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.” Actually, Mike makes a terrific looking 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.” And yet…

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 skeleton’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 à 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.

 

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Monkees Vs. Macheen: “Monkees in the Ring”

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“’Round and ’Round We Go!”

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“Monkees in the Ring” was directed by James Frawley and written by Gerald Gardner and Dee Caruso. This is a combination of director/writers that frequently worked on these Monkees episodes, yet somehow this episode for me, doesn’t feel like a Monkees episode. This could be because the story is very similar to a 1965 episode of The Smothers Brothers, also written by Dee Caruso (and Richard Newton and Aaron Spelling.)

Round I

Peter and Davy are walking along the street when Peter accidentally bumps into a really large man. Big guy wants to start a fight with Peter so Davy jumps in and defends him. I love Davy’s nerve, I really do. The man takes a swing, and Davy taps him on the chin and he goes down. There’s an older man watching this entire thing, which is clearly a set up. They’re looking for a patsy. The older guy, Mr. Sholto, tells Davy he’s going to make him a featherweight champion after seeing what he did. I note that Davy’s British accent is especially strong in this scene.

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The Monkees are at home, and they try to talk Davy out of going to see Mr. Sholto. Davy points out they need the money and he has fought before. In actuality, David Jones did do some boxing. He boxed at a place called Newmarket, the same place where he trained to be a jockey. Micky pops in as an old man and tries to “guilt” Davy into giving up this idea. What’s funnier than Micky’s little sketch is Mike’s over the top laugh at him and the look Peter gives Mike. You can’t script something like that. Almost makes this episode worth the trouble.

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At Mr. Sholto’s office, Sholto and his stooge Vernon discuss the plan to build Davy up by having other boxers take a dive, and then make a killing when Davy loses to the champion. Davy arrives at the office with Micky, Peter and Mike. Sholto wants Vernon to get rid of the other three Monkees, but Davy firmly states he won’t stay without them. This is one thing that makes me feel this isn’t a very Monkees episode: It’s all about Davy. Davy is the main character and the other three act as his backup band or Greek chorus. “Royal Flush” and the pilot were a bit like this too. Not that I expect every episode to be structured the same. That would be boring.

Sholto, who’s name they keep mispronouncing as Shakespeare character “Shylock,” decides it’s time to see what Davy can do in the gym. Vernon says “right boss” and his gesture/voice telegraphs that they’re up to something. Continuing the precedent started with “Royal Flush” with a smart bad guy and a dumb bad guy, Vernon is obviously the “dumb one.”

The Monkees, Sholto, and Vernon go to the gym. The boxers currently working out there all laugh at them. Is it the hair? Or is it that they don’t look like boxers? Davy is in his boxing shorts and gloves and he tests his skills on a light bag, which he sends flying. The other Monkees look surprised; they didn’t know he had such talent. Next, Sholto brings over “The Smasher” and he asks Davy to punch him with his left. Smasher falls right over. Micky decides it must be easy so he takes a few cracks at Smasher. He can only injure himself on The Smasher’s solid jaw and stomach.

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Back in Sholto’s office, the con-game on Davy continues. Sholto bargains with The Monkees that if Davy doesn’t win his first three fights by knock-out, they can have him back. Sholto and Vernon give Davy a boxing robe, christening him “Dynamite Davy Jones.” Sholto taps Davy on the jaw in an “atta boy” way, and Davy falls to the sound of shattering glass.

Round II

At home, the other three continue to worry about Davy and, though it’s unsaid, the future of the band, I presume. Peter plays a classical piece on the banjo in the background while Mike and Davy do my favorite bit of dialogue:

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At the gym Sholto and Vernon prep Davy for his new grueling training schedule. The training becomes a romp to “Laugh” (Hank Medress, Phil Margo, Mitchell Margo and Jay Siegal). This isn’t much of a romp. Furthering my above argument, Davy is the only Monkee in the sequence. The best bits are him jumping rope with two cute girls holding either end, and Davy boxing and losing to his own shadow. On the other hand, Davy was actually a very athletic guy; this was a good part for him. Part of the romp shows Davy knocking down fighter after fighter in one punch.

