11 Things You Might Not Know About The Monkees

It was a zany sitcom unapologetically riding on the coattails of The Beatles phenomenon, but who would’ve guessed that 50 years after its premiere on NBC—and subsequent cancellation following a measly two seasons—The Monkees would remain a topic of never-ending fascination. Starring Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith, The Monkees was a TV show about a struggling rock group that featured early incarnations of music videos and plenty of (family-friendly) psychedelic vibes.

Following its 1966 to 1968 run, the series gained new generations of fans through marathon airings on MTV and Nickelodeon in the 1980s. So since it’s never too late to become a fan of the Pre-Fab Four (yes, that’s what they were called), here are some fun factoids that will help you jump onto the timeless Monkeemania bandwagon.

1. DAVY JONES DIDN’T KNOW WHO THE BEATLES WERE THE NIGHT OF THEIR SHARED ED SULLIVAN SHOW PERFORMANCE. 

Two and a half years before The Monkees premiered, English heartthrob and tambourine player extraordinaire David “Davy” Jones had his first brush with the four moptops who, unbeknownst to him, would change his life forever. As a cast member of the Broadway musical Oliver! (he played the Artful Dodger), Jones just happened to be performing on the same historic Ed Sullivan Show broadcast featuring The Beatles. But probably the craziest part of this story was how the 19-year-old Brit was completely oblivious to who John, Paul, George and Ringo were. As he tells the story in this interview, the late Monkee (Jones died in 2012) had never heard any of The Beatles’s songs. He only took interest in what they were doing because he wanted to figure out how to make girls scream too.

2. THE ORIGINAL MONKEES CASTING CALL AD WAS RIDDLED WITH HIPPIE-ISH REFERENCES.

The creators of The Monkees TV show, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, knew exactly the kind of guys they wanted for their new series. So the ad they took out in the September 8, 1965 edition of Variety had to reflect the attitudes of the burgeoning youth culture. In the ad, “spirited Ben Frank’s-types” are requested. According to the book Monkee Business: The Revolutionary Made-for-TV Band, Ben Frank’s was a popular Sunset Strip restaurant “where the mods mused over burgers and fries.” Or, as Davy Jones called them, “long-haired beatnik weirdos.” The ad also included the line, “Must come down for interview.” Per Rafelson in Monkee Business, that was “a sly reference to being high.”

3. MICHAEL NESMITH ATTENDED THE CELEBRITY-FILLED RECORDING SESSION FOR THE SGT. PEPPER SONG “A DAY IN THE LIFE.”

John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Marianne Faithfull, Donovan … and Michael Nesmith of The Monkees? It seems like a round of “Which of These Things Are Not Like the Other?” but the Texas guitarist was indeed there among the cream of the British musical crop in February 1967. He appears at around 2:26 in the above promotional “A Day in the Life” clip, and if you have a steady hand it is possible to pause the video right when he shows up. But you have to look sharp, as it is a quintessential blink-and-you’ll-miss-him moment.

4. THE MONKEES MANAGED TO SQUEEZE IN SUBVERSIVE BEHAVIOR WHENEVER THEY COULD.

In the season two episode “The Devil and Peter Tork,” the boys took on the issue of censorship by slipping in a subversive joke about how, back in 1967, you couldn’t say the word “hell” on network television. “This episode was a point of controversy, between The Monkees production crew and the network,” says Tork in the DVD commentary (above). The bit, which starts at 9:50, has the boys talking about hell (Tork’s character sold his soul to the devil) and getting bleeped every time they uttered the word. This leads Micky Dolenz to observe, “You know what’s even more scary? You can’t say ‘hell’ on television” (and, yes, “hell” was bleeped as he said it). The bit “annoyed the daylights” out of NBC, according to Tork. Dolenz also devotes a paragraph to this incident in his book I’m a Believer: My Life of Monkees, Music and Madness.

