He was very poor and had to make his own toys… and at night he cried himself to sleep. Now, everything’s different, and here in his own words, are the intimate secrets behind this fab star’s success.
As Told To Tiger Beat
I just turned 21 on December 30. We just completed finishing the 25th Monkee show. I can’t keep up with all the letters you’ve been writing… it’s been quite a journey from my childhood days in Manchester, England.
My family was poor. It didn’t bother me, though, because everyone for miles around us was poor, too. We had a small house with nice furniture, but we never had any money in the bank.
My favorite game as a child was playing doctor. I would examine the patients and always diagnose that they had some terrible plague. Then, of course, I would operate and save their lives. I also played soccer and cricket a lot.
I didn’t have many toys because most of the money my father made went for the essential things we lived on. So, I made most of my own toys. I did a lot of wood carving. I made a train, a pair of stilts, a bow and arrow (which was my favorite) and an Indian tomahawk. I also would pretend I was a Knight (as in “in shining armor,” only I had no armor) and ran about dueling with all my friends.
One of my early recollections is of going to church, which my family always did. I hated it, because I had to sit still and I’m definitely not one who sits still! I wanted to join the church choir very much, but every time I would sing, everyone would tell me I had a terrible voice, so I never got in. Fancy that!
Rejected for church choir
To make up for being “rejected” for the church choir, I would sing in hospitals. I would ring up and say, “I’m gonna come sing for your patients.” And they would say, “Groovy.” I would go down and sing rock and roll songs to the sick people! My favorite singers then, believe it or not, were Linda Scott and Bobby Vee! I dreamed of someday getting to meet them.
At school I played on all the football teams when I was 13. There were three separate teams, one for 13-year-olds, one for 14-year-olds and one for 15-year-olds. I played on all three. There had always been music in my family. My mother was a pianist, my sisters sang and I just fell into amateur dramatics naturally.
I would perform in the school plays, but I’d seldom get leading roles because I was too small. I did get one major part that I loved doing—I played Tom Sawyer. I had to learn 1000 pages of dialogue, but I learn things very easily when I have to. Things that aren’t forced on me take a lot longer. If someone said to me “know this script in an hour or I’ll shoot you,” I’d learn the whole thing easily.
When I was 13 I fell in love with my science teacher. She was very pretty and I would ask her embarrassing questions in front of the class. She would get very red and say, “I’ll tell you after class, Mr. Jones.” So I got to stay after class and talk to her.
I hated school at the time, but after I left, I really regretted it. I regretted it because it was a very hard life in the stables. I had watched the races on TV and always dreamed of being a jockey, so when I was 14 I left home and went to train to be a jockey.
Trained as jockey
It was terribly hard. I cried nearly every night. The masters would give you “horsebites” (pinch your legs until they got red) and they hurt awfully. They were really hard on us in order to make us “tough.”
I had been doing acting jobs on the weekends occasionally and the time came when I had to choose between the two occupations. I went to London and tried out and got the part of the “Artful Dodger” in the musical “Oliver.” I had always wanted to go to Canada. I’d tell my girlfriends at school that I was going to Canada someday (not knowing I really would be, of course) and this would really impress them.
I was 16 when I left for America and I was feeling so grown up! I’ll never forget the trip over. I got on the plane with the show’s choreographer who was around 30 years old. I was feeling so adult and the stewardess came round and asked what we wanted to drink. The choreographer ordered something like scotch and water and then the stewardess turned to me and said “And would your son like milk?” Oh, it was the biggest put down!
We arrived in Toronto. The “Oliver” company had several weeks on the road before opening on Broadway. The boy I was replacing in the show had not even been told I was going to take over and we were supposed to open in two weeks in New York! So I was locked in my hotel room.
Life in New York
My first impressions are probably typical. I was surprised that everyone stared at my long hair. It wasn’t that long, but nobody even looked twice in England. I was knocked out by the department stores. They seemed really, really big to me.
I loved steak and had it nearly every day for quite a while, because I’d never tasted it before. When we arrived in New York we stayed at the Royal York Hotel and it really impressed me. I’d never stayed in a hotel before. It’s funny because now it seems like nothing to me.
Dates older girls
One thing I got a kick out of that never happened in England was that I didn’t date girls my own age. I found out I never had to go out and ask a girl out, they would just be there. I was 16 and was going out with older girls. They dug me because I was a romping “little boy” and that really blew my mind!
It spoiled me a little. Now, I don’t like to make dates. I guess girls really hate this, but I don’t like to call up on a Wednesday and say “Let’s go out at 8 on Sunday,” because by 8 on Sunday I might feel terrible. I like to call up a half hour before and say “Would you like to do this or that.” I don’t want girls to run after me, but I like to go out when I feel like it.
I didn’t have too many friends, but I wasn’t lonely because I was always getting invites to dinner. People would come and see the show and they’d come backstage and invite me out. I’ve forgotten much of that time, but I can remember one very funny incident.
My first cue every night was at five minutes after nine. We were always supposed to be at the theater by eight o’clock, but I would always go across the street to a little restaurant and have a soda.
Well, one night my watch wasn’t set right and as I strolled in from my evening soda I heard my cue to come on stage! In 30 seconds I scrambled up three flights of stairs to my dressing room, threw on my cape and hat, pulled up my long pants (we wore knickers in the show) and ran on stage. I was really scared, but no one ever found out!
I spent two years on Broadway and seven months on the road with the “Oliver” company. Then I got a call to do “Pickwick” in Hollywood. I did it for one reason—to show the people who hadn’t seen me what I could do. I also did a Ben Casey Show and the Farmer’s Daughter Show. Then I tried out for The Monkees and got the part. In between this time I spent three months in England. I went home and rode again. I rode 17 winners, which shows I didn’t forget what I learned!
Not star struck
Even now, with the Monkees, I’m not looking for stardom. I’ve bought my father a house and I’d like to make some more money to set up a business in England. In about ten years I’d like to be directing, working here six months of the year and six months in England. I’d also like to go round the world someday.
One other thing I’m truly looking forward to—I can’t wait to show people what we (The Monkees) can do in person. I guess it’s an ego thing, but I’m really looking forward to going on tour.
To perform live is like nothing else. To have 3000 girls screaming for you must be a good feeling—like riding a winner and listening to the crowd cheering!