested. Cut to Oraculo already at Monkee’s house. He tries to hypnotize Mike, but Mike sees the same, “Cowardice, and, um, dishonesty, and a general lack of scruples” that Peter saw.

Alone with Peter at Oraculo’s shop, Rudy looks at himself in the mirror in one of Oraculo’s capes and top hats, wishing to become his Master. Micky and Davy sneak in behind him. Micky impersonates Oraculo and gives Rudy commands, “Come to me Rudy.” Rudy realizes pretty quickly that it’s not Oraculo, (wrong accent, Micky) but Micky promises a great treasure to share with Rudy, and this lie is enough to get Rudy to go join Oraculo.

As Micky and Davy try to get Peter’s mind back, they launch a romp to “Valleri” (Boyce/Hart). The first moment with the skeleton driving the go-cart out the door is epic. In these romp shots you can see that the Oraculo set is the same as the Monkee’s pad. At one point, Davy and Micky even carry Mr. Schneider around. The shop scenes are cut in with scenes of Mike at the pad with Oraculo, who tricks him into drinking his hypno-potion. Mike has the same hilarious gagging, full-body reaction as he did in “Wild Monkees” when he drank gasoline. The romp has a few cute moments and some cool weirdness, but is generally pointless and doesn’t enhance the plot. Afterwards, Peter’s still in a trance so Davy just hits him on the head with a mallet.

Rudy shows up at the Monkees pad, seemingly through the wall the way it was edited. This tips off Oraculo that something is wrong, so he orders brain-dead Mike to spill the whole scheme. I’m going to stop and say how much I’m enjoying Monte Landis’ performance. This whole episode is a lesser version of “The Devil and Peter Tork,” with Peter losing something vital to a scheming villain. But Landis’ line delivery makes me laugh out loud. I’ve enjoyed every one of Monte Landis’ seven performances and they were varied enough that I honestly didn’t notice he was the same actor when I watched these episodes as a kid.

Later, Micky and Davy bring Peter back to the house, but he’s still spellbound. On top of that, Mike is missing. There’s a classic Monkees scramble to their usual fast-paced incidental music as Micky and Davy look for their friend in places where he wouldn’t fit: under tables, in jars, in the cupboards, etc. They chain Peter to the wall for safekeeping while they go look for Mike. Weird over-dub of Micky saying, “This overlapping chain link is perfect for both sport and formal attire.”

Micky and Davy burst into Oraculo’s shop to rescue Mike. Rudy knocks them out with the mallet, and Oraculo orders Rudy to give Micky and Davy the potion. He boasts about what a sensation he will be with his four psychic slaves. Clip from the show “Here Come the Monkees” (pilot) showing the four Monkees in the prison-break cutaway. Good times. He summons Peter, who breaks the chains out of the wall to obey his command.

At the club Cassandra, Latham introduces The Great Oraculo. Backstage, all four Monkees are now dressed like Peter. Burgess Meredith is in the audience as The Penguin who he played on Batman. His costume is slightly different however, black top hat instead of purple, so that Screen Gems wouldn’t get into legal trouble with 20th Century Fox, perhaps. It’s a random, pop-culture sight gag, memorable and well executed.

Oraculo works the crowd. Choosing a woman from the audience, he asks her to hold up one to thirteen fingers behind his back. (Thirteen fingers? Heh.) She holds up three. Rudy blatantly signals him the answer. Oraculo “guesses” right and the audience is dazzled. Next, Oraculo picks Davy, disguised in a suit and fake facial hair. He claims he’s a lawyer, and Oraculo offers to predict his future. “At the age of 29, you will be the youngest judge ever to sit on the Supreme Court.” Davy makes a fool of him. “But I’m already 35.” The audience boos. Next, he finds Micky in disguise and asks him to help demonstrate that he’s impervious to pain. Micky touches his palm with a lit cigar, instead of whatever prop Oraculo had planted, and Oraculo howls in agony. Once again the audience expresses disdain.

Backstage Oraculo checks on the “psychic slaves.” Foolishly, he smacks Micky instead of giving him another dose of potion. Micky is revived and quickly smacks the other three awake. HOLD IT, hold it. They should have shown this before the scene of the Monkees as audience plants. That would have made sense because then we would have understood that the Monkees were alert and executing a plan to make a fool of the bad guy. It’s completely plausible in the reality of the show that the Monkees could pop in and out of disguises that quickly. They did it all the time. With the scenes in this order, I have no idea what happened.

Rudy tries to save the day by calling the “psychic slaves” out on stage. They circle Oraculo, who commands them to go rigid. The Monkees defy him, falling limply to the stage floor. The audience boos. The Monkees turn this into a human dog act, barking and jumping through hoops and so on. They cut in the “I’m Gonna Buy Me a Dog” romp with Monkees playing with the dogs from “I’ve Got a Little Song Here.” Lame. I don’t mind when they recycle footage for a fun effect, triggering the audience’s memory like they did earlier with the prison break scene, but this is just lazy filler. On stage the dog antics continue and Rudy ends up with the bone from “Some Like it Lukewarm” in his mouth.

That line was a nice nod to The Monkees recurring theme that everyone wants to be in show business. Then, alas, the episode abruptly ends and goes to the black and white performance clip of “Daily Nightly” (Nesmith). There are two things to note in the end credits. First, James Frawley does not get an acting credit as Rudy. I’m guessing Frawley was acting for fun and he didn’t need a credit. The second looks like an error, they misspell “Valleri” as “Valerie.”

“Monkees Blow Their Minds,” was not amazingly original, but was at least amusing before the sloppily-put-together scenes in the last act, and the production team’s general failure to wrap things up. I did enjoy Zappa, Frawley, and Monte Landis so it wasn’t all bad. It’s just one of those things like “Monkees in Texas” where I wonder if they lost a reel or just couldn’t come up with enough footage to make a more satisfying story. Well, that’s showbiz!

In two weeks, it’s the final episode: the delightfully weird “Frodis Caper.” See you then!

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: “Hillbilly Honeymoon” (a.k.a. “Double Barrel Shotgun Wedding”)

“Y’all come back now, y’hear!”

“Hillbilly Honeymoon” aka “Double Barrel Shotgun Wedding” was written by Peter Meyerson and directed by James Frawley. Meyerson wrote eight Monkees episodes including the debut episode “Royal Flush,” and the very similar-in-plot episode, (it’s doppelganger you might say) “Prince and the Paupers.” This episode debuted October 23, 1967 and was filmed September 12-15, 1967, after their big 1967, July 8-Aug 27 summer tour. The Monkees have a new look in the episodes that were shot from September onward. Micky’s curly hair is the most noticeable, but the Monkees started dressing in what I’d call a more “hippy” look and Mike didn’t always wear the green hat.

