The Decision That Could Finish The Monkees

Magazine: Teen Life
Author:
Editor: Bess Coleman
Published:
Volume: 7
Issue: 4
Publisher: Publication House, Inc.
Pages: 12–13, 53–54

Mike Nesmith

On the small screen, the Monkees look like four happy-go-lucky guys without a care in the world. But rumors persist that off the set there’s a lot of trouble brewing…

WHY MIKE NESMITH THREATENED TO QUIT!

Rumors that the Monkees will not be together for another television season have been flying fast and furious around Hollywood.

It has been said that there is so much dissension among the boys that they would rather give up the whole thing than to work together for another year.

Questions are being asked, but left un-answered:

Is it true that the other Monkees are jealous over Davy Jones’ popularity with the fans and the fact that he is always given the best parts on their shows?

Why did Mike Nesmith threaten to leave the group, and how did his threat cause Don Kirshner, president of Colgems Records, and the man who conceived the idea for the Monkees, to resign?

Why was Davy the only Monkee who showed up at this years’ annual Grammy Awards, which is the music industry’s equivalent to the Academy Awards?

Why don’t the Monkees ever hang out together like other groups, such as the Beatles and The Rolling Stones do?

Why have the Monkees recording sessions suddenly been closed to all visitors and members of the press?

Has success really gone to their heads to the point that they are rude and obnoxious to their fans and even their old friends?

To find the answers to these, and other questions, Teen Life sought out people behind the scenes who have known and worked with the Monkees since the group’s inception.

We have sorted fact from fiction and the following is our exclusive report on the truth behind the rumors.

But first, in order to understand the problems the Monkees face today, we must go back to a year ago when the group was just an idea in the minds of two men: Don Kirshner, head of Colgems, and Bert Schneider of Screen Gems Television.(The idea of The Monkees is usually credited to Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson)

Both these companies are subsidiaries of Columbia Pictures and success in any one direction means success for all concerned. Donny and Bert had the idea that if they could put together a group for a zany television series after the pattern of The Beatles’ movies, and simultaneously make the group a success on records while controlling the publishing of any songs used, they would make tremendous profits for the company.

They set out to find the four boys by placing an add in Variety, a show business trade magazine. Out of the hundreds of applicants that answered they picked Davy Jones, a young actor who had been successful on Broadway in Oliver; Mike Nesmith, a country-western singer who had played around with various groups; Micky Dolenz, who as a kid had been Circus Boy on television and Peter Tork, a folk singer.

Unlike any other successful group working today, these boys did not come together by choice. They did not seek one another out to form a group, they were put together. They were, and are, four highly individual young men who had been seeking a success in show business as single performers… not as members of a group.

Other groups have been drawn together by friendship or mutual respect for one another’s talent, or both. But the Monkees had no feeling for each other because they were strangers.

And this simple fact is the answer to the question of why the Monkees don’t hang around together. They have nothing in common except the fact that they are all Monkees. It isn’t that they dislike one another. It’s just that they all have their own friends whom they’ve cultivated over the years, and they prefer to spend what little time they have left over for social life in the company of people they know well.

When the group was first formed, Micky and Davy tried sharing a house together but with each of them having friends over all the time it turned into a 24-hour-a-day party and no one had any privacy. When Davy felt like a quiet, restful evening, the house would be filled with Micky’s friends, and vice versa, so they both decided they would be better off living alone.

Kirshner and Schneider knew what they wanted from the Monkees even before the boys were chosen. For television they wanted madcap, zany humor with one character who was always getting into troublesome situations and having to be pulled out by the other three. For records they wanted a highly commercial sound aimed directly at the teeny-bopper market.

They immediately chose Davy as the central television character because he was the one with the most acting experience and he was cute and little and sweet looking. To get the music they hired song writers and producers who had been highly successful in the rock ’n roll field. These people “manufactured” a sound for the Monkees using studio musicians and back-up singers, leaving the four boys with no say-so whatsoever in the songs they recorded or the sound that came across on the records.

After just a few television shows had been taped, Micky, Mike and Peter realized that Davy was emerging as the most important Monkee. This upset Micky more than it did Mike and Peter because after all, he had been an actor since he was ten years old and had his own TV series. But Micky did NOT get angry with Davy because he knew Davy had no more control over the format of the show than the rest of them did. However, he was bugged with the front office.

Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith
A sight very few people ever get to see. The Monkees at a recording session.

Mike, on the other hand, was also bugged with the front office, but for a different reason. He didn’t particularly care what was done on the TV show, but he cared very much about the Monkee music. He felt that the group had an obligation to say something in their songs… to bring to the market a new and important sound with a message, like the Beatles had done and like the Buffalo Springfield is now doing.

