Vintage Cable Box: “Richard Pryor: Live in Concert, 1979”

“What-choo takin’ my picture for? Who you gonna show it too? ‘I got a picture of Richard Pryor!’ ‘Who gives a fuck?’ Sit yo ass down! Motherfucker, sit down! You know you ain’t got no film in the camera. You just bullshittin’ just flashin’, ain’t nothin’ flashing. Sit yo ugly ass down!”

Richard Pryor: Live In Concert, 1979 (Richard Pryor), Special Event Entertainment

Comedians (Jon Stewart among them) have long made reference to a “holy trinity” of stand-up comedy, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin, who had paved the way for modern comedians to practice their particular skill. The stand-up comedian tells a story, transforms the story into a joke, and waits for his or her audience to respond, often with laughter. Lenny Bruce is a bit before my time, so I understand the variations of Bruce and the evolution of his humor with Carlin. Carlin’s emphasis in his performance was in the machinations and manipulations of our common language. Bruce, from what I’ve seen and heard, placed his emphasis in shocking the audience; much like the way modern comedians shock their audiences. Richard Pryor’s considerable talents are invested in heartbreak, isolation, and anguish.

To say I was shocked, or floored into submission to Pryor’s incredible brand of levity upon first seeing Richard Pryor: Live In Concert would be a dramatic understatement. I had never, ever seen anything like this before, and most likely, will never see it again; even as more and more comedians attempt to shock and inspire us. Louis C.K. came close, but, compared to Pryor, he is a pale imitation, and a pretender (as talented as he is) to that specific throne. When I say I was floored, I mean (upon first viewing) I was on the floor, laughing so hard it hurt. This is the funniest (hence the greatest) stand-up comedy film I have ever seen. The film is a moody, unpretentious, raucous journey through the life and personal turmoil of a man with failings; either in his personal life, or his difficulties as a husband, and a father, or professional foibles as an entertainer. Yet, he can make you think, and make you feel good about yourself.

The Terrace Theater in conservative, predominantly white Long Beach, California sets the stage for the invasion of Pryor. He even makes fun of his predicament; to see a swarm of his black fans among his white fans shows that comedy can bring us all together. To see whites laughing alongside blacks (with no virtue signalling or judgments being made from either party) makes me feel good. It gives me hope. Language being more elastic in 1978 as opposed to these heady times, he makes repeated and unrepentant use of the “n” word, and despite what Ice Cube thinks about the subject, no one person or group can own a word, and to take that word away is to take away our understanding and appreciation of the word, as delivered with the master craftsmanship of Richard Pryor. Pryor would recant somewhat in later years for his liberal use of the word, but he railed against censorship, even when it was self-imposed. These words belong to all of us. It’s just that some people are better at using them. Pryor’s humor was rooted in his danger, his capacity for self-deprecation, and his emotional and chemical dependencies.

Pryor tell stories about his family; growing up the child of an extended poor family in Peoria, the tutilege and discipline (“Go get me something to beat yo ass with!”) of his grandmother, the bizarre wisdom of his father, and his various brushes with death. He speaks of an experience where he had suffered a heart attack, and thought he had died. In the hospital room, he opens his eyes and sees a bunch of concerned white faces looking down at him and he thinks, “Ain’t this a bitch. I done died and wound up in the wrong motherfuckin’ heaven.” In this new age of heckling and overly-sensitive, unoriginal comedians, Pryor works with ease, talks to the crowd; even when interrupted by his adoring fans, he engages them and you feel that there is no wall between him and the people in the seats. He completely owns the Terrace Theater. Comedy seems to be such an incredibly subjective art (horror movies are the same – they live or die based on our direct, subjective impressions of either what’s funny or what is terrifying to us) that everybody’s top ten lists on the subject will be different person to person, but Richard Pryor: Live in Concert is always on everyone’s list.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

Monkees vs Macheen: “I Was A 99-lb. Weakling” (a.k.a. “Physical Culture”)

“Yes, she’s my sunny girlfriend, she doesn’t really care.”

“I Was A 99-lb. Weakling” premiered October 16, 1967. Alex Singer directs a teleplay by Gerald Gardner & Dee Caruso, and Neil Burstyn, from a story by Jon C. Andersen. The title and the plot are both allusions to Charles Atlas and his famous bodybuilding program and advertising campaign, marketed to the “97-pound weakling.” The ad featured a cartoon of a skinny young man who gets sand kicked in his face, goes off and builds up his body, and then comes back to take revenge on the bully. Unlike the character Shah-ku in this episode however, Charles Atlas actually practiced the fitness lifestyle that he taught to others. (Rocky Horror fans will appreciate that I now have the “Charles Atlas” song stuck in my head).

The story begins with Micky on the beach, his head in the lap of a pretty young woman named Brenda. He makes the comment that “Physical beauty isn’t enough. I guess that’s why I fell in love with you, Brenda. I wanted a girl with some intelligence.” Brenda’s response is to look blank and echo, “Yeah, intelligence.” Ironic since this entire episode is about being influenced by physical appearance. Also it sets up Brenda’s standard “yeah, (whatever word was just said)” response that becomes a running gag in the episode. To Venita Wolf’s credit, she hits that vacuous note just right, and manages to be funny with very little dialog. A big, blond, muscular guy comes up and kicks sand on Micky (copying the Charles Atlas ad). Then he shows off his biceps to Brenda and asks if they’ve met somewhere before. Brenda confirms, “Yeah, before.” They never mention the bodybuilder’s name in the episode, but the IMDb refers to the character as “Bulk,” so that’s what I’ll call him.

Micky politely asserts himself with Bulk, trying to claim Brenda as his territory. Bulk tosses him over the sand hill, right next to Shah-ku (Monte Landis), who offers Micky a card advertising “Health and Strength” services. He’s dressed in a tunic and sandals, signifying in a vague way that he’s supposed to be some type of yogi or spiritual leader. Micky scoffs and goes back to Brenda. Bulk continues showing off to Brenda (who watches politely but doesn’t exactly look dazzled by him). Micky tries to beat Bulk back with kicks and karate chops but the big guys just holds Micky back by the head and tosses him back to Sha-ku. Micky tries to tear up Shah-ku’s business card, but can’t.

After the opening titles, Shah-ku shows Micky around his exercise studio. There, Micky takes a bunch of physical strength tests that Shah-ku has rigged to fail. Sha-ku keeps calling Micky skinny and weak, making him feel less than a man and Micky keeps trying to prove himself to Sha-ku. Micky is skinny of course but that certainly wouldn’t make him unattractive or unhealthy. Ideal body types may change over the decades, but I do believe that in any era young men were just as susceptible to this type of pressure about their bodies as young women. Shah-Ku’s complete health program is $150. When Micky explains he’s an unemployed drummer, Shah-Ku orders him to sell his drums for the money and sign the contract. This is a “Dance, Monkee, Dance” type situation, where the goal is to con someone into a contract. In this case, Sha-ku’s playing on Micky’s insecurities about Brenda and Bulk.

Micky packs up his drums at the pad while Peter and Davy try to talk him out of it. They wonder if Brenda’s worth it. Micky describes Brenda as beautiful, brilliant, and intelligent. Peter chimes in, “Yeah, intelligent.” It’s clear that Micky is blinded by Brenda’s itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, yellow polka dot bikini. Peter and Davy claim they can get Micky in shape themselves. We get some scenes of their efforts to train Micky. Peter accidentally hits himself in the head with the resistance pulleys and says, “I wish Mike were here.” Davy impressively pulls off the “crow” pose from Yoga, balancing his entire lower half on his arms. When he gets stuck, he needs Micky and Peter’s help to get out of it. Davy also wishes Mike were there.

I wish Mike were here too. I hate it when any of the Monkees are missing; It throws the whole dynamic off. Since Mike’s my favorite, it bums me out that he missed the most episodes. He’s also missing from “The Card Carrying Red Shoes,” and only briefly appears in “Hitting the High Seas,” and “The Monkees Watch Their Feet” This episode was shot May 5, and 8-11, 1967, before he went in for his tonsillectomy on May 23. Possibly he was already not feeling well. The Monkees tripod website says he stayed out of this episode due to “artistic differences.” I can’t find any further information on what those “differences” were though.

Peter and Davy bring Brenda over to the pad as a reward/surprise to Micky for working so hard on his training. The score is the little sexy music theme that they always use for a pretty girl walking. Micky collapses trying to greet her. He tells her he’s stronger and has her feel his arms. She responds, “Yeah, stronger.” She really doesn’t care either way.

