Monkees vs. Macheen: “Success Story”

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“The Monkees Probably Should Have Been Arrested”

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The 6th episode, “Success Story” had an emotional story-line compared to other episodes and was also the first to feature a Monkees family member. There was an unusually stereotypical situation-comedy feel with a main character getting in trouble for deceiving a loved one. I wasn’t really looking forward to writing about this one, but as I watched I rediscovered a lot of funny moments.

One of the elements creating the mood was the incidental music, composed by Stu Phillips, which expresses the sensitive nature of this episode. Mr. Phillips began composing for movies and television in 1958 and was the founder of Colpix Records (a label that signed Michael Nesmith and Davy Jones as solo artists before they were cast on the show, and later became Colgems). Phillips’ music can be heard in 54 of the 58 Monkees episodes. He’s known for his work on Quincy, M.E., Knight Rider, and many other television shows and films, including two of my favorite Sci-Fi shows from childhood, Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

“Success Story” debuted October 17, 1966 on NBC. Oddly, the writing/directing credits run at the start of the episode instead of the usual spot after the opening theme and they are as follows: Written by Gerald Gardner & Dee Caruso and Bernie Orenstein, Directed by James Frawley.

The Monkees play cards with Mr. Schneider, who gets his first line, paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw: “It’s a shame to waste youth on children.” The plot kicks off with Davy receiving a telegram from his grandfather who’s coming to visit. Davy’s distressed because he’s been lying to him about being rich and successful. Micky selfishly (and amusingly) tells Davy it’s his problem. Davy explains that when his grandfather finds out the truth, he’ll have to leave the band. Meanwhile, the telegram man is trying to shake down Mr. Schneider for $1.80 for the collect telegram.

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Mike suggests they make Davy “look” rich and so begins a series of scenes where the Monkees steal the appropriate costumes and props. Usually they just quick-change into disguises, but in this episode we see how they acquire their costumes. Micky swipes a Rolls Royce by tricking the owner into letting him “exercise” his car. Micky’s character is mechanically inclined, maybe echoing the real-life fact that Micky Dolenz worked as a mechanic for Mercedes Benz in 1964.

Mike appropriates a chef’s costume by getting hired and immediately fired as a chef, complete with a cute look to the camera when he gets away with it. The kitchen is the same set from the later “Monkees à la Carte ” episode. Micky acquires a fake chauffeur’s costume by convincing the telegram man to switch clothes with him, so he can demonstrate how to get the $1.80 from Mr. Schneider.

Peter approaches an ice cream cart. In a very Harpo Marx way, he gets the ice cream seller’s jacket without even speaking. This impresses me, but not as much as the weirdness that follows: The now topless ice cream man is suddenly stampeded with men in suits, demanding ice cream as though his bare chest made everyone hot and hungry. Charlie Callas has funny, exaggerated facial expressions in the scene.

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Davy reviews his “staff” in their new costumes to prep for gramps. He takes to his rich kid roll a little too well, getting annoyed with the other boy’s antics. Davy is seriously hoping he’ll look convincing as a successful star. The storyline relates to the overall theme of the Monkees quest for success, though this time it’s just the appearance of success to keep an older adult from worrying.

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At the airport, pretend chauffeur Micky repeats his nasal doorman voice from “Monkee See, Monkee Die.” Davy picks up his grandfather while Mike and Peter work to make Davy look famous. Mike plays various autograph seekers and Peter takes pictures for the “press.” Cecil Cabot from “Royal Flush” is back and she approaches him for an autograph when she sees all the fuss. Davy thinks she’s Mike in disguise and kids around with her. The fact that Mike is about a foot taller than Cecil Cabot didn’t really clue him in to his mistake.

Mike and Peter play chef and houseboy roles while Grandfather and Davy have dinner at the house. They don’t have money for two fancy meals. Davy has plastic/rubber food, and the film rewinds to emphasize him bouncing it off the table. Davy complains that he’s hungry enough to eat a horse and we’re treated to a flash to future episode “Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth” with the boys pulling a horse through the house. It’s all over when the various victims of the Monkees theft show up wanting their stuff. Grandpa catches on quick, and Davy is busted. To make matters worse, the lights go off because they didn’t pay the electric bill. Grandfather tells Davy to pack for England.

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This is one of the rare times on the series where we see an older adult on the show taking care of the young Monkees or having their best interests at heart. In previous episodes the boys were on their own, facing older adults who wanted to destroy them or at least take advantage of them. This time the grandfather, though we certainly don’t want him to break up the Monkees, has his heart in the right place. There’s some nice acting on the part of Davy Jones and Ben Wright when Davy is sorry for lying and compliant about leaving with him. The music score is noticeably more serious here. Mike isn’t having it though, and tells Grandfather he’s only taking Davy because he misses him and needs him around. Grandpa won’t own up to this. For those of us living far from our parents, I think we’ve all been here. The older generation can’t understand why the younger ones aren’t living the way they want them to live. It doesn’t change when you’re out of your 20s either. The generation gap that’s represented here is something that resonates today.

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Davy walks around with pretty hair and sad eyes as the song “I Want to Be Free” (Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart) plays, and there’s footage of the Monkees playing with the kids that was used in “Monkee Vs. Machine” and other footage “memories” of them hanging out. Emotional scenes are not really what this show does best, but you have to have serious or touching moments sometimes in order for the comedy to have impact. Davy says a sad goodbye to the other Monkees and Peter gives him a parachute just in case Grandfather changes his mind on the way over. Aww…Peter. Peter is the only one Davy hugs. I guess the others are too manly. Looking at this now, it has an especially poignant feeling with David Jones’ sad death in 2012.

