Bob Custer, Tiger Beat and Monkee Spectacular’s Official Photographer, tells his personal impressions of Davy, Peter, Micky and Mike.
Q. When did you first meet the Monkees?
A. Back in September of 1966. There was a big press party to introduce the Monkees; they showed the pilot and a couple of segments of the show and everyone met all of the guys. I could see right away that Davy was extremely talented and that Micky was the wild one in the group. I didn’t get any vibrations at all from Peter or Mike that day.
Q. When did you first photograph them, other than the party?
A. At the “Last Train to Clarksville” promotion, then at the Columbia Ranch where they were filming. I didn’t know any of the Monkees personally at this time.
Q. When did you first get to know them personally?
A. Well, it was in December. I had a studio sitting with Davy and when we started, I was just another photographer to him and he was just someone else to photograph as far as I was concerned. He was very tired and sleepy that day—he had been working awfully hard—and so he wasn’t expecting much from the session. I shot seven rolls of film that day and they turned out fantastic—really great. You couldn’t tell that he was tired or anything. He saw what I could do and so he wanted me to shoot him some more. We got to be better and better friends, session after session.
Q. How is your relationship with Davy today?
A. We have a sort of built-in trust. He comes over to my house a lot, even when we aren’t shooting, just to talk or listen to music. It gives him a chance to unwind. When I’m shooting on the set we have a sort of game going. He’ll do something really crazy unexpectedly and dare me to get it on film. I always do, and it’s a good thing because he always checks later on to see if it’s on the contact sheets. .
Q. What are your impressions of the other Monkees?
A. I’ve only done studio sittings with Davy and Micky, although I’ve caught them all on the set. Micky is hard to pin down to get the shots you want. He’s always in non-stop motion. I’ll just get the lighting fixed correctly and my camera set and then he’ll be off before I get the chance to take the picture! He’s always clowning around. When I want a serious picture it’s hard because I’ll finally get a serious look out of him and then before I snap the shutter he’s back to clowning. Mike doesn’t want to smile for the camera, though he does smile on the set. Whenever he sees me start to take a picture, off goes the smile immediately. Even if he’s laughing with other people, if he sees me with the camera he’ll stop laughing right away, before I can get a picture. Peter is a challenge. If he gave me the opportunity I could really photograph him like he’s never been photographed before. There are great depths to Peter that I want to get on film very much.
Q. What sort of makeup do you use to photograph them?
A. Sometimes we use a light liquid base when they’re very tired. I like to photograph them without makeup, and the guys prefer it too, but when they’re working so hard and they’re so tired and all you just have to use makeup. We never use anything on the eyes or lips; I have them wet their lips before I shoot. Micky uses hair spray sometimes, but he has to because of the way his hair is. It’s difficult to keep in place and he moves around so much you have to do something.
Q. What makes them impatient when you’re shooting?
A. The hot lights. It’s easily over a hundred degrees under those lights and the glare is terrible. Sometimes when they’re very tired I have to add another 500 watt bulb and that’s murder. I try to shoot fast but when I add that 500 watter you can’t believe how hard it is on the guys.
Q. Do you know of any special things that the guys do to protect their looks or preserve their energy?
A. Well, Davy works out with barbells and tries to eat health foods as much as possible. Peter eats a lot of health foods too. That’s the main thing—good foods that don’t have sugars or starches in them.
Q. What do you respect most about the Monkees?
A. The desire they have to really be good performers. They’ll all go out of their way to give a really good performance or do most anything else they feel is necessary, no matter how little they might personally want to do it at the time. Micky has come in to be photographed after working twelve hours straight at the studio. He’s had Sally wash his hair and then he’s come over, ready for a session and dead tired. Davy comes in when he’s about to drop from exhaustion, because he cares about his responsibilities and his career.
Q. Who is the easiest to photograph?
A. Davy, by far. He’s a true professional. Most of the time I don’t even have to direct him, he just gives me different poses—good ones—one right after another. He’s great to work with.
Q. Where do you feel the Monkees will go after the series stops?
A. I feel that Micky and Davy will be super-stars, they’ve just both got it in huge quantities. Mike and Peter, I believe, will develop other talents, like songwriting and producing, because they already have these things deep within themselves.