Sholto holds a press conference in his office because Davy is set to fight “The Champ.” Davy annoys the other Monkees by working the press, making jokes and saying he had to fight his way out of “the slums.” Mike picks up the ringing phone: it’s The Smasher complaining he got paid less than other fighters to take a dive while fighting Davy. Now Mike knows what’s up. He grabs Davy right there in the office and tries to tell him, but Davy stays in his over-confident groove. Vernon approaches and Davy says he doesn’t believe Mike. He punches Vernon, who pretends to fall. Mike gives several helpless, flustered looks to the camera. 

Round III

Now it’s The Monkees turn to set up a counter-scheme. Mike and Micky are at the gym in Sweatshop shirts. They try to get into the practice ring and there’s a very long sequence of them getting comically tangled up in the ropes. The Champ watches them dubiously. Mike and Micky pretend to be from the boxing commission and they proceed to warn The Champ that Davy is too tough to fight. The Champ’s dialogue all rhymes and this character is loosely based on Muhammad Ali, who also liked to rhyme.

Peter arrives in bandages, posing as a previous, badly beaten opponent of Davy’s. While he talks to Peter, somehow the tricky Monkees bandage The Champ’s hands. He’s smarter than most and figures out that these are Davy’s musician friends, here to talk him out of fighting Davy. The Champ loses his temper and says he’ll slaughter Davy. Quoting Ali he shouts, “I am the greatest!” and chases them off.

the-champ

Round IV

Vernon has overheard the whole thing, and he and Sholto must step up their game. Sholto tells Vernon to keep Davy’s friends out of the way until after the fight, and to give Davy a sleeping pill before the fight. Davy holds court with the press backstage before the boxing match, and says something that sounds like the lyrics at the beginning of the song “No Time,” “Hober reeber sabasoben Hobaseeba snick Seeberraber hobosoben.” Sholto tries to force Davy to drink water that’s been laced with a sleeping pill. The Champ comes over to wish Davy luck and he drinks the water instead.

Vernon arrives at The Monkees’ pad to hold the other three at gunpoint until the fight is over. At the fight, the announcer introduces Davy and the now sleepy Champ. The Monkees and Vernon watch this on the TV and irritate Vernon, requesting he make adjustments to the reception, since they’re in handcuffs. Micky remarks he wishes The Champ would go to the corner of Crescent Heights and Sunset, hoping no doubt he’d get caught in the Sunset Strip riots mentioned in “Find The Monkees.” Mike starts to mess with Vernon and asks if he was ever a prize fighter. Micky follows Mike’s lead and they suggest Vernon is out of shape now. Vernon challenges Mike to a fight and Mike quickly agrees but says Micky has to be his “second” and Peter’s the referee. All of this means slow-witted Vernon has to remove their handcuffs.

Round V

At the actual fight, Sholto is excited because they’ve reached the fourth round he thinks the pill should be wearing off by now. So far, The Champ has been too sleepy to fight and keeps grabbing Davy and the referee to stay upright. The ring, by the way, was also used in the boxing scene of The Monkees film, Head. Also appearing in Head was boxing champion Sonny Liston, who Muhammad Ali (then known as Cassius Clay ) defeated in 1964.

The Monkees meanwhile prepare Vernon for their “fight.” Peter does a Hollywood tough-guy accent. They get Vernon in “his corner,” which ends up being in the closet where they can trap him and help Davy. A little social commentary [A little more than social commentary, it’s almost like they’re making fun of their own television show – Editor]:

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Now that the champ is wide awake, Davy’s strategy is ducking punches and telling him, “don’t do that.” A romp to “I’ll Be Back Upon My Feet” (Sandy Linzer/Denny Randel ) launches. Vernon arrives somehow, but it makes no sense that he got there before The Monkees, who left their pad first. While he had to struggle to get out of the closet, right? Vernon chases The Monkees into the ring. Mike and Micky run around the ring while Peter rings the bell. Mike keeps Sholto busy while Micky does the same with Vernon. Davy keeps sitting on Mike’s lap, while Micky and Vernon sit on each other. The announcer narrates all these goofy happenings. Peter announces that the winner is The Monkees.

