Can you describe Mike as you remember him? (He continually tells us how “skinny and ugly” he was.)
Mike was a “skinny” box at sixteen, but I did not think he was ugly. To me he had a rather wistful, pensive look which was distinctive and most attractive. His was a face one could not forget. I teach so many that I have trouble learning their names when they first enter my class. Mike was an exception. I remembered him from the first day he entered my class.
Was there a noticeable sign of his interest or particular talent in music?
Yes. He signed up for choir his first year in our school and I placed him as a first tenor in our select concert choir. He loved to sing and had no difficulty in learning his part from the first time through a number. Rhythms were never a problem for him and neither was intonation. He was what I term a natural musician blessed with a good ear and a keen sense of rhythm.
How would you describe Mike—shy, awkward, quiet, loud?
I often felt that Mike was innately shy but covered this shyness with witticism and a bid for attention. He was never boisterous or loud but he could cause others to be so by his quips and antics which were always done subtly. He wanted to be the center of attraction. I can recall the many times I reminded him to quit “acting the monkey” and today he is a “Monkee” as a profession. This is very logical!
What was your first impression of him?
He impressed me from the first. I realized I had a student of musical ability. He loved to sing and loved sharing a musical experience with others whether it was in class with his peers or singing for an audience. He was a boy with a unique personality but a challenge. I always like that if there is talent to develop. I felt Mike was such a person.
How did he do in your class scholastically?
Technical things never seemed to interest him too much. He learned by ear so quickly that he never seriously tried to sightread music. The main work in a choir is building repertoire, therefore Mike was an A student in this field. He had a keen sense of the verbal and musical nuance required in a piece. Memorizing was never a problem for him and he could get the correct interpretation whether our study was folk music or one of the highest art forms. He had a fine feel for the poetic as well as the musical.
Did he get along with his peers? Did he have a large circle of friends that you were aware of?
Mike got along well with his peers. He entertained them so they loved him for it. I don’t recall if he had a large circle of personal friends. I believe Gary Hamilton was rather close to him. It just seems that all were his friends. I don’t even recall that he had a special girl friend. He would give cast parties after a musical which were well attended so I assume some were close personal friends.
Do you remember ever having to discipline him?
Yes, I frequently had to stop his “attention getting” so that I could have the attention and proceed with the class work. I never recall his walking out of class but I remember at the end of his senior year I had to discipline him rather severely and I sent him from the class. This, however, did not destroy our fine rapport for after graduation he came back to visit our choir and give them “pep” talks as well writing us many fine letters.
Was there any indication that he was specifically talented or gifted in any other field?
Yes, he showed a definite talent in dramatics and especially in comedy.
Do you watch the Monkees on TV? If so, do you like the show?
Yes, every Monday night. So do all my students. My grandchildren—Donna, 8; David, 13; and Jim, 16; all think it an entertaining program. They have a personal interest too as they knew Mike personally. They played children’s parts in “The King and I” and Mike was in the cast and also visited at our home.
Do you remember any incidents (funny or otherwise) which happened in your classroom or on the campus involving Mike?
I don’t recall any special incidents as it seems that each day had its own incident that would evoke the amusement and laughter of our group. Everything he did and said was funny to his classmates. When he was cast as Andrew Carnes, the father of Ado Annie in “Oklahoma” he would give a new interpretation to the part of each rehearsal which always broke up the rest of the cast. On the night of the actual production he did a splendid interpretation of the part.
Did you remember Mike as a student when you first saw him on the Monkees?
Certainly. I would never forget him and besides I was looking forward to the show as I knew he was to be in it.
Are there any other incidents that you can recall that would be of interest?
I think of no specific incidents but these excerpts from letters the choir and I received personally from him might give you a greater insight into the real Mike and the reason why we all loved him and still do:
“Aside from the musical prowess you now possess, what I am most impressed with is the music within your hearts. When, I came to hear you sing, I did more than hear you sing—I felt you sing. This thrilled me more than you will ever know. Keep that same warmth and feeling for music you now have for never again will you be in a position to gain it as you now are.”
Another letter from the base when he was lonesome and reminiscing headed “An open letter to Huffy” (this was my nickname to the choir).
“…as I lay here in bed propped up with my writing board on my lap, I can sense the peace of the world outside. Night has fallen and the people rest from their day of work. Soon another dawn will burst forth across the moving sky and herald the approach of a new day—for some another chance and for some a new life. Yet for a few a dawn is just like any other day; for a few a dawn in just like any other part of the day, for a few it holds nothing but strife and hatred from yesterday to be dealth with for another 12 hours.
“The dawn means different things to different people but my dawn was you, Mrs. Huffaker, and what a wonderfully joyous burst of light that was. You taught me to sing, sing from my heart and soul, for you have known for so long as many of us have learned, that music brings each man closer to his God than any other human action. You taught us that to love our fellow man is not something that is done only for personal gain or for creating the goodwill of others towards us, but that it is a foundation upon which we may build a lifetime of happiness.
“The spirit with which you taught us to sing is the spirit with which we will lead the rest of our lives. This is why you are my dawn, Mrs. Huffaker. That is why I suppose I think of you as I do—and that is why you have the best dern concert choir in the city of Dallas!”
This was typically Mike—giving you a glimpse of his inner thoughts and then ending with a flippancy.