The story begins with the Monkees lost and driving their Monkeemobile through a small town that’s divided by a white line. On either side are two feuding families, the Weskitts and Chubbers. The Monkees ask for directions, but gun-toting Weskitts and Chubbers warn them to stay on the white line. The Weskitts and Chubbers parody the Hatfield and McCoy real-life family feud that occurred between two rural families in the West Virginia and Kentucky area from 1863-1891. Mike sends Davy to follow the white line out of town and find some help.

Davy starts to walk the line but gets pulled into a haystack by a pretty young woman in pig-tails, Ella Mae Chubber. She kisses him (with a pop sound effect) and then has the nerve to warn him her boyfriend won’t like it. Ella Mae resembles Elly May Clampett from The Beverly Hillbillies with her name, hair, and costume. The other three main characters in “Hillbilly Honeymoon” also have Beverly Hillbillies counterparts: Maw equals Granny, Paw resembles Jed, and Jud is a Jethro type. The Monkees were parodying this popular television show that ran from 1962-1971. Both are “fish out of water” stories: The Beverly Hillbillies is about a group of hillbillies trying to navigate their way through society in Beverly Hills, while “Hillbilly Honeymoon” has our California boys trapped in hillbilly country. Admittedly the “Hillbilly Honeymoon” versions of these characters are lot nastier, in a fun way of course.

Paw points his rifle at Davy and Ella Mae and makes it clear Davy has to marry her. Jud Weskitt approaches with his rifle and makes it clear Davy’s going to die for kissing Ella Mae, because she’s his girl. Since Ella Mae’s a Chubber and Jud is a Weskitt, I can add Romeo and Juliet to the list of things parodied in “Hillbilly Honeymoon.”

After the opening theme, Ella Mae tries to keep Paw and Jud from killing both Davy and each other. Micky pops into the frame and tries to talk the men out of fighting but they just shove rifles in his face. Micky and Davy run off, and the two feuding clans start shooting at each other, accompanied by banjo music. There’s lots of bullets flying around but no deaths occur that we see. Micky pops up in the haystack and Ella wants to kiss him now. He points out he’s not Davy but she kisses him anyway. Micky responds, “Well, I tried,” and makes out with her. Now Paw wants Micky to marry Ella Mae because she’s about to turn 16 and he doesn’t want anyone calling her an “old maid.” Yep, those kind of stereotypes. Paw takes Mike, Micky, and Peter away at gunpoint. Maw tricks Davy into thinking she’s a helpless old lady and asks him to help her cross the street. As a reward for his kind service, she and Jud kidnap him.

At Maw and Jud’s, cabin, Jud wants to put Davy into his vat to make liquor out of him while Maw explains the health benefits of anger and hate. At Paw and Ellie’s cabin, Paw wants to know which Monkee will marry Ella. Micky, Mike, and Peter eagerly volunteer Davy. Paw points out that Jud’s got Davy and going to get him will get them shot. All three declare in unison, “We’ll risk it.” Paw agrees to send Micky and keep the other two but Ella wants one for herself. She approaches Mike, “I think you’re cute.” Mike breaks the fourth wall in terms of actor/character and says, “So does my wife and kids.” He volunteers to go with Micky. Peter frets that they’re abandoning him but Mike promises they’ll be back for him “or we’ll die trying.” Paw gleefully points out, “That’s a distinct possibility.”

I love that Dub Taylor plays Paw with a menacing smile. Sure he’s going to blow your head off, but he’ll have a good time doing it. I also figured out that I recognized Dub Taylor from the old Hubba Bubba “gum fight” commercials. Big bubbles, no troubles. You 70’s-80’s kids will know what I’m talking about.

Jud has Davy in a sack. Between this and “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik,” people really enjoy putting Davy in sacks. He’s ready to boil Davy when Micky and Mike arrive outside, dressed as hillbillies. They push a pig wearing a baby bonnet in their baby carriage. The pig, the bonnet, and carriage seem to be a nod to the book Alice in Wonderland, when Alice takes the Duchess’s baby outside and discovers it’s a pig. Mike and Micky try to convince rifle-wielding Jud that they’re cousins. Jud doesn’t recognize the names Claude and Roy, or Luke and Ezra, but seems to remember a Roland and Clem. He still wants to get rid of them until Maw insists, “That’s no way to treat kinfolk” and lets them inside. Meanwhile at Paw’s, Peter becomes Ella’s next victim [She’s a lonely woman, apparently – Editor’s note]. She chases him, and he gives in to her kiss as Micky did, with a resigned, “Well, I tried.”

Micky and Mike see Davy in the sack, but they’re intimidated by Maw and Jud. Jud wants Mike to prove he’s a cousin by playing his nose. Mike (in a line delivery worthy of Jim Parsons) tries to stall, saying his nose is “out being fixed.” He gets nervous when Jud points the gun so he starts tapping the side of his noise, and the sound editors help Mike out with a “boing, boing” sound. Micky accompanies Mike by tapping the pig. This begins the romp to “Papa Gene’s Blues” (Michael Nesmith), a first season song that’s perfect for this romp and episode. During the song, Maw, Jud, Mike, and Micky play in a jug band, and also do some square dancing, joined by Davy in the sack. There’s some footage from “Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth” with the Monkees performing farm chores, bailing hay,etc. My favorite bits are Micky and Mike smoking ears of corn and Mike politely attempting to light Maw’s pipe with a match, but failing until she eventually just busts out a Zippo. Billie Hayes, the actress who plays Maw, is a lot of fun to watch.

After the nose-playing, Maw welcomes them to the family. Micky frees the pig to create a distraction. Maw and Jud chase after it, giving Mike and Micky time to look through the sacks for Davy. When they just find oats, they start crying that Davy Jones is dead. Funny gag as Davy comes up behind them joins in the crying over his own death. They all abruptly stop to figure out what to do now.

Mike pulls out a script and they use it to figure out that they need to get Peter from Paw and Ella Mae’s. With this, and Mike’s earlier mention of his family, this entire episode feels looser than usual. The first season episodes, for the most part, create the reality of them as a band with the fourth wall breaks as a knowing “wink” to the audience. This episode and some others after it make no pretense at creating a reality; I’m constantly reminded I’m watching a show. With this episode, there’s so much funny stuff that it doesn’t hurt the energy of the episode. There’s never a dull moment.