The cops arrest Sholto and Vernon for fixing fights. Sholto says The Monkees are “ruining the fighting game,” and Vernon repeats it back as “fighting the ruining game.” That actually makes sense in a way. Mike and Micky try to make Davy feel better about the fixed fights. They tell him he’s gentle, kind, sincere, a great friend and musician, and a great man. They don’t mention he has a tendency to fall for this kind of stuff, like he did in “Too Many Girls.” Peter announces “The National Anthem,” and Davy knocks himself out as he salutes.

And that’s that. I had a few complaints obviously, but the episode has some funny, spontaneous-feeling moments. When it’s a James Frawley-directed episode, I can usually count on having a few laughs even if I don’t love the premise. Mike’s the only other Monkee who got much to do in the episode. As usual, Mike is the voice of reason trying to talk his friend out of a bad idea. There must be something special about Davy that makes outside characters always want to take him away from the group.

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Look-Out-For

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: “Young Doctors In Love”, 1982

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“A romance at this point would be ludicrous and counterproductive to our studies.”

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“Young Doctors In Love”, 1982 (Dabney Coleman), ABC Motion Pictures

Young Doctor Simon August (Michael McKean), defeated and sullen, shuffles down an alleyway hanging his head in shame because he can’t operate on the woman he loves (the result of a childhood birthday party at which he failed to successfully open a piñata). At this moment, the end credits start to roll. He admonishes whomever is running the credits to stop. The movie’s not finished yet, you see. We still have to get to the final act!

“Young Doctors In Love” was Garry Marshall’s first feature film as director.  The remarkable cast is a hodge-podge of reliable talents like Dabney Coleman (hilarious as the aggravated Chief Resident Dr. Prang) and Patrick Macnee surrounded by a host of up-and-coming actors (most of whom were on Marshall’s television payroll at the time).  Coleman is supervising 20 new interns, among them Sean Young, Rick Overton, Ted McGinley (the famous series-killer) and Taylor Negron.  Each of the characters have their own subplot, so the movie plays like a soap opera, or a spoof of such.

Young is suffering from an unusual debilitating illness that has her passing out every few minutes.  McKean suffers from childhood phobias.  Negron works several jobs at once to pay for his education, and has to resort to selling drugs to keep financially afloat.  Coleman, in the midst of a vicious divorce, loses all his money and his stocks while floating the idea of murdering his accountant.  In the middle of all of this, a mob boss suffers what appears to be a stroke, and his son, played by the incredible Hector Elizondo, must dress as a woman to visit him in the hospital, while a hit-man (Michael Richards) tries to kill him, and another young doctor falls in love with him.

McKean and Young make for an attractive couple, even when their story is so deliberately rigged to telegraph all the tragedy associated with hospital-oriented soap operas of the time.  If anything, Marshall and his writers (Michael Elias and Rich Eustis) are calling attention to the narrative pitfalls of daily television production, a format with which Marshall is most vociferously acquainted.

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Assembled cast and Garry (wearing a Phillies jacket!).

Early comparisons to “Airplane!” when the movie was released, are inaccurate.  This is not a literal and visual parody of soap operas, but more an intellectualized conceit of the writing conventions of that sub-genre.  While Marshall retains the goofiness of his situation comedy splendor (as evidenced by much of the cast), he recognizes the failings of the American soap opera.  In one particularly telling scene, Pamela Reed, lets her hair down and puts makeup on her face so that she resembles the nurses from General Hospital, and suddenly she has the attention of Taylor Negron.