5. THE “MONKEEMANIA” OF THE MONKEES IN PARIS EPISODE WAS STAGED.

In June 1967, The Monkees headed off to Paris for a season two episode that would ostensibly show them being mobbed by French fans. Whether it was because the series hadn’t started airing in France or French audiences just hadn’t caught onto the craze yet (the truth is murky—this 1967 article says the show was on at the time; Monkee Business says it wasn’t), director Bob Rafelson had to get creative with the squealing girls. The “cinéma vérité”-style “Monkees in Paris” episode is thus described in Monkee Business as “the episode that features The Monkees pretending to run from their non-existent French fans.”

6. TWO MONKEES STEPPED BEHIND THE CAMERA DURING THE SHOW’S RUN.

Toward the end of the second and final season, Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz were given the opportunity to direct an episode. Tork, using his full name in the credits—Peter H. Thorkelson—directed “The Monkees Mind Their Manor,” which aired in February 1968. Dolenz then helmed “Mijacgeo” (a.k.a. “The Frodis Caper”), which also ended up being the series’s finale. The Monkees would officially be canceled later that year.

7. THE SERIES’S UNOFFICIAL FINALE FEATURES NOT ONE, BUT TWO BEATLES TUNES.

This Micky Dolenz-directed episode opens up with a real bang: The intro to The Beatles’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band track “Good Morning Good Morning.” It was, in Dolenz’s words (heard in the above video doing the DVD commentary), “a big moment.” Mainly because, as he also mentions, it was “the first time, to my knowledge, that The Beatles ever let one of their songs on another show.” (And anyone who remembers the “Tomorrow Never Knows” episode from Mad Men’s fifth season is well aware that getting a Beatles song for your TV series is no small feat.) The choice of “Good Morning Good Morning” also had special meaning for Dolenz, who had the rare opportunity to hear an early version of the track during a visit to The Beatles’s studio at Abbey Road in 1967.

In addition, there are two instances where, if you listen closely below, Davy Jones is singing the Beatles song “Hello, Goodbye” to himself. Once at 7:06, then again at 8:18:

8. THERE WAS A VERY WEIRD MONKEES EPISODE WHERE FRANK ZAPPA SHOWED UP.

It was the ’60s, The Monkees was winding down, and Michael Nesmith, according to Randi L. Massingill, in her book Total Control: The Michael Nesmith Story, “was trying to show the rock community that he was not just a kiddie show guy.” Nesmith achieved this by not only bringing The Mothers of Invention frontman Frank Zappa onto The Monkees, but by also conducting a bizarre interview with him in which the two men switched roles (which allowed Nesmith, as Zappa, to refer to The Monkees’s bubblegum music as “banal and insipid”). It’s hard to know what’s more disturbing: Frank Zappa in a Monkees double-button blue shirt and Nesmith’s signature green wool hat, or Mike Nesmith donning a Zappa-eque wig and fake nose (which keeps falling off during the bit).

9. THE MONKEES OUTSOLD THE BEATLES AND THE ROLLING STONES IN 1967.

Yes, you read that correctly. In 1967, the year of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Between the Buttons, and Their Satanic Majesties Request, The Monkees outsold both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones—combined. Probably because neither British band had a hit TV show on its hands. Pretty impressive considering, at least in the beginning, as discussed at length in Monkee Business, The Monkees were a manufactured group whose only contributions to the records were their voices.

10. LIBERACE ONCE MADE A STRANGE, UNCREDITED CAMEO ON A MONKEES EPISODE, USING THE SAME GOLDEN SLEDGEHAMMER AS FRANK ZAPPA.

The renowned pianist Liberace was never known for being subtle, so when he showed up on The Monkees’s season two episode “Art, For Monkees' Sake,” a flashy performance was a given. But what people didn’t expect to see was the famed entertainer taking a golden sledgehammer to his piano. One could argue this possibly inspired the aforementioned Frank Zappa appearance from later in the season, in which Zappa proceeded to destroy a car with the same golden sledgehammer (it was deemed “playing the car”). It doesn’t seem a coincidence now that Michael Nesmith appeared in both bits.

