The Monkees Story (Part 2)

When Mike came to third grade at his junior school he passed his examinations. But he knew very well that this was through the kindness of the teacher. He’d flunked but he’d still go to High School. To San Antonio College, to be exact.

Again, he hated it. And most of all he hated the other students. This was a social thing. They came from wealthy families, had money to spend, time to date girls, stuck together in little bunches, depending which part of town they came from. Mike was on the outside looking in. Every so often he’d do some crazy stunt… really just to draw attention to himself. They’d laugh at him, make him feel good. But then he’d go home, alone usually, and realise they WERE laughing AT him, not with him. And he hated being laughed at.

So there was this atmosphere of loneliness and despair. Once or twice Mike was tempted to steal… just to have something of his own. But he resisted. His mum had taught him right from wrong.

Now, as we develop the Monkees’ story, let’s leave Mike there in High School. Worrying about his examinations, wanting to get out into the world but also fearing just what he’d end up doing. We’ll go back to him soon but for now let’s call in and see what goes on in Washington D.C. and meet up with Peter Monkee. His parents, John and Virginia Thorkelson. His mum was known to everybody as Ginny. Her maiden name had been Straus.

Peter was born with much the strawish shade of hair that he now allows to flop all over the fringes of his wide smile. He already had a brother, Nicholas, alias “Nick”, alias “Old Nick”, who has just graduated from the University of Wisconsin. His dad, now an associate professor of economics at the University of Connecticut, was working for the Government in Washington at the time of Peter’s first yell and shout. Working as a draughtsman, but he soon moved on to a magazine job in Detroit. That job, which made Mr. Thorkelson very happy, wasn’t to last long. There was the little business of the war, and he joined the Army for a couple of years to “mop up operations”. Though the war was over by the time he joined, he did his service stint in Germany.

So at the age of three wee Peter, chubbycheeked and with a full selection of teeth, went to Germany too. His hair was by then pretty well white. Says Peter now: “I’ve been right through the picture albums of all my relations and I find we ALL had white hair when we were kids. Odd this—it kinda reverses the usual process. Still, when I’m seventy, I shall hope to be not grey or white but reddish.”

Dad, in his dark brown-grey uniform with the light-coloured tie and the standard hat balanced neatly on one side of his head, enjoyed meeting the local people in Germany. Says Peter now: “Honest, I can remember a lot about Germany. What I remember were rows of burnt out houses, flattened streets and so on. Funny how much you CAN remember, especially about things which upset you.”

Addie, Peter Tork
Info Young Peter and Addie

Gradually, during the spell in Germany, Peter’s white hair turned to rusty brown. It was close-cropped, crew-cut, and you’d hardly recognise him from pictures taken around that time. He had no school to worry about and he spent much of his time with a boxer dog, called “Addie” (Peter thinks), though he can’t recall why such a name should be devised for such a ferocious, yet gentle, dog.

We talked to Mrs. Catherine Straus, his grandmother, about Peter’s time in Germany. Her biggest recollection was that Lieutenant H. John Thorkelson had a house laid on, quite near to Berlin, and that there were two local girls acting as housemaids. She says: “As a family they’d always had a fair amount of money, and Peter didn’t know poverty until he started trying to find his way into show business. But the maids worshipped Peter and Nick and tried all sorts of gimmicks to make sure the boys ate all their German-type food.”

Mrs. Straus also told us about how Peter nearly died out there in Germany…

What happened was this. Peter’s mum and dad were away for the day. So what more natural with Peter and his brother Nicky having the run of the house than to start up a game of cops and robbers. No grownups around… except the family’s chauffeur, a fave with the boys because he used to tell them stories, in perfect English. They knew they could go anywhere because the chauffeur, Hans Derrich, could be trusted to tell nobody.

Anyway, Nicky nipped out the back way into the garden. He was playing the villain. When it came to Peter’s time to try and find his brother, he saw a slight movement in the flower-bed outside. So he rushed out. But he rushed too fast. He forgot about the plain-glass doors, the French windows (in Germany?)… and he was going so fast he couldn’t pull up. And smash?—Peter hit the glass and it gave way, splintering into a million fragments.

Peter remembers it well. He says now: “I just stood there. I felt numb all over, but for a while I didn’t feel any real pain. Then I looked down and there was nothing but blood all over the place. I held on to my arm but the blood kept pouring out. Nicky thought I was kidding, even when I was yelling away at the top of my voice. Didn’t know it then, but an artery had been slashed by a piece of glass.”

But luckily for Peter, and for all the millions of Monkee fans, Herr Derrich was near at hand. Startled by the yells and screams, and realising that this wasn’t just a boyish game, he rushed round, summed up the situation and whipped Peter off, by car, to the nearest doctor. His clothes covered in blood, Peter was given expert treatment and his arm was stitched up. And the doctor said later, to Mr. and Mrs. Thorkelson: “That boy is one of the luckiest I’ve ever met. If he’d waited just a few minutes longer, he would have died.”

The scars have almost gone now on Peter’s arm. But the memory of that prankish game that nearly went wrong has not. And so the days in Germany went on. At five, Peter became very friendly with a German boy, Ule, who was two years older. They went sailing together (but under close supervision!). They swam in the nearby river Wansee… also only under close watch. And Peter still writes to his old friend.

Incidentally, Peter was very forward in learning to talk. But he also had picked up a useful working knowledge of German by the time he went back to America at the age of six-and-a-bit. Later on Peter learned to speak French fluently but he’s not so good at either foreign language right now. Though his French was useful on the boys’ trip to Paris, as you’ve read in our special feature on this film-making jaunt.

Back then, to America, went Peter, a much-travelled little chap already. The family Thorkelson settled in Baraboo, in Wisconsin. And up went the population of that tiny place… the city limit boards announced that there were only 500 residents at that time. It was an ideal place for a family to grow up. Plenty of open spaces for the youngsters and very handy for the University of Wisconsin, where Peter’s dad went on a one-year ex-Serviceman’s course and got his Doctor of Philosophy degree in economics.

Celebrations a-plenty on his graduation day. But soon afterwards, that old travelling bug got a hold of the family and they moved off for the further-East area of Connecticut. Peter, though still so young, was already showing signs of being a bit of a show-business fan. He used to dress up in his dad’s clothes and act out little charades for the family.

And he certainly had a lively imagination. Like spreading the truth when he told his new friends about the voyage back from Germany across the Atlantic. Peter used to make it sound about as dodgy a trip as that of Sir Francis Chichester round the world. In fact, it WAS a seasick-making trip because it was made on an old freighter-type boat, specially used for transporting Army personnel and their families but it was hardly buoyant enough to cope with a really terrible storm. It only lasted for a few hours but Peter held his mates enthralled by giving the impression that it’d gone on for weeks on end—with Peter actually acting as a doctor for the rest of the family.


Magazine: Monkees Monthly
Editor: Jackie Richmond
Issue: 10
Publisher: Beat Publications Ltd.
Pages: 11–14