After years of watching Laverne & Shirley, I was surprised to see Michael McKean without the Leonard Kosnowski demeanor.  I never realized he was a serious actor and comedian (whom would later appear in, and co-write “This Is Spinal Tap” for Rob Reiner).  I took him for granted as Lenny.  There are so many unusual cameo appearances in the movie (like “Spinal Tap”), as if Marshall grabbed every day-player and under-five he could find in Los Angeles, at the time.  Among the cameos, we have Hamilton Camp, George Furth, Ed Begley Jr., and Demi Moore (a dark-haired beauty McKean confuses with Young late in the movie) in addition to appearances by established soap opera stars of the time.

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Garry Marshall passed away last night at the age of 81.  He has a brief cameo at the beginning of this movie.  There is a collection of marijuana plants with a sign posted, reading: “For glaucoma patients only.”  Garry looks at the weed, clips some for himself, and walks away, no harm and no foul.  In addition to writing for The Dick Van Dyke Show and developing The Odd Couple for television, Marshall created Happy Days and Mork & Mindy.  He was, perhaps, the most influential figure in contemporary television comedy, and he will be missed.

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: “Son Of A Gypsy”

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“Everybody Wants to be in Showbiz!”

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“Son of a Gypsy” was written by the team of Gerald Gardner & Dee Caruso and Treva Silverman. I really do enjoy the ones that Silverman wrote. The story is about a gig gone wrong, but it is also a wildly improbable, high adventure territory as their opponents in this episode are a group of larger than life gypsies who really like to murder and steal. The story isn’t about any of the Monkees in particular and they work together in funny and entertaining ways to get out of trouble. “Son of a Gypsy” was directed by James Frawley and aired the day after Christmas, December 26, 1966. Weird huh? I guess back then TV didn’t go into reruns on the holidays.

To start, the Monkees are waiting in the hallway where they’ve just auditioned to play a party. Their competition is a gypsy music band: a mother and her four sons. Both groups fervently hope to get the job, but Madame Rantha comes out and announces The Monkees have it. The gypsies are furious, but not just about the loss of the gig. Maria and her sons were hoping to get the job so they could steal the Maltese Vulture, which is the episode’s MacGuffin and a clever homage to the 1941 film, The Maltese Falcon. I remember taking film studies class in college and watching this Humphrey Bogart film. This is when I learned what a MacGuffin was – a plot device that the characters pursue that’s not important to the overall story.

Maria and Co. have invited the Monkees out to their camp to show them there are “no hard feelings” for the Monkees taking their would-be gig. Against their better judgment (except Peter), the Monkees accept their offer. Maria welcomes the Monkees and gives them gypsy clothes and boar’s tooth necklaces for “luck.” She has each son take a Monkee separately on a tour of the camp, so it’s a nice parallel that there are four sons and four Monkees. I wanted to mention the son’s names: Marco, Rocco, Zeppo, and Kiko. Zeppo was the name of a member of the comedy act The Marx Brothers and the other three names certainly sound like they could be Marx Brother’s names; that’s a nice homage.

Rocco, played by Vic Tayback who was also in “Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers” and “Art, For Monkees Sake” takes Micky to read his tea leaves. Micky, maybe learning from the plot of “Too Many Girls,” says he doesn’t believe in it. Rocco tells Micky his leaves say he is soon to be unconscious and Micky passes out from the drugged tea. Like I said about “Too Many Girls”, it’s easy to predict the future, if you create it. Marco, played by Vincent Beck, who played very similar characters in “Royal Flush,” and “The Card Carrying Red Shoes,” is paired with Davy. He terrifies Davy with a knife-throwing bit. Peter gets tied up by Kiko and a female who dance around him and wrap him up with scarves. Meanwhile, Zeppo wants to use Phrenology to read the bumps on Mike’s head. No bumps on his head? No problem! Zeppo hits him with a mallet and he collapses. It’s so polite the way Mike apologizes for not having bumps.  