11. THE TITLE OF THE MICKY DOLENZ-PENNED TUNE “RANDY SCOUSE GIT” WAS DEEMED SO OFFENSIVE IN BRITAIN THAT IT HAD TO BE RENAMED.

Micky Dolenz wrote his first Monkees tune, “Randy Scouse Git,” for the group’s third album Headquarters, which he describes in his book I’m a Believer: My Life of Monkees, Music and Madness, as all about his experiences in England in 1967. (“The Beatles, Samantha [Juste, his eventual wife], the parties, the chemicals … everything.”) Trouble was, even though the title sounds tame to us Yanks, over in Britain it directly translated to, according to Dolenz, “horny, Liverpudlian jerk.” For the song’s U.K. release, the drummer chose “Alternative Title” for its alternative title, and the track still made it to number two on the British charts.

Additional source:
Monkee Business: The Revolutionary Made-For-TV Band, by Eric Lefcowitz

The 11 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Wilson Webb/Netflix

With thousands of titles available, browsing your Netflix menu can feel like a full-time job. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed, take a look at our picks for the 11 best movies on Netflix right now.

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man may be in the middle of a Disney and Sony power struggle, but that didn't stop this ambitious animated film from winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards. Using a variety of visual style choices, the film tracks the adventures of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), who discovers he's not the only Spider-Man in town.

2. Hell or High Water (2016)

Taylor Sheridan's Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water follows two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who take to bank robberies in an effort to save their family ranch from foreclosure; Jeff Bridges is the drawling, laconic lawman on their tail.

3. Raging Bull (1980)

Robert De Niro takes on the life of pugilist Jake LaMotta in a landmark and Oscar-winning film from Martin Scorsese that frames LaMotta's violent career in stark black and white. Joe Pesci co-stars.

4. Marriage Story (2019)

Director Noah Bambauch drew raves for this deeply emotional drama about a couple (Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson) whose uncoupling takes a heavy emotional and psychological toll on their family.

5. Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Eddie Murphy ended a brief sabbatical from filmmaking following a mixed reception to 2016's Mr. Church with this winning biopic about Rudy Ray Moore, a flailing comedian who finds success when he reinvents himself as Dolemite, a wisecracking pimp. When the character takes off, Moore produces a big-screen feature with a crew of inept collaborators.

6. The Lobster (2015)

Colin Farrell stars in this black comedy that feels reminiscent of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's work: A slump-shouldered loner (Farrell) has just 45 days to find a life partner before he's turned into an animal. Can he make it work with Rachel Weisz, or is he doomed to a life on all fours? By turns absurd and provocative, The Lobster isn't a conventional date movie, but it might have more to say about relationships than a pile of Nicholas Sparks paperbacks.

7. Flash of Genius (2008)

Greg Kinnear stars in this drama based on a true story about inventor Robert Kearns, who revolutionized automobiles with his intermittent windshield wiper. Instead of getting rich, Kearns is ripped off by the automotive industry and engages in a years-long battle for recognition.

8. Locke (2013)

The camera rarely wavers from Tom Hardy in this existential thriller, which takes place entirely in Hardy's vehicle. A construction foreman trying to make sure an important job is executed well, Hardy's Ivan Locke grapples with some surprising news from a mistress and the demands of his family. It's a one-act, one-man play, with Hardy making the repeated act of conversing on his cell phone as tense and compelling as if he were driving with a bomb in the trunk.

9. Cop Car (2015)

When two kids decide to take a police cruiser for a joyride, the driver (Kevin Bacon) begins a dogged pursuit. No good cop, he's got plenty to hide.