The three orphaned Monkees cry comically for a few seconds and then Mike gets it together and tells the other Monkees and the audience they’re going to stop Davy from getting on the plane. Of course they are; they’re off to create havoc!

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Now we get the scenes of airport mayhem, and watching it in this new millennium, it’s hard not to think about how much they’d be suspected of terrorism. On the other hand, I’d be disappointed if they did anything less.

Micky sets up a fake baggage claim for Gramps, and busts out a British twit voice while messing up his suitcase and directing him to the wrong gate. Peter freaks out Grandpa with an Icarus/Daedalus impression, running around with fake wings screaming “don’t fly!” Mike arrives driving an airport golf-cart and pretends to take Grandpa to his flight. He drives around chaotically, terrorizing and nearly running over other travelers. Meanwhile, Davy waits and wonders what’s keeping his grandfather. Really? I think he knows his buddies better than that.

Grandfather Jones is smarter than most of the opponents they’ve tried to fool thus far. Even quicker than Daggart, he has the wit to see through their disguises. Their insane behavior convinces him that Davy has good friends that really care about him, and he lets him stay. In the meantime, he’s picked up the Cecil Cabot character and he’s taking her to England. Well, I guess “fast-mover” is a trait that runs in the Jones family!

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In the tag sequence, the Monkees sit at the same park from “Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers” and “The Spy Who Came in from the Cool.” Micky realizes they could have tried actually playing music to impress Davy’s grandfather. This launches a romp for “Sweet Young Thing” (Michael Nesmith, Gerry Goffin and Carole King) where some senior citizens dance and frolic with the Monkees. Toward the end there’s a weird bit where the seniors chase them around with cards in their hands, maybe BINGO cards. Mixed in are shots of the Monkees playing instruments with close-ups of Mike looking slightly sweaty and very attractive.

The episode ran short again and they fill time with another interview segment. This one appropriately features Davy talking about going home to visit his family. It’s a cute story about his father thinking his hair is too long and making him get his haircut twice before letting him into the house. Davy says he bought a house to give his father in Davy’s own name so that can’t happen again.

Speaking of long hair, in the documentary We Love the Monkees (2012) Micky notes that the television network at the time must have been nervous about putting The Monkees on TV because “the only time you saw long-haired kids on television, they were being arrested.” Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, some men and boys had long hair and no one thought twice about it. It’s hard to imagine long hair being associated with a criminal element. But, in the episodes I’ve written about so far the Monkees have done a few insane things that could’ve gotten them arrested. Just for fun, here’s the rap sheet:

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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: “Royal Flush”

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

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

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

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After the opening theme, we see the first shots of the Monkees beach house, accompanied by the Harpsichord version of The Monkees’ theme, composed by Stu Phillips. Inside the house, we see the famous Monkees décor. Micky helps Davy track down Bettina from an article in the newspaper. Mike talks about their lack of jobs and money, setting up a central show premise. The Monkees go into the first-ever fantasy sketch on the show, as they plot to break into the hotel where Bettina is staying as though it were a military invasion. They’re all in army fatigues and Micky’s got his British military voice on as he leads them through the plan.

The Monkees arrive at the Rich, Swank Hotel in individually styled gray suits, which we see quite often in other first-season episodes. These scenes are the best part of the episode, with the Monkees doing what they do best: using their wits to con their way into or out of trouble. They convince the maid to leave so that they can freely spy on Otto and Sigmund, whose dastardly plans they get on tape. Then, Micky impersonates a throne salesman and calls Otto and Sigmund to the room. Micky dazzles them with his spiel and appeals to Otto’s vanity while Peter and Mike ably assist.

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Davy meanwhile sneaks off to warn Bettina that Otto wants to get rid of her before she officially becomes queen that night at midnight, so he can take her crown. It takes a while to convince her because Davy sucks at operating tape recorders. Once Davy finally gets Bettina to believe him, they all sneak out of the hotel together.

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Next we get The Monkees first romp, this time to “This Just Doesn’t Seem to Be My Day” (Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart). There are some pretty funny moments with Micky evading Sigmund while Bettina and Davy frolic on the beach. At one point, Micky jumps into Sigmund’s arms, mimicking Bettina’s romantic leap at Davy. Peter digs a hole, and as he goes along progressively sillier signs warn: “Danger Hole Started,” “Watch Out Half Hole,” and culminating with “Caution Whole Hole.” Sigmund, of course, falls into it.

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Outside the Monkees house, we see the “Keep Off the Grass” sign for the first time. Sigmund is lurking on their lawn and he exchanges Get Smart-style passwords with a Don Adams sound-alike over the phone, played by James Frawley. Finally getting Otto on the phone, Sigmund updates him on Bettina’s whereabouts. Inside, Micky rigs a safe on a rope to trap Otto. When Otto and Sigmund enter the house, his trap isn’t ready yet and therefore fails. Bettina tells Otto she’s onto him and informs him that she’s sent a letter to the embassy, to be opened if she doesn’t arrive at her own birthday reception. Otto takes Bettina away, leaving Sigmund with the Monkees to make sure she behaves. Later, the Monkees try to get away from Sigmund, who jumps up and blocks the way. Catch Micky’s look to the camera to tell us, “He’s fast!” The safe finally falls, and the Monkees split.

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

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In the tag sequence, The Monkees go back to the hotel room and run into the maid again, who now owns the hotel. There’s an interview sequence tacked on because the show is one minute short. Ten or so of these interview segments were featured on the show. In the interview, Peter mentions that Davy’s too short to do a fencing scene. This begins the running gag about Davy’s height.

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

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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.