Outside Paw’s place, Micky, Mike, and Davy start making pig calls. Ella Mae and Paw come out, and Micky and Mike rush in to get Peter, but Davy’s pants are caught on a nail. Paw turns around and cocks the rifle at Davy. He asks Ella if Davy was the one kissing her. Ella isn’t sure, “Maybe. I can’t tell one from the other no more.” Paw makes Davy drop to his knees and tries to force a proposal. Instead, Davy starts singing “I Wanna Be Free.” Paw isn’t impressed, “Anybody who sings like that deserves to die.” The other three Monkees run out on the porch. At Paw’s gun-pointing threat, Davy finally says “Will you marry me?”

Outside Paw’s, Mike, Micky, and Peter agree they’ve got to stop the wedding so they head for Jud’s. I love Micky leaping over the porch rail and posing as he proclaims Davy’s predicament. He looks like he’s trying to crack Mike up. Those little moments, they can’t be scripted. Inside, Paw and Ella have dressed Davy up in a suit for the wedding. Elly thinks he’s “purdy” but Paw’s not satisfied: Davy still looks like a city slicker. Davy suggests, “Why don’t you rub dirt all over me or something?” Unable to detect sarcasm, Paw and Ella go for this idea.

Mike and Micky tell Jud that Ella’s getting married. Naturally Jud grabs his gun. Mike and Micky stop him. Mike tells Jud he’s got to treat Ella like a gentleman. Jud’s response, “But she’s a girl!” inspires the first “Isn’t that dumb” recurring line from Micky. Huge compliments to all the guest cast actors. The episode is packed with over-the-top and corny stereotypes but the actors make it into great comedy. Billie Hayes and Lou Antonio have the most ridiculous lines but I still laugh every time I hear them delivered.

Maw wants to know, who’s going to teach Jud how to treat a girl? Micky announces, “Raybert presents, coming straight from the mountains, Uncle Raccoon!” Peter enters and speaks in a German accent until Mike stage whispers, “wrong accent.” Peters tries again with a hillbilly accent that’s awkwardly over-the-top. I dig the fact that all the Monkees get a chance to shine and be funny in “Hillbilly Honeymoon.” The Monkees have Jud practice proposing using Micky in a bonnet as a stand in for Ella Mae.

The scenes of Jud’s training are intercut with Davy fussily complaining about being covered in soot and Paw’s spitting and so on. I’ve never seen this fastidious side of him before. They’re contrasting a British fastidious persona with the dirty hillbillies, I suppose. Davy tries to convince Ella to elope with Jud, but Paw won’t have it because Jud is “dirty, dumb, and violent.” Well, yeah. There’s a subtle anti-violence message here.

The same barn used in “Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth” and also “The Monkees in a Ghost Town” is decorated for a wedding in this episode. Paw bullies Ella and Davy down the aisle with his gun. The preacher, played by Jim Boles, who also played the Dad in “Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth,” starts performing a funeral service. Once he restarts the right ceremony, Ella Mae is reluctant to take this “stranger to be your lawfully wedded husband,” so Paw jabs her. Jud walks in wearing a suit and followed by the other Monkees and Maw. He announces, “Gentleman Jud Wescott, come to claim his bride.” Paw isn’t happy and renews the fighting between the two clans, despite Micky and the Preacher’s efforts to keep the peace. The barn is crackling with gunfire and the families divide across the white line again.

Ducking behind a hay bale, Ella admits to Davy that she loves Jud the most. Davy plays matchmaker and summons Jud and the preacher. The preacher marries the hillbilly couple behind the hay stacks as the gunfire continues.

Jud and Ellla are about to kiss when Paw comes up with his gun and says, “I got you at last.” Ella updates him that they’re married. Paw happily says, “You son-in-law” and hugs Jud. He takes the couple to the center of the barn and makes the announcement that the feud is over, “the houses of Weskitt and Chubber are joined.” Everybody celebrates. A Romeo and Juliet where no one has to die. Paw invites Jud to go ahead and kiss. Jud leans in, and Paw clarifies, “Not me, her!”

Despite all the hillbilly clichés, I love this episode. It’s so funny, even just thinking about it makes me laugh and it’s easily one of the best of season two. One thing that these recaps have taught me is a true appreciation for director James Frawley. I knew nothing about him before I started this recap project. There’s an interview with James Frawley here where he talks about directing The Monkees. The four actors were encouraged to go off the script, and they would disregard written scenes for ad-libbed versions. I would speculate this extended to the guest cast as well if they were up for it and willing to play. (I realize that when they were actually shooting they probably couldn’t improvise so much due to lighting placement and other technical needs.) According to the book, Monkeemania: The True Story of the Monkees by Glen A. Baker, 29 of the first 32 Monkees episodes directors had no previous television directing experience. Frawley’s willingness to experiment might have been because he didn’t have much experience at the time as a director so he wasn’t encumbered by having to do things the “right” way. The natural-seeming bits of comedy and interaction combined with the elements of magic and fantasy are part of what makes “Hillbilly Honeymoon” and many other episodes watchable over and over.

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 Mother”

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“The Taming of The Monkees”

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“Monkee Mother” is an episode that’s a little more domestic than usual. That seems obvious from the title, but compared to the previous episode’s pulp fiction-y spy action story, this one is very cozy, all taking place on the Monkees’ house set. “Monkee Mother” was written by Peter Meyerson and Robert Schlitt who also wrote “Royal Flush,” “The Monkees in a Ghost Town,” and the story for “Captain Crocodile.” This was their last collaboration for The Monkees. Peter Meyerson, without Schlitt, has writing credits for “Monkees Blow Their Minds,” “Fairy Tale,” “Hillbilly Honeymoon,” and “The Prince and the Paupers.” Schlitt went on to write for Mod Squad, Hawaii Five-O, Adam 12, Kung Fu, Matlock, and The Father Dowling Mysteries to name a few. James Frawley directed this episode, which first aired on March 20, 1967.