Next morning, Micky talks about going to the beach and beating up his rival, but the more reasonable and pacifist Peter and Davy talk him out of it. They claim they can get the guy out of the way so Micky can see Brenda. So it’s cons, tricks, and manipulation instead of violence. That’s in keeping with the Monkees style and much more entertaining.

On the beach, Davy challenges Bulk to “step over that line,” distracting him while Peter sprays red dots on Bulk’s back. Hilariously, after Bulk steps over a few lines in the sand, Davy taunts, “Just as I thought, you’re always taking orders.” Davy and Peter scramble away in fear of being pummeled. Brenda wanders up, eating an ice cream cone. Bulk calls her “Chick.” I don’t think he knows her name; that’s okay, we don’t know his. Peter runs back onto the beach impersonating a doctor.

I love Brenda’s indifferent yet grossed out reaction when Peter points out the dots on Bulk’s back, “Ew. Help.” Peter “diagnoses” Bulk with a disease that will sap his strength, tries to charge him $10 for it, and runs off. Peter was conveniently sharper than usual in this scene and I suppose it’s because Mike was absent and he had to pick up the slack. This contrasts with what we usually see; Peter is typically the one messing up. (Taking a picture of the wrong thing in “Monkee Mayor” or being manipulated by two dim museum guards in “Art for Monkees Sake.”) Mike seems more likely to have performed the doctor con; it had a Groucho Marx vibe and that’s his style.

To prove Doctor Peter’s point about Bulk losing his strength, Davy sends a volley ball down to Bulk. Bulk is unable to toss it back to him and Davy explains to the camera, “Shouldn’t think he could. Lead you know.” Bulk freaks out, “without my strength I’m nothing.” Brenda agrees, “Yeah, nothing.” Next, Davy pretends to be a kid, asking Bulk to hold his kite. Bulk grabs the string and is abruptly pulled up into the sky. We see black and white stock footage of a blimp to emphasize the joke. Peter tells Davy the blimp is taking Bulk to Bayonne, New Jersey. In a cute conversation that seems ad-libbed, Davy says, “You know I used to have girlfriend named Bayonne, NJ.” Peter, “Anything like the Secaucus girl?” The Secaucus thing seemed random, but it turns out David Draper, who plays Bulk, was born in Secaucus, N.J., so that was maybe an in-joke. I love this entire sequence of Peter and Davy messing with Bulk; they seem to be having a great time together.

Peter and Davy go back to the pad to update Micky on Bulk’s fate. This doesn’t make Micky any more confident; he still doesn’t have muscles. Davy and Peter solve this with a wacky costume. They dress him in football shoulder pads disguised with one of those down-filled winter coats. He practices a new “manly” voice.

Micky goes to the beach with his new outfit and voice and talks to Brenda. Bulk is somehow back from Bayonne and hangs around Shah-ku in his spot on the sand dune. They don’t have any dialog but Bulk must be in on the con with Shah-ku; he’s not really interested in Brenda at all. I guess Shah-ku’s paying Bulk a kickback. Bulk walks up to Brenda and Micky and tells Brenda there’s nothing wrong with his health. Micky stands up to challenge Bulk. When he shakes his hand, Bulk tosses him to Shah-ku again.

At the Monkees pad, Davy and Peter talk about Micky doing Shah-ku’s program on a week-to-week basis. Micky collapses from fasting to “purify his tissues.” With an unusually take-charge attitude (another example of something Mike would’ve done), Peter decides to call Shah-ku. He makes the red phone materialize in his hand and tells Shah-ku he’s very worried about Micky. Shah-ku tells Peter to move Micky to “stage two.” There’s also some amusing Monkees writer logic as Shah-ku takes another jab at the Monkees masculinity:

Micky makes dinner for Peter and Davy. To their extreme annoyance, he threw out their steak and made them some green cottage cheese and a wilted salad. [Since when can the Monkees afford steak? – Editor’s note] After dinner, Davy has a chat with Mr. Schneider about whether or not hunger justifies murder. Mr. Schneider has Davy’s voice instead of the usual James Frawley voice. Or, maybe Davy is delirious with hunger and just thinks Schneider’s talking to him. Shah-ku comes in and drags Micky out. He offers Davy a chance to get healthy too, “If you stand up you may join us.” Davy gives the expected response, “I am standing up.” Micky and Shah-ku pass Peter on the way out. Peter tells Davy he saw Shah-ku buying a hot dog, soda, and chili. They look shocked at each other and then at the camera. So much for Shah-ku’s health and purity.

At the Weaklings Anonymous meeting, a bunch of young men in matching gray tracksuits sit in Shah-ku’s gym. While Shah-ku speaks, Davy and Peter sneak in and disguise themselves in the gray tracksuits. They have a full-on physical comedy struggle to put on the tracksuits, combined with an amusing argument about Peter taking a quarter to buy a hot dog. Meanwhile, Micky sits at the desk and looks confused, as do the other meeting attendees, with Shah-ku’s chant of “The weak are strong, the strong are weak.” Shah-ku pressures Micky to sign the contract. Two musclemen loom behind him.

Shah-ku requests group members to come up and offer testimonials. Peter and Davy are dressed by now, so of course they volunteer. Micky recognizes them and knows what’s up. He keeps trying to stand up but is pushed back down by Shah-ku’s brawny assistants. Peter comes up and tells a story about being bullied by a cab driver, then Davy comes up and says, “Before I came to Shah-ku’s, I used to be 6 foot 2.” In other words, things that don’t fit with Shah-ku’s agenda. Musclemen chase them off stage but they keep popping back up; this devolves into chaos. Finally, Shah-ku decides to prove his own strength; he wrestles one of the big guys to the ground in a staged maneuver. Davy exposes Shah-ku–literally– by rushing up and knocking him over, displaying Shah-ku’s polka dot boxer shorts. Ha ha! Micky tries to escape and there’s more chaos leading into the romp.

The romp is set to “Sunny Girlfriend” (Nesmith) and has footage from the physical therapy room from “The Case of the Missing Monkee” with Mike. There’s also footage from “Monkees Marooned,” and “Monkees at the Circus.” The Monkeemen make an appearance. There’s a wink to Popeye as Davy’s able to knock down Bulk after eating some spinach. Brenda appears and rides the exercise bike with Micky. She’s gone from bored to happy and friendly and looks to be having fun with Micky. The romp ends with the Monkeemen capturing Shah-ku and Bulk in a net back at the Monkee pad.

Tag sequence as Micky hangs out with Brenda on the beach again. A scholarly looking man with glasses and reading Proust comes walking past. Brenda declares, “Ooh, I just love a man with a mind!” Venita Wolf lights up so much that I believe Brenda really does love a man with a mind. She never looked that excited about Bulk, or Micky for that matter. Micky is left floundering and alone again. The episode ends with the Rainbow Room performance of “Love is Only Sleeping” (Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil), a song from Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones Ltd. that Mike sang. In the case of Micky and Brenda, love is D.O.A.

What’s interesting about the story to me is that Micky’s projecting all of this onto Brenda. She never showed any real interest in Bulk. Micky just assumed and took a trip down insecurity lane. Shah-ku and Bulk were easily able to manipulate that. If Brenda were such a great catch she would see in Micky all his great qualities: talent, wit, charm, sense of humor, creativity, etc. It’s also interesting to watch this in retrospect; what’s considered a healthy and attractive body today is different than it was in 1966, but the issues haven’t changed; we can still be influenced into hating our bodies by the media and each other.

I really enjoy this episode, but Mike’s absence is notable. A few times in past recaps I’ve mentioned the fabulous “Script-to Screen” project on the Monkee Magic Facebook group page. If you take a look there, you can find one for this script, and it confirms my guesses that some of the business that Peter performed in this episode was written for Mike. Mike or Micky typically come up with the plans to get the Monkees out of trouble. It’s a stretch a bit to believe Davy and Peter could do this without them. It’s a fun stretch though; Peter Tork has a unique charm to him when allowed to play a bit savvier. Still, I’m glad for the upcoming episode with all four of them working together.

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: “Art for Monkees’ Sake”

“Monkees Imitate Art” aka “I WANNA LOOK AT LIBERACE!”

