The role of The Beatles in the formation of The Monkees is a subject that will have to be covered over a couple of blog posts. This one will be very simple and to the point in terms of history. Beatles fans largely do not know the Monkee connection to the Fab Four’s famous U.S. live debut on national television on February 9, 1964 on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider created the show The Monkees about a Beatles-like band and their follies. Not surprisingly, Rafelson came up with this idea right after seeing the movie A Hard Day’s Night. The pair chose four people, actor/singers Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz as well as musicians Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith, to comprise this fictitious band which was widely referred as “The Pre-Fab Four”. The show The Monkees debuted in the fall of 1966 and lasted for two seasons. The show premiered to rave reviews and a widespread audience.
The band’s debut album, The Monkees, sent shockwaves through the music world as it stayed at # 1 for 13 weeks and stayed on the album charts for a total of 78 weeks. Their debut single, “Last Train to Clarksville” written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, was a hit on the radio prior to the show’s debut and climbed to number one for a single week on November 5, 1966. Two months later, The Monkees struck gold with the Neil Diamond-penned classic “I’m a Believer”, which topped the charts for a whopping seven weeks. A year later, The Monkees held the top slot on the charts for all four weeks of December 1967 with “Daydream Believer”, penned by former Kingston Trio member John Stewart. The band had many other Top 40 hits, including “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You”, a Neil Diamond song which hit number two; “Pleasant Valley Sunday”, a Gerry Goffin/Carol King song which reached number three; “Valleri”, a Boyce/Hart-penned song that hit number three.
It should be noted that while Carole King and Neil Diamond were established and successful songwriters in the industry, each artist did not achieve success as a performer until after The Monkees had hits with their songs. Likewise, Boyce and Hart had their only hit as performers, “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonite” after The Monkees scored hits with the songs Boyce and Hart penned for them.
What many Beatles fans do not know is the irony that future Monkees lead singer Davy Jones, at the age of 18 years old, performed a solo on the same famous episode of The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964 in which The Beatles made their monstrously successful U.S. live television debut. Jones was appearing on Broadway in Oliver! in the role as the Artful Dodger, for which he received a Tony nomination. This is the video of Davy Jones’ aforementioned performance on that famous show, which was not remembered because of the performance that night of four of his fellow Brits.
In later years, Jones said of sharing the bill with the Beatles on that famous night on The Ed Sullivan Show, “I watched The Beatles from the side of the stage, I saw the girls go crazy, and I said to myself, this is it, I want a piece of that.”
Following Jones’ 2012 death, in 2016 the three remaining members of The Monkees have put out an album for their 50th anniversary and are touring. The three surviving Monkees appeared on CBS Sunday Morning on May 29, 2016 about their 50th anniversary and album. The album is entitled Good Times!
While it is unique that Davy Jones was part of Beatles history that fateful night two years before the debut of The Monkees, the other three members of The Monkees have some unique factoids in their history:
Peter Tork – The father of the Monkee that made all the girls swoon was prominent in his own right. The future Monkee grew up in Mansfield, Connecticut, right next to the town of Storrs where the University of Connecticut is located. Tork’s father was a longtime and highly distinguished professor of economics at the University of Connecticut. In fact, during the years that The Monkees were on television and afterwards, some UCONN students took courses with his father just for the novelty of taking a course with Peter Tork’s father; some of these students found he was such a great professor that they developed an interest in economics and switched their majors to economics. This is the obituary of Tork’s accomplished father.
Mike Nesmith – Aside from writing the 1967 hit “Different Drum” for Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys, there is something interesting in the family background of Mike Nesmith. In the late 1940’s, Bette Nesmith was a divorced working mother supporting her son by working as a secretary. In the dark ages of manual typewriters, Mrs. Nesmith was constantly frustrated by having to start over a document if a mistake were made. She developed her own self-styled white “correcting fluid” to make her work easier. Over time she fine-tuned and improved this typewriter correction fluid, finally getting it patented and then selling commercially as Liquid Paper. The former secretary’s Liquid Paper empire skyrocketed and at the time she sold it to Gillette in 1979 for $48 million, the company was employing almost three hundred people and producing over 25 million bottles of their famous correction fluid each year. At the time of her 1980 death, Mike Nesmith’s mother’s estate was worth an estimated $100 million; the ex-Monkee inherited $50 million, while the rest was earmarked for charity. Mrs. Nesmith’s amazing story conveys how a hard-working single mother on the economic fringes can create not only a financially successful company, but one that creates jobs for hundreds of other hard-working people.
Micky Dolenz – Both of Micky Dolenz’ parents were noted actors, George Dolenz and Janelle Johnson. Micky himself was a child actor. Dolenz, a friend of John Lennon who participated in many early morning jam sessions with the ex-Beatle, in 2005 worked for six months as a DJ at WCBS-FM in New York, the station that is noted for playing more songs of both The Beatles and ex-Beatles’ solo work than any other station in the U.S. A famous Hollywood anecdote concerns the casting of the show Happy Days, which aired on ABC from 1974-1984. In 1973, a then unknown Henry Winkler was called to read for the role of the famous Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli. Winkler walked into the office and saw the iconic Micky Dolenz waiting to read for the Fonzie role, too. Winkler thought he did not stand a chance against Dolenz and contemplated walking out, but held his ground, auditioned and won the role. Micky Dolenz has said over the years, “Only Henry Winkler could have played Fonzie”.