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.

 

Advertisements

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.