The Monkees are now Maria’s prisoners, and she wants them to steal the Maltese Vulture for her. Micky insists they are not thieves. Maria is actually pretty scary. She threatens to let her sons, especially the very keen Marco, torture the Monkees. Watching this as a five-year-old kid, I believed she would kill the Monkees. To emphasize this point, the camera keeps showing a hot poker on the fire. The Monkees go into a fantasy about being tortured which involves stretching Davy on the rack. It leads to a great site gag and a spin on their favorite “I am standing up” joke about the diminutive Davy.

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Marco gets out the poker to use on them until Mike, giving a deep, faux-macho line-reading, agrees to steal the vulture. He asks the others how his performance was, and they say he was good. Sort of breaking the fourth wall, but not necessarily; it could work in character. The gypsies joyfully leap up and embrace and untie the Monkees; Maria kissing Davy’s face. Hilariously, Vic Tayback picks up and carries Micky. The only one not happy is Marco, who’s bummed he won’t be torturing anyone with a hot poker [Somewhat disturbing – Editor].

Maria shows them the map of the location of the Maltese Vulture in the house where they’ll be playing the party. Maria inquires about how they will steal the Maltese Vulture. As they do in “Monkees a La Carte,” the Monkees start drawing all over her map, each with their own “plan.”

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See, because Charlton Heston played Michelangelo in the 1965 film, The Agony and the Ecstasy. That joke sounds funny, even when I didn’t know that. Maria tells them she’ll be keeping Peter as a hostage and they’ll take Marco, dressed in one of their matching blue Monkees shirts, to help with the robbery. Seems like a fair trade.

The Monkees play “Let’s Dance On” (Boyce/Hart) at the party while daffy Madame Rantha scurries happily around her guests. Marco goes off to check on the guards outside the room where the Vulture is kept, so the Monkees take the chance to find some help. They try Madame Rantha, but she’s clueless. Micky goes out into the crowd and tries to enlist the help of a party guest, played by episode director James Frawley. Frawley’s slightly confused facial expressions are terrific as he listens to Micky. He almost looks like he understands, until he suddenly starts speaking Yugoslavian (or faux Yugoslavian, I’m not sure.) Similar to “Monkee See, Monkee Die,” Micky has once again tried to get aid from someone who doesn’t speak English.

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By the way, I notice Micky drinking the champagne. There’s always some vague notion about the ages of The Monkees. The actors were old enough to drink (except Davy) but in “The Monkees Watch Their Feet” for instance, the writers refer to The Monkees as teenagers.

Mike and Davy meanwhile, have gone the absurdist route. They decide to throw a message in a bottle out the window. An unseen hand gives them back two cents deposit. Thank you, Thing.

Marco marks (pun!) the two guards stationed outside the room with the Vulture. This sets off the funniest sequence in this episode: The bits where they try to steal the Vulture. While Marco stays on stage to “play,” The Monkees sneak off into the hallway and peek around the corner.

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Davy will break into the safe, if Mike and Micky distract the guards. First, Micky pretends to rob Mike. Mike plays scared in the flattest delivery possible: “Help, help. Robbery. Who is this masked man, anyway? Help, help gun. Oh, terror, terror burglar. Burglar, help. Help, help. Wallet, mine, His now.” The guards? Unimpressed. On attempt two, the boys execute an obviously fake fight with boxing gloves. Last, they light matches and shout, “Fire! Fire!” and then drop them on the ground. THAT gets the guards to move, pointing out the hallway trashcan that says “Keep Our City Clean.” The Guard asks, “Can’t you guys read?” Micky explains, “Uh, no. We’re musicians.” With that, Davy has managed to sneak into the room.

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Davy has a big black bag from somewhere. The score accompanying Davy’s actions is this cool, James Bond style riff. I love the incidental music in this entire episode, this and the Romani-style strings used for the scene’s at Maria’s camp. The music is credited to Stu Phillips.