“Art for Monkees’ Sake” was directed by Alex Singer and written by Coslough Johnson. It debuted October 9, 1967. The episode title is a play on the French slogan, “Art for Art’s Sake” (l’art pour l’art) which means art for reasons of self-expression and not for any instructional, moral, or other useful purpose. The Monkees are most often comedy for comedy’s sake, and I love it.

Peter is at the Monkees pad, painting a very realistic picture of the bathroom door. Micky walks right into it and hits his head, aided by a little shaky-camera action. Mike suggests that Peter go to the art museum and check out the great painters instead. Peter takes his advice and goes to the museum where he paints copies of museum doors. Of course he does. Monkees guest cast actor Vic Tayback is back for the third time as Chuche, the museum guard. He makes the same mistake that Micky did, walking into Peter’s painting. He wants to thank Peter with a punch in the face but his partner-in-crime and fellow museum guard, Duce (Monte Landis) suggests they use Peter’s talent to help them steal a painting instead.

They set Peter up to copy “The Laughing Cavalier,” painted in 1624 by Dutch Golden Age painter Franz Hals. Chuche and Duce whisper their plan to steal the real painting and put Peter’s in its place. Meanwhile, Mike, Micky, and Davy worry about Peter. Mike considers the idea that he may have insulted Peter, but Micky says, “Well to insult somebody, they have to understand you.” Which is a slight to Peter’s intelligence, but on the other hand going through life never being offended would be a beautiful thing. Maybe not so dumb after all. At the museum, Peter has completed his copy, but he’s dressed the Cavalier in Mike’s green wool hat. Duce chides him, “I know it’s knitted, but it’s not needed.” They move Peter to the basement to fix the painting because the museum’s about to close.

Next morning at the Monkees pad, Mike, Micky, and Davy have breakfast with Mr. Schneider because Peter’s not back yet. (Mr. Schneider wears Peter’s pajamas.) They deduce that he’s in trouble. Peter, meanwhile, is reluctant to finish the painting, declaring, “I just don’t feel it.” Chuche wants to solve the problem with violence. Duce is more diplomatic; he explains, with his over-the-top fake Italian accent, that the Cavalier has lot of class, a lot of style etc.

Micky, Mike, and Davy are in the museum corridor. They decide to split up and check the various studios but head into each other instead of around each other, and there’s physical comedy as they try to get by each other. Silly and childish, but still funny. Also a meta-comment on the episode as the shape they make is a human sculpture. Mike redistributes the studio assignments and the three head away from each other.

Here comes one of my favorite bits. Micky finds a bearded artist at work in one of the studios. Before he can even ask about Peter, the artist interrupts to tell him, “You could never be an artist. You have no beard!” He scoffs at Micky’s suggestion that he use brushes, “A true artist must feel the painting in the canvas! In his soul!” Cut to a shot of the soles of his feet each doing a separate painting on the floor. Micky asks if he’s seen Peter, describing him as blonde, “weird looking.” The artist takes this personally and grabs Micky by the shirt with paint-covered hands. “You come in here to insult me! It’s because I’m a high school dropout.” He throws Micky out. The character beautifully and hilariously ran through all the stereotypes about artists: Egotistical, pretentious, hypersensitive, dramatic, emotional, and vain [Not to mention – under-educated. – Editor]. The artist does a little flamenco dance in front of the canvas. Fabulous scene with a funny actor playing the artist.

And considering how much I enjoyed that, the next scene gets even better. Mike enters another studio and finds formally dressed patrons waiting for a performance. They shush Mike who looks comically embarrassed and then surprised when Liberace walks in with a gold mallet and proceeds to smash the piano. Mike collapses on the ground and makes dismayed and incredulous faces while the rest of Liberace’s audience intensely and seriously watches. Mike tiptoes out and leaves them to it. Funny scene that has no plot purpose and is, dare I say, weird for weird’s sake. Liberace! For crying out loud.

I always figured that scene was a parody of rock-n-roll instrument-smashing. 1950’s rocker Jerry Lee Lewis was rumored to have destroyed and burned pianos. Pete Townshend had smashed his guitar at the Railway Tavern in Harrow and Wealdstone in September of 1964. The film, Blowup, featured The Yardbirds’ guitarist Jeff Beck destroying his guitar (after being told to emulate Townshend by director Michelangelo Antonioni). Jimi Hendrix famously set fire to his guitar at the Monterey Pop Festival in June of 1967. There may be more to this than destruction for destruction’s sake. Pete Townshend was inspired by artist and activist Gustav Metzger. Metzger, who died this past March, was responsible for the Auto-Destructive Art movement, an art form where artists would destroy objects in protest against the capitalist system and the threat of technology. Metzger organized the Destruction in Art Symposium that happened in London from September 9–11, 1966. The Symposium events included several piano destruction concerts, performed by artist Raphael Montañez Ortiz, which could be what these Liberace scenes are satirizing. It’s an interesting idea since these are counterculture ideas, but the audience watching Liberace has a “high society” look in their furs, diamonds, and tuxes.

The museum is about to close, so Duce and Chuche tie up Peter, Duce explaining the most important thing for an artist is “to suffer.” (Another artist stereotype.) On the museum main floor, the Curator chews out the guards, telling them to “be more punctual.” Out in the same museum corridor from the earlier scene, Mike, Micky, and Davy have failed to find Peter. Interesting shot composition, they stand in height order with Davy in the foreground. Davy asks if anyone checked the basement. Mike says “Nobody but a fool would paint in the basement.” You can see his mouth say “idiot” but they overdubbed “fool.” According to the Monkees Tripod site, this was Peter Tork’s request.

The thieving guards hang Peter’s fake in the museum. Micky, Mike, and Davy finally find Peter tied up and gagged in the museum basement. They compliment his “copy” of “The Laughing Cavalier” but Peter explains, “The man who painted that was brilliant.” Monkees in unison say: “That means they’ve switched the paintings.” Cut to a shot of Peter’s copy in the museum with Peter’s rather obvious signature in white paint.

Up on the main floor, the Monkees try to tell the Curator and the guards that the paintings have been switched. The Curator doesn’t believe them and, as Peter points out, the guards are the thieves. The Curator explains it’s impossible to steal the painting. He explains that by day two guards watch it, by night he turns on the alarm, which triggers a cage if anyone disrupts the invisible beams. He goes to demonstrate and springs the mechanism. As Micky says, “Caught like a rat in his own trap.” The Curator’s hysterical performance as he sobs on the floor is delightful insanity. The actor, Arthur Malet has a quirky/manic line delivery, like someone on the verge of a comedic nervous breakdown. He played a role with a similar effect on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in the infamous episode, “The My Friend the Gorilla Affair.”

The Monkees decide to switch back the paintings themselves. This leads to the “Mission: Ridiculous” sequence. Mike does overdubbed narration to introduce the team members as they each make a physical-comedy-laden entrance: The Manchester Marauder, (Davy) The Connecticut Counterspy (Peter), The Towering Texan (Mike), and the Los Angeles Leopard (Micky). The high point is Mike absent-mindedly electrocuting himself for several seconds on the rooftop antenna. This sequence is clearly meant to parody the Mission: Impossible weekly series, a show about secret agents using elaborate schemes to solve international crimes, which ran from 1966-1973. The Monkees begin their mission and sneak in through the museum roof on a rope ladder, while Chuche sleeps.

Davy wears goggles that allow him to see the invisible beams and nothing else. He stumbles around and knocks over a sculpture. He slips out the painting copy but Peter forgot the real painting up on the roof so he goes to retrieve it. Their noise alerts Chuche who comes out to see what’s happening. The Monkees imitate statues in order to fool him, and Chuche steals their cheese sandwiches. Peter and Micky tiptoe around the museum floor, following Chuche while Mike and Davy finish the switch.

They make their escape up the ladder but not in time, as Duce is now coming down the ladder towards them. I love Mike’s polite but still irritated response, “This is our ladder sir, we were going to escape.” Duce gets to the museum floor and pulls a gun on them. Everyone scrambles around and this launches a romp to “Randy Scouse Git.”

About the song, this was written by Micky Dolenz and inspired by the Monkees trip to England. The verses describe a party Micky attended that was thrown by the Beatles while the chorus “Why don’t you cut your hair, etc.” reflects bigoted remarks aimed at a fictional long-haired youth. The last part relates to the title, “Randy Scouse Git” which is taken from a British television show, Till Death Do Us Part which was the U.K. version of the American television show, All in the Family. The loud, narrow-minded father character, Alf Garnett, would insult his son-in-law calling him a “randy scouse git.” [American translation: “Meathead” – Editor] The Monkees record label in the U.K., RCA records, would not release the song unless Micky gave it an alternate title, so he named it literally “Alternate Title.” It became a #2 hit in the U.K. All four Monkees play on this one, Micky singing and playing drums and timpani, Mike on guitar, Peter on piano and organ, and Davy on backing vocals.