10. Taxi Driver (1976)

Another De Niro and Scorsese collaboration hits the mark, as Taxi Driver is regularly cited as one of the greatest American films ever made. De Niro is a potently single-minded Travis Bickle, a cabbie in a seedy '70s New York who wants to be an avenging angel for victims of crime. The mercurial Bickle, however, is just as unhinged as those he targets.

11. Sweet Virginia (2017)

Jon Bernthal lumbers through this thriller as a former rodeo star whose career has left him physically broken. Now managing a hotel in small-town Alaska, he stumbles onto a plot involving a murderer-for-hire (Christopher Abbott), upending his quiet existence and forcing him to take action.

The Definitive Guide to All the Cats in Cats

James Corden, Laurie Davidson, and Francesca Hayward star in Tom Hooper's Cats (2019).
James Corden, Laurie Davidson, and Francesca Hayward star in Tom Hooper's Cats (2019).
Universal Pictures

Regardless of whether you were impressed, confused, or downright frightened by the trailer for Tom Hooper’s upcoming film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical Cats, it’s safe to say that the star-studded cast and “digital fur technology” generated strong reactions all around. And, if you didn’t grow up listening to the soundtrack or watching performers in the 1998 film version purr and prance in furry, feline bodysuits, your shock is completely understandable.

Cats is light on plot, heavy on characters, and sprinkled with words that T.S. Eliot made up for his 1939 poetry collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the basis for the musical. To familiarize yourself with all the eccentrically named cats—and find out who’s portraying them in the film—here’s a comprehensive list of every "romantical, pedantical, critical, parasitical, allegorical, metaphorical, statistical, and mystical" cat you’ll meet.

Admetus

admetus cats film 1998
Really Useful Films

Played by: Eric Underwood

Admetus is a ginger and white chorus cat with no spoken lines, but plenty of strong dancing sequences—perfect for former Royal Ballet soloist Eric Underwood. Though some musical productions have renamed Admetus as Plato (both names are mentioned in “The Naming of Cats”), the film will feature them as two separate characters.

Alonzo

Played by: Bluey Robinson

Alonzo is another chorus cat, identifiable by the black patches of fur on his face and the black-and-white stripes on his head. Apart from his ensemble appearances, he has intermittent solo lines and also assists Munkustrap during the fight against Macavity. Since singer/songwriter Bluey Robinson will portray him in the film, it’s possible that Alonzo will dance less than he has in stage productions.

Asparagus, the Theatre Cat

Played by: Sir Ian McKellen

Nicknamed “Gus,” this elderly, trembling tabby has an impressive acting history, which he recounts at length during his song (along with a few disparaging comments about how the theater isn’t what it once was, and kittens these days aren’t properly trained). Who better to play one of the Jellicles’ most well-respected thespians than one of the humans' most well-respected thespians, Sir Ian McKellen?

Bombalurina

Played by: Taylor Swift

Though Bombalurina is only mentioned by name once (in “The Naming of Cats”), she’s pretty hard to miss: the slinky, red-coated cat helps introduce Jennyanydots, the Rum Tum Tugger, Grizabella, Bustopher Jones, and Macavity. She most often sings with Demeter, her duet partner for “Macavity the Mystery Cat.”

Bustopher Jones

Played by: James Corden

Known as “the Brummell of cats,” this black-and-white, epicurean dandy frequents gentlemen’s clubs, wears white spats, and weighs a whopping 25 pounds. Jones’s genial manner endears him to just about everyone—not unlike James Corden.

Cassandra

cassandra in 1998's cats film
Really Useful Films

Played by: Mette Towley

With her sleek brown coat and her regal, mysterious manner, Cassandra seems like she might’ve been worshipped by ancient Egyptians in a past life. You might recognize Mette Towley, a member of Pharrell’s dance group, The Baes, from her appearances in 2019’s Hustlers and Rihanna’s “Lemon” music video—and you can be sure that she’ll uphold Cassandra’s legacy as one of the most eye-catching chorus cats.