Back to Davy, who goes to the picture where the safe is and under it is…a painting of a safe. With this, and all the other surreal gags from this segment, Davy breaks the fourth wall and looks at us in disbelief. When he gets to the real safe, he pulls an impossible assortment of items out of his bag: bolt cutters, a sledge hammer, a live rabbit, and the little dynamite plunger. He blows up the wrong thing in the room, just like “Monkees a la Carte.” It’s less funny when they just repeat the gag, as opposed to the cool variation in the earlier scene. The explosion draws the attention of the guard, who only takes a cursory look and says it’s okay. Davy gets a stethoscope to listen to the safe and  hears “Last Train to Clarksville,” then puts on a pair of gloves and finds he has another set of hands!

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He doesn’t get too far before Madame Rantha comes in to show her friend the Vulture. Micky and Mike follow behind them. Micky uses that sputtering voice from  “One Man Shy” and tries to create a distraction. More importantly, what is Mike doing to the women? He’s behind them, touching and sniffing both Rantha and her friend’s hair while they ignore him completely. Micky’s acting is so entertaining; I missed this weird Mike business in past viewings.

Micky tells Rantha she can see a flaw in the Vulture if she holds it up to “the midnight.” Midnight brings panic as that’s when Peter will be killed, so Davy steps out, grabs the Vulture and tosses it down to Maria. The gang all have their knives on Peter, so he looks up and says “thank you” when he catches it. His relieved expression and tone of voice are priceless. Madame Rantha thinks they’re the thieves of course, so she has Peter brought in and arrested. The gypsies and The Monkees are now all in the ballroom. Maria says, you can tell Peter’s a thief, it’s written all over him.

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Madame is grateful to Maria and asks what she can do in return? Maria wants the Vulture, so she grabs it and runs. This leads to a romp set to “I’m a Believer” (Neil Diamond). Monkees and gypsies run around, fight and play football. It’s a lot like the “Dance, Monkees Dance” romp with The Smoothies. The gypsies stand in line while the Monkees launch various attacks, and the guards and party guests do nothing. The gypsies pick-pocket the guests. The guards finally pull guns on the gypsies.

The Monkees performance footage edited into this romp is the “Too Many Girls” footage of the same song, with the four of them in the ivory Monkees shirts. That makes a trio of colors for Monkees shirts in “Son of a Gypsy”; red at the beginning, blue at the party, and ivory here. Also, I really dig “I’m a Believer,” but after hearing it for four episodes in a row, I’m glad to be done with it for the next one coming up. (The producers never envisioned some nut obsessively writing about these shows and watching them over and over fifty years later, I’m sure.)

Maria and sons have decided that showbiz is easier than thievery and will go the route of Bessy and her boys from “Monkees in a Ghost Town.” Maria: “Yes, you boys have showed us that my boys can make a faster dollar in show business.” Marco adds, “And with as little talent, too.” I don’t know why they’re allowed to just leave, but when they do, they’ve taken Mike’s watch, Micky’s wallet and Peter. Peter is just a more sweet-natured version of Marco, does she really need two of those?

A note about the ballroom where this party takes place, this was an often used set on The Monkees. The same space was used in: “Royal Flush” as The Ritz Swank Hotel ballroom, “Monkee See, Monkee Die” as the parlor, the discotheque in “The Spy Who Came In From The Cool,” Pop’s restaurant in “Monkees a la Carte,” Renaldo’s Dance Au Go-Go school in “Dance, Monkee, Dance”, a banquet hall in “The Case Of The Missing Monkee”, a bandstand in Dr. Mendoza’s castle for “I Was A Teenage Monster,” the throne room in “The Prince And The Paupers”, a TV show set in “Captain Crocodile,” the banquet room for “Monkees A La Mode,” a hotel suite in “Everywhere A Sheik Sheik,” an art museum in “Art For Monkee’s Sake,” a gambling casino in “The Monkees On The Wheel,” a department store in “The Monkees Christmas Show,” the setting for The Secretary’s narration in “The Monkees Watch Their Feet,” a nightclub in “The Monkees Paw,” and “The Monkees Blow Their Minds,” and the stage in the KXIW-TV studio for a Rock-a-thon Contest in “Some Like It Lukewarm.” Shout out to The Monkees Film and TV Vault for help with that list.