The romp is well edited; mixing Rainbow room footage with the Monkees and bad guys running around the museum. The song’s frantic energy suits the romp nicely. Chuche finally gets to punch someone behind a curtain, unfortunately revealed to be his partner Duce. Best moments include more Liberace piano smashing, a funny shot of Mike, Micky, and Davy holding up a frame around themselves, and Micky and the bearded artist fighting each other. At the end, the cage of crazy falls down on the Monkees and the guards and they fall asleep on top of each other.

In the morning, the curator is giving a tour to museum visitors and sees the cage filled with Monkees and crooks. With confusion and embarrassment, he describes them as “a new exhibit; an assemblage of iron and human beings.” Next is a tag sequence at the Monkees pad. Micky frames his painted shirt and Mike sings a little of “Papa Gene’s Blues.” Peter has given up painting and taken up carpentry. Micky sits on one of Peter’s new projects and collapses onto the ground. This is followed by the “Daydream Believer” (John Stewart) Rainbow Room performance clip. I love Davy dancing in front of the rainbow stripes, doing the “Davy Jones” where he leads his body with his ribs instead of his hips. I also enjoy the Monkees around the piano together, and the finale when they ham it up and step in front of each other. Just for fun, here’s a “literal” version of “Daydream Believer.” After the tune, we’re treated to a little more piano smashing as Liberace happily finishes his performance, and the society audience politely claps.

That was one of those episodes that I had thought of as funny but maybe not a standout. The more I look at it, the more I like it though, so I guess it’s a “grower.” The story itself is nothing special; silly to be sure, but no more so than the bulk of the other episodes. Fortunately there are extra touches in this episode that blend well with the comedy. The best two scenes have little to do with the story. Micky with the artist is side-splitting and a rare chance for him to be the straight man, reacting to someone else’s craziness. The surreal bit with Liberace, besides a great bit of stunt-casting, is The Monkees at its off-the-wall and satirical best. I also enjoy all the moments where people become art: The shot composition of the Monkees in the corridor, the tangle of bodies at various times, the “framed” Monkees and the finale with all the characters in the cage. Director Alex Singer has a knack for that. He posed them cleverly in the fashion-oriented “Monkees à la Mode” as well. Once again it seems in these early season 2 episodes the show creators were still invested in making an entertaining show.

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 Mayor”

“Nevermind the furthermore, the plea is self-defense”

“Monkee Mayor” aired October 2, 1967, and though that was a mighty long time ago, the story doesn’t feel dated to me. The ideas are still relevant today. It’s also one of those stories where the Monkees are working to help the underdog, instead of working for their own purposes. “Monkee Mayor” was directed by Alex Singer and written by Jack Winter, the same combo that did the previous episode in air-date order, “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik.”

At the Monkees pad, Peter and Davy prep Mike to cut a ham, putting multiple rubber gloves on him (Like they did in “The Case of the Missing Monkee” when they impersonated doctors.) The neighbors, Mrs. Filchok, Mr. Swezy, and Mrs. Homer come in and take back the chairs, dishes, and table the Monkees had apparently borrowed. Why? Because the older folks are all being evicted. Their homes will be torn down to put up parking lots (“You don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone” – Editor]. Mike takes a look at the notice they’ve received and explains it’s impossible because it violates “every zoning regulation.” Just as he assures them, the sounds and the dust of the destruction begin.

Mike goes to city hall and asks the Secretary to tell the mayor that, “Michael Nesmith, private citizen, is here to see him.” He explains that innocent people are being thrown out because of the parking lot the city is building. She condescendingly asks if he’s making a complaint, then shows him through to the “Complaints” door that leads him back out onto the street. Mike walks right back in, determined to see Mayor Motley. She shows him through another door which leads him to a brick wall. Adding injury to insult, Mike gets hit in the head with a random mallet.

Mike comes back and now he’s angry. His yelling draws out Mayor Motley, played by Irwin Charone who was also the Producer in “I’ve Got a Little Song Here.” Mike introduces himself and stammers through his complaint. Motley keeps messing up his name, calling him “Niswash” like Bernie Class did in “I’ve Got a Little Song Here.” Motley distracts Mike with the following subversive speech: “Our country was founded in 1612 from across the shores,…from across the shores the pilgrims landed and found Indians, luckily they moved those Indians. Why, throwing people out of their homes is the American way!” He shakes Mike’s hand, thanks him for his opinion. Mike leaves, stammering and not realizing he’s been brushed off until he’s outside again.

Motley goes into his office to discuss the diabolical plan with a Mr. Zechenbush (Monte Landis). Zechenbush, who has a vaguely southern accent, wants to “ring” the entire city with parking lots so no one can go in our out without having to pay them. The mayor points out they would have to tear down museums, schools, hospitals, etc. Never mind that nobody would bother come to the town to park if they get rid of everything people would potentially visit. [I’m reminded of Flint, Michigan in the late ’80s. – Editor] It doesn’t have to make sense, because it’s evil! They don’t explain exactly who Zechenbush is (plot description on Wikipedia says he’s a ‘crooked construction tycoon) but he owns Motley in some way; he probably gave Motley a lot of money to get him elected we can assume. He’s a crooked lobbyist. Motley’s eagerly agrees with whatever Zechenbush says. I’m also curious about what town Motley is mayor of? They’ve established the Monkees live in Malibu. The story for this episode has such a small town vibe, that’s hard to imagine.

Mike goes home and finds the neighbors have moved in. He still wants to help them, he has motives for the greater good, “we don’t want a dictatorial government running the city” and “the rights of an individual citizen have got to be respected” and also pragmatic motives, “we’ve got to get all these people out of our house.” Micky comes to the conclusion that Mike should run for mayor. He’s the only one with “a hat to throw into the ring.” At that moment, he’s not wearing it. Repeating the gag from “Monkees on the Line,” Mike asks “where’s my hat” and someone throws it to him from off screen. Then Micky tosses it “in the ring.” Micky calls Motley to warn him that Mike is running for mayor and they’ll see him in the polls on Thursday.

The Monkees work on Mike’s political image. First Mike impersonates George Washington. (Peter did this first in “Monkees a la Mode.”) Davy vetoes this (“too honest”). Mike protests, “How can you be too honest?” Next, he’s “bearded weirdo” Abe Lincoln. Davy declares he “doesn’t have the looks.” Mike makes a terrific Lincoln. The third option is Lyndon B. Johnson, who was the president when this episode was aired. Mike as LBJ promises, “And so until this crisis is over, I will hunker down like a jackass in a hailstorm, dot dot dot.” Davy protests, “no politician would ever say a thing like that.” 

Deciding Mike’s everyday look is perfection, they launch the campaign with Micky as campaign manager, Davy as aide-de-camp, and Peter as his campy aid. I always thought aide-de-camp was a military term. It’s Peter’s title that really amuses me though; this show is campy enough, no “aid” required. Peter treats Mike as though he were a ship being christened and tries to brain him with a champagne bottle. Fortunately Micky and Davy intervene.

They launch the campaign, counting down into the romp for “No Time” (Hank Cicalo). I dig this song, sort of a gospel sounding number. The tempo suits the violence of the romp perfectly. This song was written by the Monkees themselves, but credited to Cicalo as a “tip” for him because he was their recording engineer for The Monkees, More of The Monkees, Live 1967, and Headquarters. He also engineered some tracks for Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones as well as Michael Nesmith’s The Wichita Train Whistle Sings.

The romp itself is one of the best; funny, subversive and moves the story beautifully. The basic narrative is the Monkees promoting Mike’s campaign, and it all goes go horribly wrong. Mike judges a beauty contest; after he picks a winner, the losers beat the crap out of him. Micky helps an old lady cross the street and she beats him with her umbrella. Davy stops to kiss a baby and the Mom assaults him with kisses. This is juxtaposed with the Secretary smacking back Zechenbush for kissing her. Mike meets and greets the public, one of whom steals his watch. (Stand-in David Price is among the crowd.) Mike stops Peter from using a toy bazooka on Davy but then a bunch of well-dressed people pull guns on Mike. We see Zechenbush paying off all of these people to humiliate the Monkees. Delightfully cynical. Other visual highlights include Peter disappearing into a bottomless baby carriage and Micky hanging a “Mike Nesmith for Mayor” sign on his date’s behind.