This episode starts off mid-argument with Mike defending the Monkees to Mr. Babbitt. Mike refutes the claim that they planted poison ivy and that Mr. Schneider is inflammable material. Mr. Babbitt kicks them out and tells them the new tenant will arrive in one hour. He gets a little villainous organ music from the score, and the Monkees go into a shared fantasy where Babbitt is a vaudeville villain in a top hat and cloak, and they’re peasants in torn clothing getting pelted by snow, inside their house, in Southern California. Babbitt leaves them to pack.

farewell-to-babbitt

The new tenant arrives in a lot less than an hour. It’s Rose Marie from “Monkees in a Ghost Town.” This time she’s not the Big Man. She’s Millie, who passively-aggressively tells the boys her bags can just walk themselves in. After the theme, she walks around complaining about the dust and the dirt and the half-eaten sandwich. In other words, she instantly starts “mothering” them. She mentions her departed husband, “dear Herman.” 

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As Millie continues to settle in, the Monkees go out on the patio to talk about getting rid of her [Wouldn’t they need to go housing court to fight their eviction? – Editor]. Naturally Mike is chosen to tell her that she’s got to go. When they go inside to confront her, Mike’s too polite and backs right down. Micky’s up next and she tells him it’s fine for the Monkees to stay as her boarders. This is not what they had in mind.

The truck driver arrives with Millie’s furniture and Millie asks the Monkees to help bring things in. They refuse at first but then there’s a fast motion bit where she’s a traffic cop with a whistle directing everyone. After, Larry the mover takes a rest and Millie thanks him with a piece of homemade cheesecake . “Gee officer Krupke, Krup you!” (10 points to anyone who gets that reference. Hint in the cast graphic at the bottom.)

The exhausted Monkees are out on the patio lying on the ground and on each other. The patio is the place they go for a reprieve from Millie it seems.

i-cant-move-your-arms-either

Now we get the series of scenes where Millie has one on one time with each Monkee, a chance to divide and conquer. Mike is in the main room doing the dusting. Millie speculates that Mike’s used to responsibility, coming from a large family with little money, where he was expected to help out a lot. (This is the fictional Mike’s family. Michael Nesmith was an only child.) Millie wants to make something for him. Mike wants her to make him a success [Some heartfelt, earnest acting from Nesmith – Editor], a couple of hit records or a shot on a TV show, reflecting his wishes in “I’ve Got a Little Song Here.” Millie offers that success is no good if you catch a cold, and she’ll make him a sweater. I don’t think it’s so much that she didn’t understand him, but a practical problem is one she can solve. He lets himself be measured for the sweater.

Next she finds Micky under the car doing repairs. She asks him to fix the leaky faucet and cleans the dirt off of his face, as though he were a little boy. He says he doesn’t mind fixing it and smiles sweetly. Millie is effectively domesticating and taming the Monkees. But she’s also emasculating them with her presence, changing the way they live.

Especially since Mike, the most adult of them, was wearing a feminine apron in her scene with him. One of the things I enjoy so much about the premise of the Monkees is that they’re on their own without parental guidance, without any female influence since they don’t have serious relationships. Mike is the closest thing to anyone being “in charge” of the Monkees. He’s the one the others rely on for help, for ideas, to be responsible, and even to physically hide behind. But he’s still one of them, getting involved in wacky shenanigans and crazy ideas. Millie’s presence, being an authority figure who wants the house her way, is the biggest threat to him.

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 After dinner Peter, Mike, and Micky excuse themselves leaving Millie with Davy. She asks if he knows Rex Harrison, since surely everyone who’s English must know each other. She tells a sad story about saying “hi” to all the neighbors but “nobody called back.” Davy says he would have called back. This is a touching Davy moment; a very sweet scene.

Peter doesn’t get a scene with Millie for some reason. They play “Sometime in the Morning” (Gerry Goffin, Carole King) for her while she knits. Performance footage is the same used in “Monkees at the Circus.” Millie imagines herself young, in turn-of the-century dress. It’s a romantic romp that’s her fantasy, not theirs. She imagines the Monkees also in the period costumes and they each take turns dancing with her. I interpret that she’s lonely and wants to have fun with them on their level, to be youthful and have their attention. I’m not sure how the costumes fit in, as she would have been young in the ’30s-’40s but they do add to the dreamy atmosphere.

Next, there’s a weird bit where the Monkees play dominoes. Micky asks “What is this called?” and Peter answers “Southeast Asia” and they knock down the dominoes in what’s probably a Vietnam War reference. Apparently, the song “Last Train to Clarksville” (Boyce/Hart) was a Vietnam War protest song. Boyce/Hart had to be subtle about it in the lyrics.

Millie opens the front door, announcing that they’ve got company. Lest you think Mike’s been won over by Millie from the earlier scenes, he sarcastically mutters, “Oh boy, company.” Millie has come from the supermarket with a blonde girl seated on the shopping cart. The girl, Clarisse [“Have the lambs stopped screaming?” – Editor], is English and Millie wants to fix her up with Davy. Clarisse and Davy engage in a little “drawing room comedy” on the steps, Davy wearing his smoking jacket.

Clarisse: “Do you really know Rex Harrison?”
Davy: “No.”
Clarisse: “Actually, I don’t care.”
Davy: “I’m no good for you, you know.”
Clarisse: “I don’t care.”
Davy: “Terrible temper”
Clarisse: “I don’t care!”
Davy: “I wander.”
Clarisse: “I don’t care.”
Davy: “Cruel, too.”
Clarisse: “I don’t care!”
Davy: “I love you, Clarisse!”
Clarisse: “I don’t care.”

not-clarisse

Millie’s sister Judy, her husband Arthur, and pack of kids in military helmets/uniforms are at the door. Millie lets them in and the four kids race all over and terrorize the Monkees. There’s smoke, dirt, and running on furniture. As with the Crocodile Corps, this show doesn’t treat kids like precious little things. These kids are about 10-12, I’d guess; two boys, and two girls.

Self-involved Judy doesn’t seem to know that Millie’s husband has been dead for 10 years. I’m thinking about the notion that for whatever reason, Millie doesn’t have kids. (I know not all women want kids, but I’m interpreting that Millie did.) Or maybe the kids grew up and are too far away. Otherwise she wouldn’t be in this situation with the Monkees.

By the way, Millie’s stuffed bird (Lewis) and sheep (Martin) are an allusion to the 1940s-1950s comedy duo, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.

In the midst of the chaos, Larry comes over, wanting more cheesecake. Millie and Larry seem to like each other. One of the little girls has Mike tied up and gagged. She refuses her father’s request to loosen his gag, declaring Mike her prisoner. Indulgent Dad is fine with this. I enjoy the sight of the Monkees getting a taste of their own chaotic medicine from these kids.