Coricopat and Tantomile

Played by: Jaih Betote and Zizi Strallen

These striped twin tabby cats always move in unison and boast psychic abilities. Though the roles are sometimes cut from theatrical productions, we’ll get to see them in the film, played by hip hop dancer Jaih Betote and Zizi Strallen, best known for her work as Mary Poppins in the recent West End revival.

Demeter

demeter in 1998's cats film
Really Useful Films

Played by: Daniela Norman

This multicolored, slightly skittish cat usually duets with Bombalurina, and together they perform “Macavity the Mystery Cat” in full. It’s often implied that Demeter has a complicated romantic past with Macavity, who tries to abduct her during his attack. British ballet dancer Daniela Norman will star opposite Taylor Swift’s Bombalurina in the film, and you can also see her in Netflix’s upcoming ballet drama series Tiny Pretty Things.

Grizabella, the Glamour Cat

Played by: Jennifer Hudson

This aging starlet is now decrepit, depressed, and shamefully rejected by the rest of the Jellicles—think Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond with more self-awareness and very raggedy fur. Even if the Cats original cast recording wasn’t the soundtrack for your childhood road trips, you might have heard Grizabella’s song “Memory;” it’s been covered by Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Barry Manilow, Glee’s Chris Colfer, and more. American Idol alum (and general ballad-belting powerhouse) Jennifer Hudson will bring her Academy Award-winning talents to the role of Grizabella in the film.

Growltiger and Griddlebone

Played by: Ray Winstone and Melissa Madden Gray

Growltiger, a rough-riding sea captain cat, and Griddlebone, his fluffy white lover, appear during “Growltiger’s Last Stand,” during which Gus reminisces about having played the part of Growltiger in a stage production long ago. The characters have been left out of some productions, including the 1998 film, but Hooper’s version will feature them, where they'll be played by British actor Ray Winstone and Australian performer Melissa Madden Gray (whose stage name, fittingly, is Meow Meow).

Jellylorum

Played by: Freya Rowley

Named after T.S. Eliot’s own cat, Jellylorum is a maternal calico who cares for Gus and also helps introduce Jennyanydots and Bustopher Jones. Though sometimes portrayed as older and more mature than some of the other cats, Freya Rowley (who performed as Tantomile on the UK tour of Cats) will likely bring a younger energy to the character.

Jennyanydots, the Old Gumbie Cat

Played by: Rebel Wilson

Jennyanydots is a goofy old tabby cat who lazes around all day and spends her nights teaching the basement vermin various household skills, etiquette, and performing arts. Under her tutelage, the mice learn to crochet, the cockroaches become helpful boy scouts, and the beetles form a tap-dancing troupe. Rebel Wilson is a perfect match for such a multifaceted, eccentric, and amusing gumbie cat (whatever gumbie is).

Macavity, the Mystery Cat

Played by: Idris Elba

The show’s main antagonist is a tall, thin criminal cat with sunken eyes and dusty ginger fur. While the Jellicles are plainly terrified of this “monster of depravity,” they also seem eerily impressed by his ability to elude capture and conviction. Historically, Macavity hasn’t done any speaking, singing, or dancing—he only shows up briefly to kidnap Old Deuteronomy during a rousing cat fight—but here’s hoping that Hooper has broadened the role for the film so we get to hear at least a good growl or two from Idris Elba.

Mr. Mistoffelees

Played by: Laurie Davidson

Laurie Davidson, who played Shakespeare in TNT’s Will, will take on the role of Mr. Mistoffelees, an affable tuxedo cat who peppers his magic tricks with plenty of high leaps and pizzazz. He’s generally beloved by the rest of the cats, and he also saves the day by conjuring Old Deuteronomy from wherever Macavity had hidden him.

Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer

Played by: Danny Collins and Naoimh Morgan

These two roguish calicos describe themselves as “knockabout clowns, quick-change comedians, tightrope walkers, and acrobats.” They’re also partners in petty crime, notorious for smashing vases, stealing pearls, and generally wreaking havoc upon their posh family in Victoria Grove. British dancer Danny Collins will join Naoimh Morgan—who actually played Rumpleteazer in the Cats international tour—to bring the spirited rascals to life in the film.