After all that fruitless work, the Monkees come back to the pad to find that it’s been ransacked and the campaign posters vandalized. They consider who would have done this and Micky mentions that the cleaning lady comes on the second Thursday of every month with an “r” in it. (Yet in “The Chaperone,” she came Tuesdays.) Mike guesses the culprits were “goons from Mayor Motley’s office.” Speaking of Tuesdays, I found a fun interview with Michael Nesmith, promoting his new memoir, Infinite Tuesday. Check it out.

The Monkees go back to the mayor’s office to find out what he’s hiding. Conveniently, no one is around so they can sneak in and search the office file cabinets, closet etc. Very forward-thinking of them, in a criminal way. (This is five years before the Committee for the Re-Election of the President busted into the Democratic National Committee Headquarters.) Peter opens the closet and finds a skeleton dressed in a suit. (Nice visual pun!) Micky removes a key from the skeleton’s pocket to open the locked file cabinet, knowing it will work because “it’s a skeleton key.” In the cabinet, Davy finds the plans to turn everything into parking lots. Peter materializes an 1880’s Eastman View camera (similar but not the same medium format camera from “The Picture Frame”) out of nowhere. He takes a picture of the others displaying the incriminating evidence. Before they can escape, Zechenbush and Motley come back. The Monkees hide in the closet, Micky taking the skelton’s place inside the suit. There’s a funny gag when Micky, “the skeleton,” hands Zechenbush the key and Zechenbush thanks him. Zechenbush notices the camera. As the Monkees improbably sneak out in plain sight, Motley and Zechenbush obliviously discuss their paranoia that Monkees have seen the parking lot files.

At the pad, Peter develops his film. Turns out he took a picture of the file cabinet, not the plans. As in “Monkees on the Line,” the other three cover Peter’s eyes with his own hands in annoyance. Zechenbush, Motley, and the Secretary discuss finding dirt on Mike while they wait for him to make a play with the evidence they assume he has, but it’s no use. According to the Secretary, Mike’s had a “nothing life.” No arrests, no firings. Really? I’m pretty sure Mike has been fired (“Monkee vs. Machine”) and arrested but acquitted (“The Picture Frame”). I guess none of the insane things they’ve done have never made the papers, like: terrorizing an airport, riding a motorcycle through a Laundromat, or disrupting a televised boxing match.

The Monkees are ready to throw in the towel since they have no evidence against the mayor, and no campaign funds. Micky enters with a bag full of checks from people contributing hundreds and thousands of dollars to Mike’s campaign. (The “little people” are mentioned here, as they were in “I’ve Got a Little Song Here.”) Micky says they can “blow this town wide open,” and the editors cut to stock footage of a building being demolished. Mike points out that’s exactly what they’re trying to prevent, so Micky re-states that they can blow the town “wide closed” and they reverse the film so the building re-assembles itself.. (The music here is an instrumental version of “Star Collector.”)

The Monkees spend cash. Micky goes to the newspaper and literally throws money at the publisher to put Mike on the front page and everywhere else. Peter wants a skywriter to write Mike’s name in the sky “with the sun dotting the “i”. But the pilot isn’t good enough, Peter wants Lindbergh! (Charles) then he decides, “On second thought, get me Rickenbacker! His penmanship is better.” Davy goes to the television station, directing the cameraman (played by Monkees stand-in David Price) when to give Mike close-ups for his TV appearance.

Back at the pad, Micky, Davy, and Peter give Mike a pep talk. Zechenbush walks in uninvited and Mike tells him he’s going on television to expose him and his “whole racket.” Zechenbush explains that the checks the Monkees spent were all from people that work for him, so Mike’s campaign is now also funded by Zechenbush. He’s figured out a way to own Mike and warns him to withdraw or he’ll “get him” and his friends. It seems they’re screwed.

The Monkees go to the TV station anyway. Davy, Micky, and Peter encourage Mike not to give up. Then, they sit and watch to see what Mike will do, and the neighbors watch Mike on TV from the pad. For the scene, they use that “Stand By” sign again, the one used for previous episodes “Too Many Girls” and “Captain Crocodile.”

Once he gets the signal, Mike begins to speak. He explains he began his campaign hoping to help people like his neighbors that didn’t have any power. He didn’t think it was right that no one would listen to them so he wanted to do something. Mike admits, “I got sucked up in the very forces I was trying to conquer” and his campaign was financed by an “improper source.” Though he was unaware and got tricked into doing this, he figures he’s “not smart enough to be mayor.” It’s very moving and aided by Michael Nesmith’s natural and non-actor-ly delivery. Trouble is, Mike is an honest and hardworking character, the kind you would want in public office. That same quality makes him unlikely to succeed at getting elected at the “dirty game” of politics. It’s a catch 22; someone who has the right characteristics to succeed at getting elected, may not be someone who should be trusted with leadership. It’s the ultimate cynicism of this story. 

Zechenbush and Motley entered the TV studio in the meantime. Motley is motivated by Mike’s words. He approaches and, in a callback to the earlier gag says his name correctly, and Mike corrects him, “Niswash.” I have to question Motley’s quick change of heart on this, but it is, after all, a 24 minute show. Just when you think Mike has accomplished nothing, Motely declares “one man’s honesty throws sand in the machinery.” Motley promises to mend his ways and make the town “a cleaner and more personal place to live.” Zechenbush slips out the back defeated.

Mike’s ill-fated campaign could be looked at as alternative to a protest. It’s interesting that the writers/producers didn’t go the protest route. Instead of Mike running for Mayor, they could have had the Monkees staging a protest of city hall. Protests were a big part of counterculture of the time. Creating chaos is a Monkees specialty, but instead of trying to change things from the outside, they try to make Mike an insider. But episodes like “Monkees a la Mode” have established the Monkees as outsiders. On the other hand, young people protesting may have been too controversial for a network sitcom. It also would have dated the episode and locked it into the 1960s. “Monkee Mayor,” as it stands, has a timeless appeal.

Next is a tag sequence as the neighbors thank the Monkees for saving their homes. The Monkees exposit that the mayor canceled his plans to put parking lots where their homes were, and Zechenbush is in jail. Micky wonders where the parking lot will be built, and a wrecking ball comes crashing through the ceiling, followed by a Rainbow Room performance of the song  “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (Goffin/King).

According to the Monkees Tripod site, this episode was originally titled “Micky for Mayor.” I imagine the original script called for Micky to run for office. But the job suits Mike better. Micky Dolenz is a fine actor, but Micky is tricky. Michael Nesmith comes off sincere. He’s compelling actor; he delivers the speech at the end and you feel bad for him. I actually teared up a bit. I get the feeling from listening to various episode commentaries that maybe Mike didn’t like acting much, or at least his own acting. On the IMDB he only has 11 acting credits. I know the world doesn’t need another actor but in a way, it is a shame. “Monkee Mayor” shows what an effective job he could do.

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: “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik”

“Strangeways, Here We Come”

“Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik,”  was directed by Alex Singer, written by Jack Winter, and aired September 25, 1967. Filming dates were April 25-27, the same week the Monkees began working on their fourth album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. The episode is unfortunately, a recycled plot of a recycled plot. As with “The Prince and the Paupers” the Monkees are helping a young royal who is duty-bound to get married, and as with both that and “Royal Flush,” the Monkees are up against ambitious, evil adults in a fictional kingdom. The title tells us this Kingdom is modeled on a fictional Middle Eastern culture. I assumed the title was meant to rhyme with the line “everywhere a sheep, sheep” from the nursery rhyme “Old Macdonald Had a Farm,” which would mean they are using the obsolete pronunciation of “sheik.”

The story starts out with the Nehoudian King informing his daughter, Colette, that “the stars” say she must marry. His companion, Vidaru, tells her “the stars never fail.” [“The fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.” – Editor] The King and Vidaru are both dressed as made-for-television sheiks, complete with the headdress known as the keffiyeh. Vidaru is all in black, telegraphing that he must be the bad guy. Colette rolls her eyes at Viradu and protests to her father. I like Donna Loren as Colette; with her expressive face and playful line delivery, she gives a little spark to an otherwise boring role as another Davy girlfriend. The King is played by Monte Landis (then credited as Monty Landis) and this marks the first of his seven appearances on The Monkees.