Mr. Babbitt enters, wondering what’s going on. True, Millie has not been any less noisy a tenant than the Monkees. Babbitt yells at Millie and Judy. A snack vendor comes in sells peanuts and popcorn like the whole thing’s spectator sport. Clarisse continues her chorus of “I don’t care, I don’t care.”  Vendor: “I don’t care either, baby.” This is reminiscent of “Success Story” when all the victims came back to the pad for their stolen goods. Popcorn, kids, and Monkees scatter all over the apartment until Millie ushers everyone onto the beach. The Monkees are tied up and gagged and can’t move.

Later, the Monkees are on their patio again, and Micky is spoon-feeding Peter, treating him like a baby. Mike and Davy observe disdainfully that Micky and Peter don’t even want her to leave anymore. Mike declares they’ve been conned, (interesting word choice since that’s their usual modus operandi). On the other hand, Mike doesn’t see any way out of it, “We might as well be married to her.” Davy is less hostile and feels bad for Millie. Micky picks up on Mike’s words and suggests what Millie wants is a husband. Where will they get a husband?

From the deus ex moving truck, Larry knocks on the door. He’s returning a lamp that got left behind. The Monkees think he’d make a good husband for Millie since they’re the same age, right? Same logic as all English people knowing each other.

Millie and Larry get ready for their dinner date at the Monkee pad. Mike and Davy prepare Larry while Micky and Peter prepare Millie. The Monkees lie to their charges that each drives the other to distraction.

eyes-like-cupcakes

At dinner, Mike and Peter play a lovely and brief instrumental, acoustic version of “Don’t Call on Me” (Michael Nesmith, John London). Millie and Larry are left alone to talk. Millie seems preoccupied with various friend’s ailments.

Micky, Davy, and Mike do the dishes. Micky teases Mike, handing him a dish he already washed. Mike tells him, “Don’t do that,” but re-washes it anyway. Micky’s mischievous face as he screws with Mike is great. Peter spies on their conversation with binoculars and some kind of audio gear.

Millie talks so long that the Monkees fall asleep, except Peter, diligently spying. Larry interrupts to ask about Herman. Millie describes Herman as an angel and a nice man. Larry says he’s no angel. Millie says he’s a nice man and they touch hands and look at each other. Sweet performance from the actors, making this work with a little help from the dialogue. Peter goes rushing from his spot to tell the Monkees ‘We did it! We made it! It’s love!” Make love, not war, kids. 

Cut to the wedding. Everyone from the episode is there, Arthur and Judy, the kids, Clarisse and the vendor who seem to be an item. Even Mr. Babbitt is a guest. Mike tells Babbitt he’s got the rent from playing the wedding. For some reason Mike’s shouting like they’re standing in a wind tunnel, even though they’re staged close together and Henry Corden is not shouting. Babbitt seems grateful to Mike, maybe for getting rid of Millie? Mike asks Babbitt to babysit the kids and he agrees. The kids tie Babbitt up, but during the song he wiggles gamely in his ropes, doing his version of “The Kidnap.” 

The kids all dance while the Monkees play “Look out, (Here Comes Tomorrow)” (Neil Diamond). The tune was one of four songs that Neil Diamond wrote for the Monkees. The others are “I’m a Believer,” “A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You” and “Love to Love.” Micky performed “I’m a Believer,” while Davy is the lead for the other three. “I’m a Believer” and “A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You” were both #1 songs in the US. “Love to Love” was originally recorded in 1967 for the third Monkees Album, but wasn’t included as it was part of the Don Kirshner sessions. Its was added to the recent Monkees album Good Times with new backing vocals by Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork.

look-out

Millie says her “goodbyes” in the moving truck. Mike’s wearing the sweater Millie made him, and they do seem sad to see her go. She says she’s living two doors down, so she’ll drop over with soup to talk over old times. Tonight for instance. They look stunned, as you would expect. Larry carries some of her furniture and throws the cupcake line back at them. Is he having regrets?

That was a cute story, aided by the presence of Rose Marie. It is more traditionally sit-comy but also like a stage play, with the entire story on the one set and the tight cast of characters. When I first thought about this episode, I recall it seemed that not much happened. That’s not entirely the case. It’s just more subtle. Instead of their lives being on the line, like in “Alias Micky Dolenz” or “Monkees Chow Mein” their everyday way of life is jeopardized. If Millie had stayed around, they would cease being the Monkees, stop getting in trouble, stop doing crazy antics, and maybe all grow up and get married off. We wouldn’t want that.

Hey, it’s been a full year since I started doing these recaps! Thanks to all of you for reading. It’s a lot of fun to relive these episodes of this great show and I really appreciate your comments. 

look-out-mother

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: “The Prince and The Paupers”

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 “Everyone in the world has a doppelganger” 

title-3

“The Prince and The Paupers” first aired on February 6, 1967. The teleplay was written by Gerald Gardner and Dee Caruso, from a story by Peter Meyerson. It’s a spoof on the Mark Twain novel, The Prince and the Pauper, but just barely. The novel is about two boys who look alike; one’s a prince, one is very poor. Through a plot of mistaken identity, each boy learns what it’s like to live like the other. “The Prince and The Paupers,” on the other hand, has more in common with The Monkees’ earlier episode, “Royal Flush.”

Davy and Prince Ludlow are identical, but the plot revolves around Davy charming a girl and keeping a young royal from getting killed by an ambitious, greedy adult relative.

 “The Prince and the Pauper” was the only Monkees episode that James Komack directed. He has many credits as a director, including Get Smart, Welcome Back Kotter, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and Star Trek. I don’t find this episode as funny as it could be. I don’t know if that has anything to do with the director, since he was very experienced with comedies. For whatever reason, most of the jokes fall flat and no one seems to be having much fun.

The story starts off with the Monkees hoping to get a gig at the embassy. The Count’s assistant, Max, comes out to the hall where they are waiting. He tells Davy the Count has been looking everywhere for him and insistently drags Davy into the throne room. The Count wants to know why Davy is wearing “bizarre clothes.” (He’s wearing his red Monkees shirt.) A young man, identical to Davy, enters from a side door. The Count realizes his mistake and dismisses Davy, but Ludlow wants to talk to him.

Ludlow tells Davy his troubles; he has to be married by his 18th birthday or lose the throne to Count Myron. Davy’s awkward characterization of Ludlow is adorable. It’s fun to see him pull off a different character. Ludlow explains he’s shy and bad with women. How is this possible?  Davy tries to pump him up.