And a note about the gypsies: I’m well aware that The Monkees writers frequently dealt in cultural stereotypes. Romani (or Gypsy) people were characterized in fiction as associated with occult powers, such as fortune telling, and thievery and cunning as well as having passionate temperaments. Obviously not realistic depictions of Romani people. However, The Monkees were satirizing old movies and TV shows, not real people. Throughout the series, cultural stereotypes are used in “Monkees Chow Mein,” “It’s a Nice Place to Visit,” “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik” and others. If these were being written today, my guess is that it would be done with more awareness and sensitivity [If written today, these examples would only be used to ridicule the culturally “insensitive” – Editor]. Even if they still chose to use the broadest characterizations, there would be a knowing, meta-nod to it, I imagine. However, all comedy somewhere is offending someone. If comedy isn’t risking offense, it’s probably not very funny. “Cultural Appropriation” wasn’t something on people’s minds at the time.

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Look-Out-For

And finally, I guess everyone is really loving the new Monkees album as much as I am? I really like the title track and “Me and Magdalena.” Who would have thought 50 years later we’d be enjoying such a cool new album?

Dedicated to the memory of Muhammad Ali (1942-2016)

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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.

NEW PODCAST: “Save The Texas Prairie Chicken”

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This is BlissVille, Misadventures In BlissVille, an American variety podcast presentation that premiered December 5th of the year 2014 featuring host David Lawler and guests including Colin Hall, Bronwyn Knox, Andrew La Ganke, Nicole Phelps, Sarah La Puerta, Alex Saltz, Mark Jeacoma, and Denny Spangler, who is with us tonight to discuss all-things-Monkees.  I’ve got two Michiganders on one podcast, Denny and my wife, Bronwyn.  Basically it’s a shameless plug for Bronwyn’s new series, “Monkees vs. Macheen”, exclusively on BlissVille, which, I think basically means I’m the Raybert to her Nesmith.

So the Sixties were hip, dig?  Lots-a crazy cats, dig?  Crazy drugs – MDMA, which was a purer form of Ecstasy, if I’m not mistaken.  You could take pills.  You could buy pills at the drug store without having to show your I.D.  I wasn’t there, but that’s what I’m told.

I wonder if we can talk about Michael Nesmith without getting sued?  He seems to keep a close eye on YouTube.  “Elephant Parts” is an extremely difficult show to find.  It is available in a very limited run on DVD, the price is high so I’m guessing another run will not be in the offing, perhaps Blu-Ray if the 50th anniversary Monkees box set sells, but when you try to look at clips from “Elephant Parts”, you’ll get a nasty notice saying, “This video was removed at the request of Michael Nesmith”.  He has a net worth of $50 million, but whatever!

In the years before Cable Television, higher ratings and viewership were easier to assess.  There were only three networks, and some haphazard attempts to create fourth networks, such as Dumont, but it was mainly CBS and NBC, later ABC; the running average of viewership hovered between 55 and 60 million viewers, divided between the three television networks in the mid-to-late sixties, the time when The Monkees was broadcast, and I believe The Monkees was broadcast in a very easy time slot for their viewers, which was mainly kids and young adults.  The show aired on Monday nights as 7:30PM, and handily won it’s time slot every week, running against a western called The Iron Horse and Gilligan’s Island.

Written by: David Lawler with Bronwyn Knox and Denny Spangler
Audio Clips: “Save The Texas Prairie Chicken” uploaded to YouTube by classical56, “Save The Texas Prairie Chicken (Outtakes) from the episode, “Monkees on the Wheel”, “(Theme From) The Monkees” (Tommy Boyce, Bobby Hart), “Don’t Call On Me” (Michael Nesmith, John London), “Randy Scouse Git” (Micky Dolenz), Excerpt from “The Monkees Watch Their Feet”, Excerpt from “Fairy Tale”, “My Heart Will Go On” (James Horner, Will Jennings), “For Pete’s Sake” (Peter Tork, Joey Richards).