Fifty years ago this week, The Monkees debuted on NBC. What started as a way to replicate the music and madcap movies of the Beatles quickly became special in its own right.
- The Monkees TV show creators Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider took out an ad in Variety in 1965 to recruit “folk & roll musicians-singers for acting roles in a new TV series. Running parts for 4 insane boys.” Among the L.A.-area musicians who answered the call were future stars Harry Nilsson, David Crosby, Steven Stills, Paul Williams, Danny Hutton (of Three Dog Night)…and Peter Tork, Michael Nesmith, and former child star Mickey Dolenz, who had starred in the 1950s TV series Circus Boy.
- The fourth Monkee, Davy Jones, was already cast by the time auditions took place. He’d been signed to a contract by Screen Gems, the production company behind The Monkees after he performed with the Broadway cast of Oliver! on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. It was the same night as the Beatles’ historic appearance on the show. Jones witnessed the hordes of screaming teenage girls and resolved to become a teen idol himself.
- Contrary to a persistent urban legend, one aspiring musician who did not try out for the Monkees was notorious serial killer Charles Manson. While he was in and out of the ‘60s L.A. rock scene, he couldn’t have auditioned for the Monkees, because he was in prison at the time.
- One Monkees-related urban legend, however, is true: Michael Nesmith’s mother really did invent Liquid Paper. While working as an executive secretary at Texas Bank and Trust, Bette Nesmith Graham put some white paint in a tiny bottle and used it correct mistakes on typewritten pages, and a product was born. Graham sold her company to Gillette in 1979 for $47 million.
- Two elements of The Monkees were revolutionary: quick-cut editing and miniature films set to individual songs at the end of each episode. In other words, The Monkees invented the music video. In 1986, music video channel MTV paid homage to its forefathers with a 20th anniversary marathon of episodes of The Monkees. It got some of the best ratings the channel had ever seen, and episodes began to show up on local stations and MTV’s sister station, Nickelodeon. That led to a full-fledged Monkees reunion, which included a new album (Pool It), a top 20 single (“That Was Then, This is Now”), and a summer tour.
- One not-so-successful part of the ‘80s Monkees revival: a new version of the Monkees TV show called New Monkees. New musician-actors were recruited the way they’d been in the ‘60s, but the magic wasn’t there—Jared, Larry, Dino, and Marty were not the new Mickey, Mike, Peter, and Davy. New Monkees was cancelled after 13 episodes and the band disbanded without generating any hit songs.