The King is afraid he’ll die and no one will inherit the throne and he suggests she marry Vidaru. Colette is visibly repulsed at Vidaru, who turns to reveal he only has a beard on half of his chin. The King points out Colette has already turned down all the most eligible bachelors. She counters by selecting Davy Jones from a picture in a magazine.

Two of the King’s servants, Abdul the Strongman and Shazar, are at the Monkees pad, weighing Davy against bars of gold while the other Monkees make jokes. Abdul puts Davy in a bag and carries him off while Micky, Mike, and Peter passively allow this. Shazar hands Mike an invitation to the wedding of Colette and David Jones. Micky doesn’t have sunglasses on when they read the card in the close-up but for some reason he’s wearing them on the reaction shot when they all look at the camera in shock.

After the credits, Davy has arrived at the Nehoudian hotel. Shazar tells Davy that Colette wants to marry him. Davy wants to know why, and his reaction shots here are the ones used in the opening theme sequence. Shazar gives Davy a non-answer, “Do not question the strange ways of our people.” Because it’s an “exotic culture”, get it? Shazar implies the danger of rejecting Colette; she puts a wreath on the grave of the last boy that did so.

The three non-betrothed Monkees arrive in the classic individually styled gray suits. I like the way they choreographed their entrance: They march in a line in step with each other, and then Mike and Davy lean out from behind Micky as they ask the guard if they can see Davy. Abdul stops them by simply pushing back on Micky’s chest, knocking them all back like dominoes.

Davy is decked out in his own Nehoudian wardrobe when he meets the King and Viradu. Davy and the King do an awkward bumping bow. While the King goes to get his daughter, Viradu puts a dirty smock on Davy, again giving him the “Do not question the strange ways of our people.” He leaves Davy alone. Colette arrives wearing an outfit that resembles a bedlah, which is a belly dance costume, not hanging-around-the-hotel clothing. But unlike the other women in this episode, she has a westernized touch to her costume:

Davy and Colette look at each other and are instantly smitten. Middle Eastern-style string music plays as they begin complimenting each other’s features, cut together with dreamy footage of them dancing and almost kissing. So cheesy it actually becomes campy fun. Davy halts everything to tell her he’s not ready for marriage. She insists that it’s him or Vidaru. Speak of the devil, Vidaru comes in and drags Davy away, “our ancient laws do not permit further contact at the first meeting.” Oh boy, with the strange ways and ancient laws. [That’s a micro-aggression! I need a safe space! – Editor]

Now, for some real comedy. Mike, Micky, and Peter are back in the corridor. Mike and Micky have formal military dress costumes with fancy hats and Peter is dressed as a scientist and carries a Geiger counter. Micky has an over-the-top German accent and keeps knocking Mike’s hat off when he salutes. Their “con” is that they’re looking for a bomb, and they convince Abdul there’s one in the room where Davy is staying.

They do the three stooges gag where they all try to get through the door at once and get stuck. Davy pulls them in and updates them. The King walks in and the Monkees introduce themselves with a Three Stooges “Hello” harmony. Monte Landis gestures to cut them off; he’s good at playing off the Monkees. Davy confesses to the King that the marriage is “a little sudden.” The King tempts Davy with a fabulous mansion and his weight in diamonds. (They’re really into weighing people against precious gems and metals.) Davy confers with the others and they are still opposed to the marriage. The King lures them with the idea that his friends could all become cabinet ministers and each would have his choice of a dozen wives. He claps his hands and summons a group of pretty young women in belly dance outfits. The Monkees eagerly check them out, and naughty Micky makes me laugh with his air-humping gesture. Davy considers all this and decides marriage is better than being killed.

The Monkees are now all in sheik headdress and hanging out with the Harem of Hotties. Davy makes Micky Secretary of Defense. Peter snaps his fingers in disappointment. (This footage is used in the opening.) Mike is to be Secretary of State. Davy wants to make Peter Director of Forests, to which Peter (uncharacteristically) sarcastically, “you would.” Meanwhile, Viradu and his toady Curad plan to kill all the Monkees, but separately so no one will connect the murders. Hmm…I think there’s a hole in his theory. Also, the Curad character seems to have come out of nowhere.

Mike works out the wording for a peace treaty while a girl flirts with him and fondles his hair and his ears. He looks at the camera in disbelief. He decides he needs a paperweight. From above, Curad obliges him by dropping cement block on him. It misses and puts a hole through the apparently very thin table. Mike asks the audience, “What is this number with the concrete block?”

Peter is relaxing with his girl when Shazar brings them some food. Shazar insists he must taste the food first, to make sure it’s not poisoned. He takes a bite and collapses. Peter politely asks, “How is it?” Shazar gasps his last: “It’s poisoned! And a little rare.” Bye-bye Shazar, at least you got to go out on a funny line.

Micky discusses his military plans with his blonde date, going mad with power and a Napoleon impression. Between this and the earlier bomb scare, they are taking an subversive crack at the military and military leaders. They also do so in a way that’s not dated; the military is always a classic target for parody. These jokes aren’t specific to what was going on at the time, the cold war and Vietnam War and so on. Curad is terrible at murder; he throws a knife at Micky and misses.

Colette and Davy nearly kiss some more. Davy frets he’s not cut out to be a prince, just like he did in “Prince and the Paupers.” Colette sweetly gives him a large necklace for luck. Curad sends a blow dart at Davy, and the necklace blocks it. Colette figures out that someone’s trying to kill him.

The Monkees have reunited in the same room and rightly decide they need to split. Mike wants to create an escape plan but Micky thinks they can just walk right out. He hits Abdul on the head with a lamp. Abdul doesn’t feel it so Micky agrees they need a plan. Mike huddles them together for a plan that is never mentioned again. That certainly went nowhere.

Viradu’s new plan is to kill them at the banquet with wine glasses rigged to explode when they toast. He’s overheard by one of the harem girls, who in turn tells it to Colette. Colette’s not allowed to attend the banquet so she asks the girl to tell them, “Golden Grecian goblets guarantee graves,” which is a funnier way to say the glasses are booby-trapped.

At the banquet, the Monkees are seated at the table. There’s humorous stage business in which Micky keeps handing Peter banana peels and Peter hides them. The girl gives Peter the “Grecian Goblets” message before she is pulled off by a guard. Peter passes the message to Micky who thinks it’s a tongue twister: “rubber baby buggy bumpers.” Peter tries the message on Mike and Davy but they don’t pick up on it either. The King stands up to make his toast. Several false starts where the Monkees are about to clink glasses but the King keeps talking and talking. Finally just before they toast, Peter accidentally tosses his at the wall and it explodes. Davy catches on and asks Viradu to clink glasses with him. Viradu refuses. The King figures out that Viradu tried to kill his future son-in-law. In a pretty darn funny reveal, Viradu change his accent to Southwestern American and confesses he’s not a “Nehoudian”; he’s from Oklahoma and came to get their oil.

This launches the romp to “Love is Only Sleeping” (Mann/Weil). Scenes of the Monkees and the guards fighting are mixed with Rainbow Room footage. This one features Mike in his Paul Revere and the Raiders sleeves and blue jacket. I love the song. It’s the sexiest Monkees song; the arrangement and the lyrics. There’s also some of the Foreign Legion footage of the Monkees shot in the first season. The high-point of the mayhem is when the Monkees take turns sword fighting and cut in on each other to make out with the same girl. It gives the whole thing a weird orgy vibe, “wrong” but kinda sexy. The Monkees do that switcheroo thing again where Viradu somehow ends up huddling with them instead of his guards. There’s an explosion and the Monkees are sitting on Abdul.

In the aftermath, the King tells the Monkees he’s eternally grateful and he grants freedom for them all. Davy apologizes to Colette that he’s too young to get married, he’s sure she’ll find somebody else, etc. Donna Loren’s facial expressions are adorable as she explains that she already has found someone new: Peter! Abdul puts Peter on the scale. Peter doesn’t look too happy and I don’t blame him; there’s no reason for him to be second choice to Davy.

There’s a final performance to “Cuddly Toy” (Nilsson.) The songwriter, Harry Nilsson, was working at a bank and writing songs at night when he met the Monkees and played this song for them. Because it was a hit, he was able to quit the bank and become a singer. Nilsson’s career peaked in the 1970s, and he died in 1994. The title track of the Monkees newest record, Good Times! was also written by Nilsson, and a 1960s demo of him singing the song was used to create a “duet” with him and Micky Dolenz on the album.