Witty,-handsome,-tall

Meanwhile, corrupt adults Count Myron and Max fence in another room and discuss their plan to prevent Ludlow from ever getting married. Seems Ludlow’s personality has been doing most of the work for them up to now. Ludlow’s best prospect is Wendy Forsythe, but the scheming Count has told her that Ludlow’s no good.  Unfortunately, though the guest cast is made up of talented actors, they aren’t as entertaining as the cast from most episodes. These two don’t seem to be having much fun, and feel a bit stiff. The guest cast is usually one of the best elements of any given episode, especially when the performers are really relishing their “evil” roles.

Mike, Peter, and Micky enter and see the two doppelgangers. Davy fills them in on Ludlow’s problem. A courtier (played by Donald Foster, who was also the Rolls Owner in “Success Story”) announces the arrival of Wendy. Ludlow panics so Mike, Micky, and Peter decide Davy should talk to her as him. They dress him in Ludlow’s clothes.

Everyone but Davy hides and watches as Wendy enters. Davy really does charm her somehow. It’s certainly not the lines he says that get her to want to come back, messing up her name and telling her to call him “high.” But their eyes and facial expressions convey that they like each other. Davy Jones was good at generating chemistry with other actors. That’s not an easy task for a performer so I’m always impressed when it happens. I wish the scene would’ve been longer though. He should have had to work harder, and had wittier dialog to work with. After Wendy leaves, Ludlow asks Davy to substitute for him for a few days and convince Wendy to marry him.  [These are the kinds of problems you WANT to have – Editor] 

Davy sits on the throne dressed theatrically in a crown and robe. Mike’s staying behind because he doesn’t trust the Count and suspects he’s up to no good. Ludlow will go back with Micky and Peter and learn how to behave around women. Peter says he’ll teach him “all he knows.” Presumably what he learned in “One Man Shy”?

Micky gets one laugh from me in the scene, telling Davy to “free the serfs.” Maybe because it felt spontaneous. Micky and Peter carry “Ludlow” away from the embassy. Most likely they were carrying Rodney Bingenheimer who is the Ludlow/Davy stand-in for this episode. Bingenheimer auditioned to be a Monkee himself. He later became a successful and prominent DJ on the Los Angeles rock station, KROQ.

Who-wore-it-better

Max approaches and offers to tell “Ludlow” information about treason for a bribe of $1,000. Davy doesn’t have that of course. Max’s “offer” confirms Davy’s suspicions that he’s in trouble. Mike and Davy head out of the throne room, and Davy says when he opens the door, he’ll be the Prince of “Peruvia” (which is a less funny, but more realistic sounding country name than “Royal Flush’s” fake kingdom, “Harmonica”). He opens a closet and everything falls on them, then looks at the camera to tell us, “wrong door.” As far as fourth-wall breaking jokes go, that one is too obvious to get a laugh from me.

At the Monkees pad, Peter and Micky entertain Gloria, who has a loud, squeaky voice. She’s there to give Ludlow a chance to practice talking to females. Mostly, he bores her with his genealogy while Micky and Peter worry about Davy.

kiss-my-ring

So far as I’ve been recapping this, I’ve been ignoring the creepy chemist character, played by Monkees stand-in David Price. He has intercepted a note from Wendy, written to express her love to Ludlow. The chemist gives the note to Max along with some poison so they can just kill Ludlow in case he actually succeeds at getting a girl to marry him. I don’t see the point of this guy. These plot-points could have been handled through dialog between Max and the Count. The Chemist is not interesting or funny, and he’s not a reference to anything in the Mark Twain novel.

I’m not slamming David Price (my irritation is with the writing). He was usually Davy Jones stand-in and also an extra in many of The Monkees episodes. My favorite bit of him is in “Too Many Girls.”  You can find a list with images of Price’s on-screen appearances at “Another Jumbled Monkees Archive.” 

Max poisons “Ludlow’s” saber, as Davy prepares to take Ludlow’s fencing lesson. Davy brags to Max that he’ll compose a poem, Cyrano de Bergerac style, as he duels with him. Max somehow doesn’t notice “Ludlow’s” much cockier personality. They duel and both drop their weapons. The chemist picks them up but Davy wants to trade swords. Max suddenly makes an excuse to leave. Davy wonders why and demonstrates “sticking” Max by poking a plant, which then dies from the poison. Max, by the way, breaks the usual Monkees stereotype of the villain having a clueless sidekick. He’s fairly sharp. (No pun intended.)

Back in the throne room, Mike points out how “uptight” Myron is. I’d say we’re seeing that more from Max than Myron. But all the same, Davy needs to move fast with Wendy. When the Courtier brings her in, Davy immediately asks her to marry him. Mike notes, “ooh, that’s fast!” Okay, Mike’s reaction was a little funny. She says yes. Wendy runs to the throne and she and Davy gaze at each other fondly.

No-one-like-you

The Courtier brings Myron in. Davy tells him they’re getting married right away and orders him to see to the details. Wendy and Davy kiss and Mike wanders around embarrassed. He finds that early twentieth century-phone prop they always use and calls Micky, telling him to bring Ludlow back to get married. Pan over to Wendy and Davy, who are still making out.  [A bit weird and inappropriate – Editor]

Davy gets ready for Ludlow’s wedding. Mike does what he’s been doing for most of this episode; fussing over Davy and his clothes, prompting Davy to shout, “You’re not my real mom!” Davy’s upset that he might end up “marrying a beautiful girl and ruling a nation of millions.” Yeah, that would be terrible.

Myron enters with Ludlow, Peter, and Micky; they are clearly busted. Count Myron orders Ludlow put in the dungeon and tells the Monkees to leave. Mike and Micky try to stand up to him but he threatens to have them killed. If Myron were smart, he would have had the Monkees put in the dungeon as well.

Myron enters the throne room where guests have gathered for the wedding. He announces that the prince was called back to Peruvia on business. The Courtier breaks his cane, the fourth one he’s broken since the beginning of the show. Not a sight gag that’s working for me, sorry. Neither is the Count losing his monocle all the time, which had to be a tired gag, even in the 1960s. The Courtier is wearing the same jacket that Mike has been sporting. (By same, I mean the same style; during the wedding there’s a shot with both men in the jacket. It doesn’t look like trick photography to me.) Davy and Mike enter and announce that the wedding will take place. Davy whispers that Mike should stall until Micky and Peter can get Ludlow out of the dungeon. I guess Myron can’t kill them all in front of the embassy wedding guests.

