Probably a million words have been written about the clowning monkee, Micky Dolenz. As one quarter of a world-famous group, he’s come right under the spotlight. But during the last zany-crazy chat I had with him, he spent a lot of time talking about the people who had mattered most to him during his career. Some interesting names cropped up…
Of course, I expected him to talk about his dad, George Dolenz, a respected actor, who is now dead. Said Micky: “He was a popular man around the studios—Seems most people remember him for his rols [sic] as ‘The Count Of Monte Cristo’. But through him, I kinda grew up in a show business atmosphere. When I went into ‘Circus Boy’ as a kid, I was too young to know what it was all about. But I knew a lot of other young guys who eventually flopped badly and didn’t have a trade or anything and sort of lost their way in life.
“I believe in a family scene and my pop spent all the time he could with us, me and my sisters. But the thing he did most of all for me was teach me that nothin’ goes on for ever. And he talked me into going on to the Los Angeles Trade and Technical College for a couple of specialist courses… one was in architectural drafting, another mechanics. I’m not saying all this work knocked me out at the time, but I now realise that my dad was right. If I couldn’t act again, well… I’ve sure got a trade I can follow.”
And another person who means a lot to Micky is comedian Jerry Lewis. Not that they’re great mates, or anything, it’s just that Jerry is everything that Micky looks for in a comedian. He says: “He’s just the complete professional entertainer, knocking himself out for his audiences and he just never stands still, never sits back and says okay that’s all I have to do.”
Micky never misses a Lewis movie. And he told me: “I like to think I have a flair for comedy and if I do develop in that direction, I’ll still hold up Jerry Lewis as my idol. He’s unpredictable and that’s what comedy is all about.”
And there’s a lady named Mrs. Lillian Barkley, who was the studio schoolteacher during the days when Micky was “Circus Boy” some of the time and an ordinary school-kid the rest of the time. Says Micky: “It was more a case of us being buddies, rather than teacher and student. Now I’m the sort of guy who sometimes gets a bit brought down and there was a time when I really figured that show business had had enough of me. No work. I got bored. I was fooling around with electronics and with auto-racing, even putting in some evenings at a local gas station learning all about metal-welding. It’s all helped me build my own home recording studio, but right then I was thinking that it could be my sole source of income the way things were going.
“But I ran into Mrs. Barkley, right out of the blue. And she talked me into having one more real try round the Los Angeles studios. She said that I was wrong to get depressed, that even great stars like my old favourite James Cagney had rough times early in their careers. She said I wasn’t a world-beater, obviously, but I could make a go of acting. More important, she told me that I’d never forgive myself if I slipped out of Hollywood and kinda cut against the Dolenz family background… without giving the business a real try.
“So, on her advice, I hung around the studios all that summer. Maybe some evenings I’d show in a local club and sing a couple of numbers—I took my guitar to every party. Least, I enjoyed myself and I was meeting people. Well, cutting it right short, it wasn’t all that long afterwards that I got in on the Monkee scene.
“Now I’m not gonna tell you that I would definitely have quit the business. But Mrs. Barkley did an awful lot for me in boosting my confidence. She didn’t have to waste time on me, but she did. And that’s why she’s one of the people, the comparatively FEW people, I can say really had a lot to do with helping me in my career.”
Then you can add in Micky’s mum… naturally!
He says: “She was once a very good singer—though she didn’t keep at it professionally. She had enough to do looking after us kids, specially [sic] with my pa away a lot of the time working. And then when my father died, she felt Hollywood had too many sad memories for her so she moved us all up North. But she’s always been wonderful to me—letting me have my head, putting up with all my crazy schemes, and yet always being on hand to help me out when things go wrong.
“She’s married again. Is very happy. I’m glad to say. My stepfather is a minister of religion and I like to send money home to help his church whenever I can. And I also send a lot to my mother—she gets a kick out of investing it for me on my behalf. One of the great kicks of being… well, successful in this business is that you know the people closest to you will never have to worry about where the next buck is coming from.”
Micky owned up that some of his comedy routines in real life are really a cover-up for sensitivity and shyness. And he also said that being short sighted was a problem; he isn’t keen on either ordinary spectacles OR contact lenses. He said: “Once or twice I’ve been accused to my face of ignoring somebody or other… maybe a buddy from way back. Fact is that I just didn’t see him.
“But this business of being sensitive—what I mean is this. I can remember, name for name, some of the young kids who went to the studio school with me. A lot of them are out of the business now, like I was saying earlier about security, but I can remember lots of little things about them. At another school, I was younger than the others, but I can still recall what they looked like.
“Yet meeting ’em now is kinda embarrassing. Okay, you might start in thinking that I’m the one to blame. Some big-time Monkee business—too good for his old mates. But I know this isn’t true. There are some of those guys I’d be glad to have as buddies again, but it’s obvious that THEY have changed. They get kinda reserved when I see them. It’s like they’re expecting some kind of rebuff.
“I’ve asked the other boys, specially [sic] Davy, if it’s the same with him—and he just doesn’t think it’s anything like as bad for him. I don’t get it. I don’t FEEL big-time and I don’t feel different inside. But some of those guys from way back take it out on me in several ways. Like making little cracks about the Monkees, or asking me when I’m gonna buy out Texas or something. Sure, they smile about it when they’re saying it, but I can sense that there’s some sort of resentment about me in it. Because I’m that little bit shy, too, I try to fool my way out of it—and that makes the whole atmosphere that much worse.
“So really I don’t have this great wide range of friends that you’d expect. Like Rick, Ricky Klein, is a very real buddy and I take him off with me everywhere I go. I remember hating him when we first met. I thought he was rude and barbaric and anyway he had his eye on a girl I knew.
“But what happens now is that I realise he likes ME before the Monkees. And that’s what you’re after, in friendship, isn’t it? As a Monkee, I’m part of a commercial undertaking, but as Micky Dolenz I’m just a person… like a thousand million other people in the world.
“People DO matter to me a lot. Those I’ve told you about, who actively do something to help. Those who’ve been part of the development of things. But when you come to analyse it all, like we’ve been doing here, it’s a pretty short list, isn’t it!
“Hey, we’re getting too serious and weepie. Let’s just wind up by talking about the fans. I’d be a liar if I said that I personally answered every letter I get. We’re working twelve hours a day and I’ve got to get me some shut-eye, too. But I do try to READ the letters fans are kind enough to send and I do appreciate the little gifts they send on to me. And believe me if somebody says: ‘I DON’T like the way you do such-and-such, well I think it over and see if they’ve got a valid point’. I guess looked at in one way, the fans are the most important thing to any performer.”