The Monkees are on stage in Vaudeville-style striped jackets, canes and straw hats. Micky has the purple-tinted sunglasses that we see Mike wearing throughout the second season quite a bit. Micky and Davy compete to see who will dance with Anita Mann, but Davy settles it with a fake punch to Micky’s face. Good thing since Davy can really dance. The other three bounce gamely and goof around with their canes off to the side while Davy and Anita perform the dance she choreographed. Mann has many credits as a choreographer; the IMDB lists her as uncredited choreographer for all 58 Monkees episodes, and choreographer for 47 episodes of Solid Gold, as well as some Muppets TV specials and the film Mystery Men.

The episode closes with an interview from the Rainbow Room shoot on August 2. Micky, Peter, and Davy are in their psychedelic clothes while Mike wears the dull but timeless shirt and tie and red pants with the purple sunglasses. The best part of the interview is the mention of a girl who mailed herself to Davy with the punch line, “We shipped her to the Beatles.”

It’s hard for me to criticize this episode as much as I should. It’s a re-hashed and thin plot with yet another fictional kingdom. Compared to the previous two episodes, which were clearly well thought-out and put together, this one is sloppy. It’s in the same territory as “Prince and the Paupers,” but unlike that one, which I found really dull and drab, “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik” has some entertaining comedy. The Monkees are funny in every scene they’re in, and for the most part they’re working together and playing off each other well. Some of the bits that didn’t feel scripted added some cheeky laughs, especially from Micky. The guest cast seems to have fun with their parts, which always helps the quality of the episode.

by Bronwyn Knox

Every couple of weeks, “Monkees vs. Macheen” examines the crazy, spirited, Ben Franks-type world of the Pre-Fab Four: David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork alias The Monkees.

Monkees vs. Macheen: “The Picture Frame”

“What’s My Motivation?”

“The Picture Frame” starts out with the “Hurray for Hollywood” sound-alike incidental music and the sign for the fictional Mammoth Studios, first used in “I’ve Got a Little Song Here.” Some previous episodes where the Monkees tried to break into show biz were “Captain Crocodile,” “Find the Monkees,” “Monkees at the Movies,” and “Monkees in Manhattan.” Mike, Micky, and Davy wander onto a soundstage and meet Harvey and J.L., who tell the Monkees that they want them to play bank bandits in their picture. Harvey and J.L. are wearing berets, and it amuses me that berets are what crooks think will let them pass for legit Hollywood producers. The film flips over and the three Monkees appear in gangster-wear with guns, cigars, suits and hats, etc. (It’s probably an illness on my part, but I find them rather sexy here.) Previously we’ve seen the boys as gangsters in “Monkees in a Ghost Town,” “Monkees a la Cart,” and Micky in “Alias Micky Dolenz.” In all those cases however, the Monkees were trying to fool crooks into thinking they were of their kind.

J.L. asks the Monkees for a picture to see “how they photograph” and Davy whips out a baby picture. J.L. throws it away and asks for something more recent. Micky grabs a medium format camera to take a picture of the crooks with Mike and Davy, despite J.L.’s protests of “no pictures.” They get an instant picture which J.L. tosses in the same trashcan. J.L. tells them they’re all set up to shoot “the bank stick-up scene” at the 9th National Bank. He tosses scripts at them and explains they use the “hidden camera technique” so they won’t see the film crew. The Monkees, who have perpetuated dozens of cons aren’t suspicious of any of this.

“The Picture Frame,” directed by James Frawley, originally aired on September 18, 1967. The filming dates for the main episode were April 5-7, 1967, not long after they finished Headquarters. Jack Winter wrote “The Picture Frame” as well as “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik,” “Monkee Mayor,” “”Hitting The High Seas,” and “The Monkees In Texas.” The first three on that list were among the group of leftover first season scripts. Musical numbers in this episode were part of the Rainbow Room performances, shot on August 2, 1967.

Back to the story, the Monkees awkwardly enter the busy bank, guns drawn. Some highlights of this scene include the squeaky voiced bank teller (Joy Harmon) who keeps asking Davy, “Do you have an account here, sir?” Micky’s brief Cagney impression, and Mike’s magic power to speed up time and open a safe by imitating a clock. The bank Vice President was played by Ronald Foster and was also the Rolls Owner in “Success Story” and the Courtier in “Prince and the Paupers.” As they leave, the boys read the scripted lines, telling the bank customers and staff not to move or say anything. The extras put their arms down once the door shuts, but then Micky sticks his head in to say “cut, print that’s a wrap” and they all put their hands back up.

Mike, Micky, and Davy are back on the soundstage. Peter arrived, having gone initially to the wrong stage at the wrong time. J.L. congratulates them, gives them each $100 bucks, and tells them they’ll call tonight about tomorrow’s shoot. Mike offers to take the stuff back but J.L. tells him the “prop people” will handle that, as the Monkees are going to be “big stars.” As they leave, J.L. tells Harvey he’s going to make an anonymous call to the cops.

There’s stock footage of police cars with sirens blazing. Outside the Monkees house is Dort Clark as the Sergeant, previously in the “Monkees à la Cart” episode in a similar role. He’s a funny actor and I wish they’d used him as well for “Alias Micky Dolenz” (though Robert Strauss did a fine job as the Captain.) The Sergeant is with two uniformed policemen. Peter thinks they want his overdue library book, so he crawls to the door and puts the books outside. The Sergeant tells them to stop fooling around. Davy goes up to the lookout window and repeats the gag from “Monkees à la Mode” where he opens it even though he’s too short to see out. Somehow he reports what’s out there: cops, lights, etc. Mike decides it must be tomorrow’s shoot moved up to tonight.

The Sergeant sends one of the uniformed cops in, after some comic uncertainty on the their part. The cop goes into the Monkee pad, stammering and telling them to follow him. Micky says that’s no good and starts directing him how to hold the gun and to be more steely-eyed. Cute, unintentional meta-moment because the cop is played by Robert Michaels, who was also in “The Frodis Caper,” Dolenz’ directorial debut. The cop exits and re-enters, accidentally scaring the Monkees and himself by shooting up the place. The editors cut to stock footage of planes crashing, cars crashing, etc.

At the police station, the Sergeant shows the Monkees the film of themselves robbing the bank. They’re disappointed that it’s black and white but I think it’s actually improbably good for security camera footage. Mike tries to decide what movie star he looks like: Barry Sullivan, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, while Micky and Davy also admire their own performances. Not getting that they’re in deep trouble, they agree it is them on film. Peter walks in with popcorn and the scene becomes a clever parody of a movie audience, with a lady in a hat, a couple making out, a guy sleeping in sunglasses. The Sergeant tells them he’s booking them for the robbery of the 9th National bank. The Monkees are confused. Davy explains, “We were shooting a movie. Some cat came up and said ‘do you want to shoot a movie?’ We said, ‘yeah, we’ll shoot a movie’ So we shot a movie.” Mike realizes how screwed they are and has a nervous breakdown, with hilarious facial expressions.

Now we have the comic sequence of Taking Everything Literally. The Sarge tells the three busted Monkees to “start talking” and so they mutter lyrics to “Zilch,” the isolated vocal track from Headquarters. Sarge tells them to change their tune, so Mike blows a pitch pipe and talks in a higher pitch (okay, not technically changing their “tune.”) He threatens them with the 3rd degree so Micky passes out three diplomas. The cops bring over the bright light but the Monkees respond by pulling out dark glasses and sun-tan lotion. Sarge asks them if they’re ready to spill the beans, and of course the Monkees pour out cans of beans. The Sarge loses it and says to throw the book at them. The cop tosses a book. In the shot where Mike catches it, he’s not wearing his glasses but back in the closeup he’s wearing them again. I’m thinking this is not an accidental continuity error but a deliberate one so he could see to catch the book. In a callback gag, the book is Peter’s overdue library book.

The Monkees, minus Peter, are now pacing around a jail cell. Peter brings them a file, which turns out to be an emery board instead of the expected metal file. Peter unleashes this nonsensical gem, “I don’t think you’re guilty. I just don’t see how you could possibly be innocent.” He found a lawyer from the classifieds but the lawyer won’t attempt get them off, “With that kind of evidence? No chance.” He points to Davy, “him maybe with the cute face.” The not-so cute faces of Micky and Mike are told to plead guilty. The lawyer wants $40,000 to represent them, which they don’t have. The lawyer states the seemingly obvious, “Of course you do, you just robbed a bank, didn’t you?” The lawyer was portrayed by Art Lewis, who was the missing persons inspector in “Find the Monkees.”