Munkustrap

Played by: Robert Fairchild

Without Munkustrap, viewers would have little hope of understanding what’s actually happening in this vaguely plotted musical. Though there’s no song to introduce him, the striking, silver cat is still arguably the most important character: He describes the function of the Jellicle Ball, narrates the action as it unfolds, and leads the charge against Macavity’s attack. It takes a certified musical theater machine to play such an integral part, and Hooper has surely found that in Robert Fairchild, former New York City Ballet principal dancer and Tony Award nominee for An American in Paris.

Old Deuteronomy

Played by: Dame Judi Dench

In the gender-swapped role of our dreams, Dame Judi Dench will play Old Deuteronomy, the revered (usually male) town elder who chooses one lucky kitty at the annual Jellicle Ball to ascend to cat heaven, the Heaviside Layer, and be born again. It isn’t Dench’s first time in the junkyard: She was preparing to appear as both Jennyanydots and Grizabella in the original 1981 West End production of Cats when she snapped her Achilles tendon and had to pull out.

Plato and Socrates

Played by: Larry and Laurent Bourgeois (Les Twins)

Though Plato is a chorus cat mentioned in “The Naming of Cats” and included in some stage productions, Socrates was created specifically for Hooper’s film to make room for both halves of Les Twins, also known as Larry and Laurent Bourgeois. The French hip hop duo gained mainstream recognition after Beyoncé featured them in her 2018 Coachella set and subsequent Netflix concert film Homecoming.

Rum Tum Tugger

Played by: Jason Derulo

The Rum Tum Tugger is a perpetually fickle feline with a lot of rock-n’-roll flair and a pair of hips that he seems to have stolen from Mick Jagger himself. In addition to his own song, Tugger also sings “Mr. Mistoffelees” and features in a few other numbers. With Jason Derulo taking on the role for the film, there’s a good chance we’ll see a modernized, moonwalking version of this swoon-worthy cat.

Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat

Played by: Steven McRae

Skimbleshanks is a charming Scottish cat who looks like a friendly tiger and ensures that all is in order on the night trains, which includes everything from patrolling for mice to reminding the guard to ask passengers how they like their tea. With his flaming red hair and graceful precision, Royal Ballet principal dancer Steven McRae definitely has a couple things in common with his character.

Syllabub/Sillabub/Jemima

Played by: Jonadette Carpio

This kitten’s name varies from production to production, but she’s usually characterized by her playful, innocent manner and her willingness to accept Grizabella when the other Jellicles try to shun her. Jonadette Carpio, Philippines native and member of the all-female Krump crew Buckness Personified, will bring her street dance background to the role in the film.

Victoria

Played by: Francesca Hayward

Though lithe, light-footed Victoria doesn’t sing any lines of her own in the original musical, her gleaming white coat and balletic dance solos still make her a standout—so it’s only fitting that Royal Ballet principal dancer Francesca Hayward will bring her to life in the film, where the role has been expanded into a main character. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Taylor Swift even collaborated on a new song called “Beautiful Ghosts” that Hayward will sing in the movie.

Miscellaneous Chorus Cats

Because theater companies vary in size and scope, certain chorus cats are sometimes omitted from productions—or members of the ensemble just aren’t assigned specific characters. At this point, Bill Bailey, Carbucketty, Electra, Etcetera, Peter, Pouncival, Quaxo, Rumpus Cat, Tumblebrutus, and Victor are all chorus cat names that haven’t been given to anybody in the film, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see extra cats in the shadows. According to Dance Spirit, Corey John Snide and Kolton Krause, who played Coricopat and Tumblebrutus on Broadway, respectively, have both been cast as ensemble members in Hooper’s film.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER