Like countless other teenagers, I fell head over heels in love with a wacky group of guys known as the Monkees. Unlike many of those teens, however, it didn’t occur in the 1960s. Instead, I stumbled upon the show when reruns began airing for the series’ 35th anniversary. Even though the stars and bandmates — Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Mike Nesmith — were no longer part of the “young generation” they sang about in the opening credits by the time I found them, they were still able to make my heart soar with every episode. The lighthearted hi-jinx mixed with their chart-topping tunes still never fail to put a smile on my face!
The show was inspired by the Beatles and their first film, A Hard Days Night, but it quickly honed its own style for success. Even if you claim to be the world’s biggest Monkees fan, chances are you don’t know all of the facts about the show that we were able to dig up from DVD commentaries and Micky’s memoir ($14.95, Amazon). Go ahead and put on one of their old records (or a playlist of your favorite hits) and take a look below to learn some amazing behind-the-scenes stories from The Monkees!
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The show's pilot set a record.
Unfortunately, that record was for the lowest-rated pilot at the time. Of course, that didn't stop the mop tops from making their way onto TV screens. A re-edited version of the pilot eventually won test audiences over.
One notable change to the original pilot was the inclusion of Davy and Mike's audition footage at the end of the episode. Davy was asked questions about his height ("I'm 5'3" in boots.") and Mike made an impression with his iconic green wool hat, laundry bag in tow, and a story about the time he turned over a general's airplane while he was in the Air Force.
Micky wore mismatched shoes to his audition.
Although not included in any episodes like Mike and Davy's auditions, you can find unearthed videos of Peter and Micky's auditions as well with a simple Google search. Micky's was particularly charming as he dodged questions about his former child star days on the TV show Circus Boy and admitted to being so nervous that he put on two different types of shoes.
As for Peter, he joked around about his long hair and how he drove an old car across the country to get to California.
Mike and Davy share a birthday.
Both Monkees were born on December 30, but Mike was born three years before in 1942 while Davy (the youngest member of the band) was born in 1945.
They were encouraged to improvise on set.
Before they even got their first script for the series, the boys were enlisted in a six-week improv training camp by their frequent director, James Frawley.
Those lessons came in handy when they often goofed around while the cameras were rolling and their jokes made it on air.
The show borrowed set pieces and props from comedy legends.
The Screen Gems studios where the show was filmed was previously home to none other than the Three Stooges.
Sets and props from the comedy trio's short films were used, including footie pajamas with a bunny on them that Curly wore before they were handed down to Peter.
Only one Monkee played on their first album.
As a band, the Monkees were constantly defending themselves against criticism claiming they didn't play their own instruments on their hit songs. They were just as unhappy about the situation, but struggled to get any creative control until their third album, Headquarters.
Before that, Peter was on hand to play guitar for the song "Papa Gene's Blues" for their first album. The song was written and produced by Mike, who insisted on Peter being on the record.
Liberace made an uncredited cameo.
The show had several familiar guest stars — including Rose Marie, Monte Landis, and Ruth Buzzi — but Liberace's appearance in season two went unlisted. That said, his brief scene in "Art for Monkees' Sake" is still plenty memorable: Mike entered a room at a museum where it seemed like Liberace was setting up to play piano. Instead, it quickly turned into a joke on performance art as the musician smashed his piano with a golden hammer.
If you look close as Mike in the background while that's happening, you'll notice he was actually bending over laughing at the ridiculous display.
The show got in trouble for using "foul language."
In the season one episode, "The Devil and Peter Tork," Peter inadvertently sells his soul to the devil (known as "Mr. Zero") in exchange for the ability to play the harp.
It was almost banned from airing because television censors took issue with the word "hell." The show poked fun at this in a scene where all four of the Monkees discuss how scary the idea of hell is — with the word bleeped out and ending with Micky quipping, "You what's even more scary? You can't say 'hell' on television."
Peter and Micky directed an episode each.
Peter was first to direct with the episode "The Monkees Mind Their Manor" in season two. He reverted to his birth name for the credits, listing himself as Peter H. Thorkelson.
For Micky, he directed what would ultimately become the last episode of the series, "Mijacogeo" (also known as "The Frodis Caper"). The episode title is a mixture of his family's names: Micky, Janelle (his mom), Coco (his sister), and George (his dad).
They got rid of the laugh track in season 2.
It was at the band's insistence that the show ditched the cheesy, canned laughter that was found on pretty much every comedy show at the time. It has only been in recent years that massively popular sitcoms like The Office and Modern Family have followed their lead.
The show won two Emmys.
It's easy to not take the series too seriously when you find yourself watching reruns of all the madcap episodes. However, those silly plots helped the show to earn a couple statues for Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy at the 1967 Emmy Awards.
Micky and Mike both go by their middle names.
And they share the same middle name: Michael.
Micky was born George Michael Dolenz and Mike was born Robert Michael Nesmith. They both decided to go for less formal nicknames while on the show.
They hung out in a "big black box" on set.
As rambunctious young men, the Monkees had a bad habit of wandering off set and being difficult to find when they were needed for scenes. The studio's solution? Repurpose an old meat locker that the band would be sequestered to when they weren't filming.
The box included a lighting system with a color assigned to each member which lit up when they were called to set. They later referenced this in their cult classic film, Head.
The band wanted a season three.
As a TV show, The Monkees lasted two seasons for a total of 58 episodes. Before production shut down in 1968, the show had begun recycling old scripts they had previously discarded. The band was understandably frustrated by that and wanted to switch gears to an hour-long variety show for the third season. The network disagreed, however, and the band refused to return for the same sitcom set-up.
They did eventually produce a variety special, though, with 33 1/3 Revolutions per Monkee in 1969. As you can see from the photo above, the special was on the odder side of things, but also included legendary guest stars like Fats Domino and Little Richard.