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11 Things You Might Not Know About The Monkees

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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

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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox
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20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox

As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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10 Hush-Hush Facts About L.A. Confidential
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On this day 20 years ago, a rising star director, a writer who thought he’d never get the gig, and a remarkable cast got together to make a film about the corrupt underbelly of 1950s Los Angeles, and the men and women who littered its landscape. This was L.A. Confidential, a film so complex that its creator (legendary crime writer James Ellroy) thought it was “unadaptable.” In the end, it was one of the most acclaimed movies of the 1990s, a film noir classic that made its leading actors into even bigger stars, and which remains an instantly watchable masterpiece to this day. Here are 10 facts about how it got made.

1. THE SCRIPTING PROCESS WAS TOUGH.

Writer-director Curtis Hanson had been a longtime James Ellroy fan when he finally read L.A. Confidential, and the characters in that particular Ellroy novel really spoke to him, so he began working on a script. Meanwhile, Brian Helgeland—originally contracted to write an unproduced Viking film for Warner Bros.—was also a huge Ellroy fan, and lobbied hard for the studio to give him the scripting job. When he learned that Hanson already had it, the two met, and bonded over their mutual admiration of Ellroy’s prose. Their passion for the material was clear, but it took two years to get the script done, with a number of obstacles.

"He would turn down other jobs; I would be doing drafts for free,” Helgeland said. “Whenever there was a day when I didn't want to get up anymore, Curtis tipped the bed and rolled me out on the floor."

2. IT WAS ORIGINALLY INTENDED AS A MINISERIES.

When executive producer David Wolper first read Ellroy’s novel, he saw the dense, complex story as the perfect fodder for a television miniseries, and was promptly turned down by all the major networks at the time.

3. JAMES ELLROY DIDN’T THINK THE BOOK COULD BE ADAPTED.

Though Wolper was intrigued by the idea of telling the story onscreen, Ellroy and his agent laughed at the thought. The author felt his massive book would never fit on any screen.

“It was big, it was bad, it was bereft of sympathetic characters,” Ellroy said. “It was unconstrainable, uncontainable, and unadaptable.”

4. CURTIS HANSON SOLD THE FILM WITH CLASSIC LOS ANGELES IMAGES.

To get the film made, Hanson had to convince New Regency Pictures head Arnon Milchan that it was worth producing. To do this, he essentially put together a collage of classic Los Angeles imagery, from memorable locations to movie stars, including the famous image of Robert Mitchum leaving jail after his arrest for using marijuana.

"Now you've seen the image of L.A. that was sold to get everybody to come here. Let's peel back the image and see where our characters live,” Hanson said.

Milchan was sold.

5. KEVIN SPACEY WAS ON HANSON’S WISH LIST FOR YEARS.

Though the other stars of the film were largely discoveries of the moment, Kevin Spacey was apparently someone Hanson wanted to work with for years. Spacey described Hanson as a director “who’d been trying for years and years and years to get me cast in films he made, and the studio always rejected me.” After Spacey won an Oscar for The Usual Suspects, Hanson called the actor and said “I think I’ve got the role, and I think they’re not gonna say no this time.”

6. SPACEY’S CHARACTER IS BASED ON DEAN MARTIN.

Warner Bros.

Though he cast relative unknowns in Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce, Hanson wanted an American movie star for the role of Jack Vincennes, and decided on Kevin Spacey. In an effort to convince Spacey to take the role, Hanson invited him to dine at L.A.’s famous Formosa Cafe (where scenes in the film are actually set). While at the cafe, Spacey asked a vital question:

“If it was really 1952, and you were really making this movie, who would you cast as Jack Vincennes? And [Hanson] said ‘Dean Martin.’”

At that point, Spacey looked up at the gallery of movie star photos which line the cafe, and realized Martin’s photo was right above him.

“To this day, I don’t know whether he sat us in that booth on purpose, but there was Dino looking down at me,” Spacey said.

After his meeting with Hanson, Spacey watched Martin’s performances in Some Came Running (1958) and Rio Bravo (1959), and realized that both films featured characters who mask vulnerability with a layer of cool. That was the genesis of Jack Vincennes.

7. HANSON CHOSE MUCH OF THE MUSIC BEFORE FILMING.

To help set the tone for his period drama, Hanson began selecting music of the early 1950s even before filming began, so he could play it on set as the actors went to work. Among his most interesting choices: When Jack Vincennes sits in a bar, staring at the money he’s just been bribed with, Dean Martin’s “Powder Your Face With Sunshine (Smile! Smile! Smile!)” plays, a reference to both the character’s melancholy, and to Spacey and Hanson’s decision to base the character on Martin.

8. THE CINEMATOGRAPHY WAS INSPIRED BY ROBERT FRANK PHOTOGRAPHS.

To emphasize realism and period accuracy, cinematographer Dante Spinotti thought less about the moving image, and more about still photographs. In particular, he used photographer Robert Frank’s 1958 collection "The Americans" as a tool, and relied less on artificial light and more on environmental light sources like desk lamps.

"I tried to compose shots as if I were using a still camera,” Spinotti said. “I was constantly asking myself, 'Where would I be if I were holding a Leica?' This is one reason I suggested shooting in the Super 35 widescreen format; I wanted to use spherical lenses, which for me have a look and feel similar to still-photo work.”

9. THE FINAL STORY TWIST IS NOT IN THE BOOK.

Warner Bros.

[SPOILER ALERT] In the film, Jack Vincennes, Ed Exley, and Bud White are all chasing a mysterious crime lord known as “Rollo Tomasi,” who turns out to be their own LAPD colleague, Dudley Smith (James Cromwell). Though Vincennes, Exley, and White are all native to Ellroy’s novel, the Tomasi name is entirely an invention of the film.

10. ELLROY APPROVED OF THE MOVIE.

To adapt L.A. Confidential for the screen, Hanson and Helgeland condensed Ellroy’s original novel, boiling the story down to a three-person narrative and ditching other subplots so they could get to the heart of the three cops at the center of the movie. Ellroy, in the end, was pleased with their choices.

“They preserved the basic integrity of the book and its main theme, which is that everything in Los Angeles during this era of boosterism and yahooism was two-sided and two-faced and put out for cosmetic purposes,” Ellroy said. “The script is very much about the [characters'] evolution as men and their lives of duress. Brian and Curtis took a work of fiction that had eight plotlines, reduced those to three, and retained the dramatic force of three men working out their destiny. I've long held that hard-boiled crime fiction is the history of bad white men doing bad things in the name of authority. They stated that case plain.”

Additional Sources:
Inside the Actors Studio: Kevin Spacey (2000)

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