Now, the court scenes. The judge asks the Monkees if they’re represented by council. They say yes, but clearly they don’t have a lawyer. She asks them to bring in the first prospective juror. The DA calls in Philip Jackson. It’s actually Mike playing a similar character to the janitor he played in “Captain Crocodile.” The DA objects on the grounds that Mr. Jackson is one of the defendants. The judge scolds Mike for trying to pull a fast one. Mike starts flirting and pulls out some flowers for her. She melts (as do I) as Davy and Micky look on hopefully.

Meanwhile, Peter is back on the soundstage, snooping for evidence against the actual crooks. He has the Sherlock Holmes hat that Micky used in “Monkee See, Monkee Die” and a sleuth-cliché magnifying glass. Peter runs into Harvey who correctly guesses that Peter is snooping. If this were logical, Harvey could have gotten rid of Peter right there, but instead he watches him snoop. Peter finds a picture in the wastebasket and is happy/excited with this evidence. Harvey calls J.L. and tells him what Peter has found. J.L. assumes it’s the incriminating picture of them with the Monkees and orders Harvey to keep Peter there.

Back at the court, Micky adopts a British Barrister persona and questions the bank VP on whether he can be sure Mike was the one who held him up. The bank manager is sure, so Micky asks him a bunch of irrelevant trivia questions (What is the capital of Nova Scotia?) Micky wants to dismiss on the grounds that it is late and everybody’s hungry. The judge joyfully claps her hands for food and Mike and Davy are suddenly ballpark vendors with hot dogs and popcorn. The prosecutor freaks, “Your honor, this is outrageous!” as the judge obliviously enjoys her hot dog.

Mike argues that the dynamite that they supposedly threatened to blow open the safe with was actually harmless. There was no bit like that in the robbery scene, but just roll with it. He lights it, and it goes out as it burns down the wick. The prosecutor objects and grabs the dynamite. Of course it explodes, leaving him not blown to bits, but covered in soot and smoke, a la Daffy Duck. It is to laugh. The judge overrules his objection because this is all insanity anyway.

Peter tries to leave the studio but J.L. comes in with a gun and tells him to hand over the picture. This launches a romp to “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (Goffin/King) with Peter running all over the soundstage area we saw in “I’ve Got a Little Song Here” and in and out of the “Mammoth Studios” area. This is mixed with Rainbow Room footage of the Monkees performing the song. The gangsters catch Peter in the shower at one point and he pretends to be offended. If this was meant to make sense, they could have shot him a while ago. Outside the soundstage, Peter drives a Monkees logo golf-cart. He seems to have evaded them by climbing the chain-link fence but they simply open the gate.

Somehow he gets to the courthouse with the picture. The music is still playing as Peter runs all over the courtroom with the gangsters chasing him. The Monkees protect Peter while the police grab the gangsters. Romp over, J.L. yells at Harvey for not emptying the wastebasket (or you know, shredding the picture, destroying the negative etc.) Mike, Micky, and Davy crowd around Peter hoping he’s got the picture they need, but naturally it’s the baby picture. They hand it over to the judge anyway who gasps at the cuteness and decides they’re “obviously innocent.” That was certainly in keeping with the ridiculous logic of everything else in this story.

Next up is more Rainbow Room footage of “Randy Scouse Git” (Dolenz). This series of song performance film clips were shot in the summer of 1967, in the middle of the Monkees concert tour. Due to race riots taking place in both Milwaukee and Detroit at that time, a couple of the Monkees performances were cancelled so they ended up with some extra time in Chicago. The Monkees producers booked time in Fred Niles Studios (later Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios was there; sadly it is now torn down). In the Fred Niles Studies room with a robin’s egg blue and rainbow background, the Monkees filmed promo clips for “Daydream Believer,” “She Hangs Out,” “No Time,” “Randy Scouse Git,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “Love Is Only Sleeping,” “What Am I Doin’ Hangin’ ‘Round?,” and “Salesman.” If you look at the recording dates of these songs, some of them were not complete yet so the Monkees were lip-syncing to rough versions. More about this here.

I enjoy all the Rainbow Room performances, they have an iconic look and are the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Monkees performance clips. Last summer I was lucky enough to be invited to discuss the Rainbow Room with a panel of smart Monkees fans on Zilch! A Monkees Podcast. Check it out here.

The Monkees are in great form in this story, working together with crack comic timing to create mischief in the justice system. With the dynamite, the literal sight gags, and the absurd plot points, “The Picture Frame” would certainly get my vote for Most Cartoony. It’s a tightly put-together farce, with it’s own insane sense of logic that builds up to a wacky finish. The solution with the baby picture certainly isn’t any more ridiculous than the Monkees just tying up the bad guys at the end of the romp like they usually do. “The Picture Frame” has one laugh-out-loud scene after another and it’s certainly worth watching for entertainment value.

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.

Vintage Cable Box: “Silkwood, 1983”

“It doesn’t matter whether you work in plutonium or dog food because they ain’t gonna give you a thing, there’s nowhere left to go! You close this plant down and then what? You’re gonna be up in Washington, but we’re gonna be down here outta work!”

Silkwood, 1983 (Meryl Streep), ABC Motion Pictures

Karen Silkwood is a trouble-maker. At Kerr-McGee, she handles the processing of plutonium and uranium dioxide as it is converted into fuel pellets for nuclear reactors. The interesting idea about Silkwood and her co-workers is that they are not scientists, but technicians working on an assembly line. Nuclear power is a job of work, not ideals and definitely not science. They know enough to do their work, and very little more. She and her co-workers are overworked and underpaid; they complain about having to work extra hours on short notice and the power plant runs efficiently with no-nonsense supervisors and bitchy subordinates.

Though depicted as lazy and irresponsible with self-destructive qualities, Karen (as portrayed beautifully by Meryl Streep) is fiercely independent and defiant (even at the cost of her own safety and well-being). She loves her estranged children, her co-dependent lesbian roommate, Dolly (Cher), and her on-again off-again boyfriend, Drew (Kurt Russell). She almost seems to work hard at making terrible mistakes, which I find oddly fascinating, especially with regard to the way strong female characters are written in films these days. Women written today, by contrast, appear to be perfect, beautiful, patient, and unrealistically saintly creatures. By humanizing a character like Karen Silkwood, we can more readily identify with her and her struggle.

One day, Karen’s co-worker, Thelma, is “cooked”, meaning she’s been exposed to radiation, and is forced to undergo a humiliating cleaning process involving vigorous use of steel wool.  Karen worries about cancer as she relentlessly chain-smokes.  Boyfriend Drew has a plan to one day quit the power plant and set up his own small bait-shop dealership, but Karen thinks he’s just dreaming.  You get the sense most people employed in this part of the Country have very few options.  One night, after cleaning up, Karen tests positive for radiation and is required to provide urine samples for the next few weeks.  She begins to notice her supervisors are falsifying reports and re-touching photographs of faulty welds in fuel rods.  She checks her union manuals, does her homework, and figures out she and her fellow employees are being deceived.

As Kerr-McGee management clamps down on union meetings, Karen decides to take her complaints to Washington and the Atomic Energy Commission.  When she tells her representatives (Ron Silver, Josef Sommer) about the re-touched photographs, they realize they have a case against the plant.  Oddly, the narrative is broken up with episodic moments, such as Dolly’s latest girlfriend, a snooty funeral home beautician (Diana Scarwid), and Karen’s brief dalliance with Ron Silver in Washington and resulting break-up with Drew.  She gathers up enough physical evidence to meet with a reporter from The New York Times, but she never arrives for her interview.   She was found to have died in a mysterious car crash.

Silkwood, the movie, is a strange case.  The movie was given a DVD release, but went out-of-print, and has never enjoyed a Blu-Ray run, though it had been transferred to 1080p for HD broadcast television.  This is a movie that received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Actress, Best Director (Mike Nichols), and Best Original Screenplay (credited to Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen).  Nichols does his usual best (for the time) at letting his actors direct his film.  He gives enormous creative license to Streep, Russell (in his first dramatic role), and Cher in bringing the patina of the surroundings to life.  Rising stars Fred Ward, Craig T. Nelson, Anthony Heald, and David Strathairn all make memorable appearances in the film.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.