So while Micky only grumbled to friends about his dissatisfaction with the show, Mike set out to do something about the music.

He tried to get Kirshner to record songs he had written for the group and several were accepted. But Mike still had no control over the way the songs were presented. The other Monkees respected Mike’s musical ideas, but they also respected the fact that Don Kirshner’s ideas for the Monkee sound had been highly successful (their first album had sold 4 ½ million copies in less than a month) and they weren’t sure they wanted to risk Mike’s as-yet-unproven theories.

So Mike set about to bring them over to his side. It took a couple of months, but he accomplished his goal simply by being the kind of a person he is. Their song, I’m a Believer could have been written about Mike. He IS a believer and what he believes in most is himself. Even back in high school he told all his friends he was going to be famous and rich and respected as a musician. His faith in himself and his own talent has never waivered [sic], even when he had no job and no money. And his personality is so strong that he can project this faith to other people. An example of this is the way he handled his interview when he answered the ad in Variety to become a Monkee. He was asked, “What have you done that would qualify you for this group?”

His answer was, “I’ve been preparing myself for this day because I knew it would come. It did come, and I’m ready.” And although he had no prior credits to show the producers, just in conversation he convinced them that he was ready.

So after persuading the other Monkees that his musical ideas were better than Kirshner’s, his next step was to convince Bert Schneider. Kirshner had the phenomenal success of the Monkees’ records to prove that his formula was right, and he wasn’t about to change it. All Mike had was an idea. He decided that the only way he could get Schneider to agree with him was by using pressure. So he threatened to leave the Monkees and go out on his own unless he could have a voice in choosing the group’s songs and sound. Those close to Mike say he had no intention of living up to the threat, but he was so convincing Schneider believed him and gave him the O.K. Kirshner refused to accept Schneider’s decision, since the musical side of the Monkees had been under his jurisdiction alone, so the company politely asked for his resignation.

Just prior to this, the annual Grammy awards were held and two of the Monkees’ records were nominated. The group was also asked to be presenters on the program in another category, but when they were told they would have to wear tuxedos, all but Davy refused to go. They felt tuxedos were not the Monkee image, and if they couldn’t dress like Monkees they would be cheating their fans. Davy, on the other hand, felt that if other groups like the Mamas and the Papas could dress up for the occasion, so could he. So, he went alone.

This is another thing about the Monkees that is unique among groups. Because they are individuals first, and a group secondly, they do as they please when they can’t agree.

Davy was so bugged by all the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing that was going on over their record sound that he simply refused to show up for the first five recording sessions of the music that will be released next summer and fall. Arguments arose over every point of music while Mike was still trying to get his way with Schneider, so they would spend hours in the studio just to record one song. Davy told them to let him know when everything was settled and he’d come back to work. But not before.

This is why the sessions were closed. The Colgems people did not want word to leak out that Davy wasn’t there, and they didn’t want it known that Mike was making such a scene about the music, until they had something on record so they could tell if his sound was good.

Then Davy was offered a part in the movie version of Oliver and rumors started that he was considering leaving the Monkees to take it. Since Davy has always been the most cooperative of all the boys, the front office at Screen Gems was shook up by this talk, and immediately began persuading Davy to stay.

There have been occasions when some of the Monkees refused to sign autographs or chat with fans, but there has usually been a reason behind this attitude. A problem on the set, an argument about music or something similar was enough to upset one of the boys for an entire day, during last fall when the ratings of the show were still touch and go.

Their fame and wealth had come so suddenly, so over-whelmingly, that it took them a while to adjust to their new image. Remember, this was an image that had been chosen for them, not one they, as individuals, had picked out for themselves.

The boys are all aware of what the success of the Monkees has done for them and they are appreciative. They dig being stars and they welcome financial security. But they realize that this is not the ultimate in life. As individuals they have goals too. Davy wants to become a respected actor. Mike wants to make his mark on American music, to honestly influence the market as other trailbazers have done. Micky knows what it’s like to taste fame and lose it. As a high school student he was already a has-been, an ex-child star who had few friends and little hope for his future. He doesn’t ever want to go through that again, so he wants to emerge from the Monkees as a contemporary actor and performer. Peter is also looking toward his future as a performer after the Monkee fad passes, and he too would like to be thought of as an actor-musician.

Certainly the boys have the right to think of their individual goals because they can’t be Monkees for the rest of their lives. But now that a broader format will be used on next season’s show, and they have control over their own music, they are willing to ride on the crest of Monkee fame as long as it lasts. And they are determined to give their fans every ounce of talent they have to offer.

There has never been any individual feud going on between any of the boys, only disagreement on what was best for the Monkees as a group.

Now, for the first time they all agree they have found the best formula, and as long as that is true they will stay together and work as a team.

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