Micky and Peter arrive in the dungeon and ask the jailer if he’s ever seen The Road to Morocco (1942). He hasn’t, so Micky and Peter play patty-cake and punch him, taking his keys. This is a reference to the road movies starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, where they would play patty-cake before throwing punches. (However, in The Road to Morocco the patty-cake trick didn’t succeed.) We don’t usually see the Monkees punching people. In “Monkees in the Ring,” sure, but it’s not their usual tactic. They tend to be tricksters, not fighters.

At the wedding, the cardinal gets to the point in the ceremony where they ask if anyone knows a reason these two “should not be joined…,” etc. Mike stands up and starts his established awkward shtick, which he usually does so well, but here it doesn’t get a giggle from me. He’s just meandering with no impact. Micky, Peter, and Ludlow burst into the scene and Ludlow and announces he’ll marry “the girl.”

Then, the best thing happens. Micky goes temporarily nuts. He jumps up and down excitedly, boxing the air, saying something unintelligible that sounds like, “Right, hey baby, come on mother, yeah!..” Peter’s reaction is also hysterically funny as he flinches away from him and tries not to laugh. Micky keeps this going as the romp to “Mary, Mary” (Michael Nesmith) begins. I wound that back and watched it several times. The little bit of unexpected and random craziness made my day.

Micky-Mania-final

The romp itself is a brawl/food fight between the Monkees against Max and The Count. There’s some “cowboy” business where Micky and Peter tie up the baddies. Kind of a lame, unfocused romp, but the Monkees look like they’re having fun at least. At the end, Ludlow kisses the bride; the newly married King has the villains taken away (like in “Royal Flush” when Bettina turns 18 and orders her uncle arrested).

Davy wonders if Wendy is going to be all right. Good question, since she’s marrying someone doesn’t know instead of the person she’s actually into. Mike’s response to Davy is the other bit that makes me chortle with glee. The lines are helped tremendously by Mike’s folksy delivery and Davy’s rapt attention:

Words-of-wisdom

Aftermath. Micky reads the newspaper story about Ludlow and Wendy’s honeymoon. Davy mopes because he has feelings for Wendy. Mike tries to make Davy feel better, and then they leave him alone to get over it.  A reporter from Teen Tale Magazine enters through the back door, looking for the Monkees. She looks exactly like Wendy! Davy invites her to sit down and they go right into making out.

Hello

Overall, “Prince and the Paupers” has far too few laugh-out-loud moments and feels a little drab. Some of the usual elements seem forced to me, like they were put together with no enthusiasm (now it’s time to look at the camera, now it’s time for Peter to misunderstand, etc.). I’ll put up with anything from this show; plot holes, nonsensical dialog, bad lighting, film stock that doesn’t match, recycled gags, anything as long as it’s still funny. There’s also some missing piece: the Monkees never go into a shared fantasy in this one, and they’re split into two groups so we don’t get the pleasure of seeing them working together. The con they come up with isn’t even that much fun because it’s mostly perpetuated on poor Wendy, who doesn’t deserve it.  For me, this is a rare dud from the first season which was mostly pretty consistent.

Evil-pauper

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: “Monkees In A Ghost Town”

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“Of Mice and Monkees”

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If I were introducing this show to someone, I would start with this episode. Not that it’s necessarily the best or the funniest, though it is very funny. Here, the show’s usual comedy beats are hit hard and hit well; the onscreen captions, breaking the fourth wall, the great guest cast, slapstick humor, and use of stock footage. The writers/producers took on American Literature, Westerns, Gangster Films, and Television in general. It’s a fast moving episode and when I think back on the series, this is the first episode that comes to mind. If I couldn’t get someone to like The Monkees upon seeing this, then it wasn’t gonna happen.

Our story starts out with a road trip. It must have been long, since it required a change of shirts, out of the matching red and into an assortment. Even the road signs are meta; they pass one that reads “12 Miles to Clarkesville [sic].”

The boys are lost and out of gas. The get out of the car and onto a Western set that was previously used for the “Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers” chase scene. Mike says “It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t wanna live here.” This is unintentionally (I think) clever, since he is standing on part of the same Columbia Ranch set that is used for the second season episode “It’s A Nice Place to Visit,” and also the episodes “Hillbilly Honeymoon”, “The Wild Monkees”, “The Monkees In Texas”, and in the feature film “Head”, so I guess Mike practically does live here.

The Monkees split up to look for help, Mike and Davy going one way and Peter and Micky the other. Davy and Mike walk up to one of the ghost town buildings and have a cowboy gunfight fantasy, where Mike in white fights himself in black (“Kill us both, Spock!” – Editor). Davy plays the instigator who ends up getting shot.

Mike-vs-Mike

Peter finds a triangle and plays it, alerting the two bank robbers who were hiding in the jailhouse. The bad guys, Lenny, played by Lon Chaney Jr., and George, played by Len Lesser, follow the usual pattern of Monkees bad guys we’ve seen so far: a dumb character and a smarter character who bosses the dimmer one around. These two particular bad guys are also a spoof of the John Steinbeck novella Of Mice and Men, and the film of the same name in which Lon Chaney Jr. played the Lenny character.

If you’ve never had the chance to read Of Mice and Men, check it out from the library. It’s a moving story. Admittedly the homage in “Ghost Town” is not that deep, and was probably tossed in because they had cast Lon Chaney Jr.

“The Monkees in a Ghost Town” was written by Robert Schlitt and Peter Meyerson, directed by James Frawley, and aired on NBC –  October 24, 1966. 

Lenny and George come out to shoot at Mike and Davy’s feet. Mike tells George, “You’re pretty tough with a gun in your hand.” They use this line again, but to funnier effect in “Monkees à la Carte.” George orders Lenny to use his famous line, “You ain’t goin’ no place!” He leaves to look for the others, telling Lenny to “keep these two on ice.” Lenny takes it literally, so Davy helpfully conjures a block of ice to offer to Lenny. Lenny shoves Davy and the ice away causing Davy to hide behind Mike. That seemed out of character to me because in most episodes Davy’s the first to stand up to bigger guys.

Mike asks Lenny what he wants. Lenny gives one my favorite speeches in the series, just for the sheer unexpectedly faux-profound nature of the response.

Lenny-wants

There’s something very sympathetic and charming about Lon Chaney Jr. himself. With his sensitive, eyes, face, and earnest line delivery, he’s not the typical thug. Still, he tosses Mike and Davy in a jail cell.

