People did say they monkey around, but there's more to the story than that. Here, for Micky Dolenz's birthday, are 20 fun facts about the TV band that became a '60s phenomenon.
The Misspelling Was Calculated
Rather than go with "The Monkeys," the show's creators tweaked the spelling to mimic another successful band, the British invaders known as the Beatles.
The Beatles Inspired More Than the Band's Name
The concept that led to "The Monkees" was first proposed as a TV show in 1962, but nobody was interested. That changed with the success of the Beatles' big-screen comedy "A Hard Day's Night," which hit theaters in 1964. Producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider then pitched the "Monkees" idea again, and this time Screen Gems Television bought it. The sitcom debuted on NBC in 1966; it lasted two seasons and 58 episodes.
The Original Idea Was to Cast the Lovin' Spoonful
Rafelson's pitch called for the Lovin' Spoonful, then a fledgling band, to star in the show. But the Spoonful's record contract would have prevented Screen Gems from making money off the band's music. So, ads were placed in Variety and the Hollywood Reporter in search of "folk & roll musicians-singers for acting roles in new TV series."
Davy Was the First Monkee
The British musical performer Davy Jones (seen here with producer Bert Schneider) was already under contract with Screen Gems, and he was the first to be cast. After that, 437 actors and musicians auditioned for the three remaining roles. Among them was Stephen Stills, who a year later would found Buffalo Springfield with Neil Young.
They Came Cheap
Each of the four Monkees was paid $450 an episode for the first season and $750 for the second. They received standard royalty rates for recordings, but were shut out of the lucrative merchandising business. That meant they got nothing for all those lunch boxes.
The Hat Was Mike's Own
Mike Nesmith rode a motorcycle to his audition and came in wearing a wool hat, which the producers told him to wear on the show. In the pilot episode, the band's manager even refers to Mike as "Wool Hat" but that didn't stick. Turns out Nesmith liked wearing the hat but didn't care much for the nickname.
In the Recording Studio, They Relied on Session Musicians
Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork were the only actual musicians in the band (Micky Dolenz, a former child star who'd played the title role in "Circus Boy," had to learn to play drums). At first, none of the Monkees were allowed to play instruments in recording sessions. They could sing and act, but session musicians—including the famed Wrecking Crew—took care of the music.
There's a Reason the Theme Sounded Familiar
Songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart based "(Theme From) The Monkees" on the Dave Clark Five hit "Catch Us If You Can." Even the finger snapping was inspired by that song.
Mike Wasn't the Only One in His Family to Hit the Big Time
His mom. Bette Nesmith Graham, invented Liquid Paper when she was working as a secretary in Texas and raising Mike, her only child. Twenty-five years later, in 1979, she sold her company to Gillette for $48 million.
Davy Dodged the Draft
As a U.S. resident, Davy Jones was eligible to be drafted, and after Season 1 of "The Monkees" the dreaded notice arrived in the mail. Davy discovered, however, that the Army wouldn't take him if he weighed less than 104 pounds, so he went on a crash diet. As he later recalled, on the day of his draft board physical, the 5-foot-4-inch actor weighed 99 pounds. Instead of going to Vietnam, Davy stuck around for Season 2.
Micky Was the Real Lead
Though Davy Jones was a teen heartthrob and took the role of lead singer, it was Micky Dolenz's voice that gave the band its distinctive sound. When they began writing songs, Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork often assigned lead vocals to Dolenz, not Jones.
They Were Hard to Pin Down
The two-story California beach house where the Monkees supposedly lived mysteriously had at least four different addresses in the two seasons that the show aired. This inconsistency, like many of the boys' antics, was never explained.
Their Car Was a Hot Item
The tricked-out, parachute-packin' Pontiac GTO that the band drove around in was such a hit with young fans that it inspired a model car. More than 7 million Monkeemobile model kits were sold. The original car now belongs to a private collector in New Jersey.
They Ditched the Laugh Track
At the stars' urging, the show dropped the laugh track—considered essential for TV sitcoms—in the middle of Season 2. NBC executives were unhappy with the move and said it contributed to the show's decline in ratings.
The Guys Were Ready for a Change
NBC wanted a Season 3, but the stars had grown weary of the format and demanded a radical change, possibly to a "Laugh-In"-style variety show format. Instead, the network said canceled "The Monkees." The final episode aired March 25, 1968, at 7:30 p.m.
The Beatles Were Fans
Beatles manager Brian Epstein threw a party for the Monkees during the recording of "Sgt. Pepper" in London, where Micky Dolenz hung with Paul McCartney and Mike Nesmith bonded with John Lennon and George Harrison. At one point, Mike asked John what he thought of the Monkees. "I think you're the greatest comic talent since the Marx Brothers," Lennon replied. "I've never missed one of your programs."
They Didn't Make It as Movie Stars
After "The Monkees" got canceled, the band made "Head," a psychedelic feature film that co-starred Jack Nicholson (who co-wrote the screenplay!). Also in the cast: Frank Zappa, Terri Garr, Victor Mature and Annette Funicello. Mike Nesmith called it "a swan song." The movie flopped.
Micky and Mike Tried Out for Another Sitcom
Several years after "The Monkees" went off the air, both Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith auditioned for the role of Fonzie on ABC's "Happy Days." Ayyyyyy!
Peter Has a Beef With Jann Wenner
In a 2007 interview, Peter Tork accused Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner of blackballing the Monkees, keeping them out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because of their early reliance on studio musicians. "I don't know whether the Monkees belong in the Hall of Fame," Tork said, "but it's pretty clear that we're not in there because of [Wenner's] personal whim."
Hey, You Can't Argue With Success
The band's first five albums—starting with "The Monkees" in 1966—all went platinum. "Last Train to Clarksville," "I'm a Believer" and "Daydream Believer" all topped the singles charts in 1966-67.
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