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.

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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.

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Now we get the series of scenes where Millie has one on one time with the Monkees, 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 whacky 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 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.”

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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 go.

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.

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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.

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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. 

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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: “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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.