Peter and Micky observe all this from their hiding spot. Peter exposits everything that’s happened so far in typical television style. Micky follows this with one of the best moments when The Monkees ever broke the fourth wall:

Exposition

As part of the Of Mice and Men take-off, George and Lenny talk about “how it’s gonna be” when the Big Man gets there. It’s a shorter conversation than in the book though; they’re going to “take their cut,” no elaborate plans or talk of rabbits. Micky and Peter overhear that the gangsters don’t know the Big Man yet. Micky gets an idea that comes complete with Peter holding a light bulb over his head, similar to the gag from “Kidnappers.” Onscreen captions tell us to “Stay tuned for Micky’s idea.”

I love the Micky and Peter character interactions in this episode. Their comic styles and characters complement each other, Peter exuberantly following Micky’s crazy lead.

Here comes the idea: the two boys burst into the jailhouse in gangster garb, pretending to be the Big Man and his henchmen, “Spider.” Micky performs his James Cagney impression, which he will use again and again. Watch Peter’s face, especially around the business with the coin; it looks like he’s about to lose it. George figures out quickly that they’re fake because he never heard their car. It’s a shame, because it was quite a performance from Micky and Peter. They hear Lenny’s famous line again “You ain’t goin no place.” We’re told to “Stay tuned for Micky’s next idea” and into the cell they go with Mike and Davy.

Big-Man-and-Spider

George tells them to “have fun,” cuing a romp to “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day” (Tommy Boyce/Steve Venet). I dig this song. I know it sounds a lot like “Last Train to Clarksville” but I like the lyrics and the way they drop out the instruments on the chorus. The romp includes footage of them in their Foreign Legion costumes and jumping around in the red bathing suits.

After the romp, Micky’s next idea is for them to dig their way out of the cell. They borrow the shovel from Lenny who buys their lie that they want to play baseball. He loans them his ball, and in another nod to Of Mice and Men he accidentally pulls a (live) (Not dead. That would be horrible. – Editor) mouse out of his pocket.

Very soon after the first song, we go right to another romp: the montage of digging/baseball set to “Papa Gene’s Blues” (Michael Nesmith). This one smartly combines the cell-confined baseball game and the boys digging with their heads popping up in various locations to be nearly run over by stock footage: surfers, stampeding cattle, an oncoming train, camels in Egypt, a real baseball game. They get done with the song and the hole, but they’ve dug themselves into the next cell. They ain’t going no place.

Here comes the Big Man, and guess what? She’s a woman! She’s Rose Marie (1923-2017) from The Dick Van Dyke Show, in fact, and she’s fantastic. The Monkees producers and writers created terrific female villains; the Big Man, Madame Roselle, Madame Olinsky, and more in later episodes that are all bad-asses. They did so well that I never thought about the fact that they were women. I took it for granted because the writers didn’t make a big deal of it either. The only reason I’m mentioning it here is because of the gag of switching expectations: The “Big Man” is really a woman.

The Big Man explains she used to be the Big Man’s wife, but he got too big. She slaps and tosses George around earning her cheers from the Monkees. The feeling isn’t mutual, and she orders the boys killed. She’s distracted by the fact that they’re a singing group though, and shares that she used to perform as Bessie Kowalski. The Monkees use this delay of their execution and ask for one last performance, Micky’s plea taking the form of a Jimmy Durante impression.

Bessie joins them around a player piano where she sings loud and off-key, “Everybody Loves My Baby” and “Hi Neighbor.” Rose Marie could obviously sing very well in real life, but a good singer can play a bad singer with style. They would know exactly what to do “wrong” and tackle it with confidence. Just as intelligent actors can play the best dumb characters with self-awareness. Case in point: Peter Tork.

Mike prompts Davy to call for help on the turn-of-the century wall phone. The first call reaches a Native American stereotype with two phones: an old-fashioned one and a multi-line. The second call reaches “Chester” who can’t get Marshall Dillon to help, but can get Bob Dylan to write about their problem. Bessie wants to wrap it up and shoot ’em, but they convince her to perform “The Monkees” theme song, and Lenny and George join in. Davy trades his maracas for Lenny’s gun, which leads to a shootout with the Monkees crouched behind the bar. Bessie keeps singing the entire time, oblivious to the gunfire.

The shootout has several funny gags, including stock footage of the “Calvary” (“Don’t trust the Calvary”). There’s also a carnival shooting bit with the Monkees popping up and down and stock footage of war ships firing at each other. Davy says the good guys never run out of bullets, right before he runs out of bullets. Figuring that they’re not so good after all, he tosses the gun over the bar and it fires spectacularly, shooting George’s gun out of his hand. Peter picks it up and Lenny helpfully prompts him with his “famous line,” with slightly different wording.

Famous-line

As the police take them away, Bessie decides they’ll work up a showbiz act in jail, Bessie and the Bullets. The police reward the Monkees for catching the crooks but immediately take it away because they’re getting a ticket for being parked in a no parking zone and other violations. The Monkees start the car somehow, though they never found gasoline.

Show-biz

What a great closing line for an episode that has so much fun with show biz conventions. “Monkees in a Ghost Town” wasn’t perfect, but for humor and style they knocked it out of the park. The stock footage, the onscreen captions, and other humor around styles of story writing such as “good guys not running out of bullets,” “your famous line,” and pointing out the exposition all contribute to the excellence of this episode. Let’s not forget the brilliant touch in casting the iconic Rose Marie and Lon Chaney Jr. and having the Bessie character wanting to be in show business. Micky himself is nearly a walking, talking showbiz reference because of his ability to do voices.

Micky-Mania-Ghost

This episode was a minute short so they have more interview footage. Mike changes the name on his chair to “Lauren St. David” because he doesn’t want anyone to recognize him. Davy shows us some lighting gels and Mike pretends to do a card trick with them.

Many of the episodes have a quick pace, but this one seems especially short with the two songs so close together and the time-killing interview. A special thank you to Melanie Mitchell, author of Monkee Magic. Mitchell also has a script-to-screen project where she compares the original script with notes on what appeared in the final episode. From this I found that a lot was cut: there was another character removed, a useless girl for Davy, and extra dialogue from the two male gangsters. It was interesting to read; I don’t think they missed out on anything by changing it. Also, the Of Mice and Men spoof wasn’t present; I’m guessing because that came into play after casting Lon Chaney Jr.

Evil-Ghost-town

Look-Out-For-Ghost-

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.