March 12, 2023

FTV: Michael Dolenz


     You probably recognize the last name in the title and are thinking, “Hey bud, you got the wrong first name.  Don’t you mean ‘Micky Dolenz’?”  You are half right – I am talking about the former lead singer and drummer of The Monkees, but we will get to the ‘Michael’ part in a bit.  We last discussed Micky Dolenz a while back under the title ‘Micky Braddock’ (FTV: 1-4-23).  We explained how he became ‘Micky Braddock’ when he was signed to do a TV series called Circus Boy at the age of ten.  When the series was canceled after three seasons, his parents made the wise choice of not sending him off to more acting auditions for fear that the pitfalls of being a ECA (ex-child actor) would be detrimental to his mental health.  Micky went back to being a relatively normal public school student enjoying a relatively normal life in southern California.

Of course, when he re-entered the biz, he enjoyed his second career as a TV/Rock ‘n’ Roll star/celebrity as a member of the Pre-Fab Four, at least until the show was canceled.

     Before they were taken off the air, The Monkees had banded together (pun intended) to show the powers that be (PTB) at Columbia/Screen Gems they had evolved into a real band.  As a TV product, they were adding their vocals on top of music beds laid down by studio musicians.  With this formula, The Monkees were selling millions of records using their hit TV show to act as the greatest PR tool ever.  When they began making noise about wanting to be ‘more involved’ in the music end, the suits kept putting them off.  “If it ain’t broke, don’t try and fix it,” they were told.  Even the show’s creators, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, kept them at arms length – they had convinced the four Monkees they did not need agents or formal representation.  Bob & Bert told them, “Hey, no problem!  We will take care of you guys.”

     If ‘taking care of you guys’ meant keeping them on a weekly stipend and cutting them  royalty checks for their record sales, then they were true to their word.  What they weren’t so square on was the millions of dollars that rolled into the company from merchandising, tours, and promotional events.  Without a strong, united front, The Monkees had little leverage to try and secure a better deal.  The one and only time they tried the, “Hey, we want a better deal or we quit ” gambit, it was ‘Mr. Anti-big-fat-business-cats’ member Peter Tork who sided with the suits.  Monkeeland was indeed a strange world as the end neared.  Their TV show crumbled and their movie feature Head (written and produced with an unknown B-movie actor named Jack Nicholson) was a less than spectacular success.  The band machinery didn’t stop working, it just fell apart one piece at a time.  Dolenz noted that after the one true group effort the band recorded (Headquarters – 1967) hit No. 1 on the charts, it only stayed there a week compared to their two previous albums (13 weeks and 18 weeks, respectively). 

     Headquarters also marked the last time all four of them would collaborate together on an album.  When the band did not return to the studio to work up a second album together, Peter Tork became disillusioned and jumped ship.  The three remaining Monkees (Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, and Davy Jones) soldiered on but without a TV PR machine boosting their sales, they were never quite as commercially successful as before.  When they quietly disbanded, they all thought, “Great, now I can pursue my own projects,” never realizing that solo fame is a different, fickle animal.  Micky’s parents had protected him from the dreaded ‘I have been canceled, don’t they love me any more?’ curse when Circus Boy ended.  Unfortunately, Micky was in his twenties when The Monkees folded, so he experienced the ups and downs (a lot of downs) that go along with being the ‘former star of’ (the adult version of being an ex-child star).

     Dolenz had money in the bank.  He had high profile friends like Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, and John Lennon.  Micky was near the top of the L.A. party A-list, but was still feeling unfulfilled.  When John Lennon went through his ‘lost weekend’ phase during his separation from Yoko Ono, Dolenz was part of that scene even though he quips now, “I am told I had a good time.”  He married his English girlfriend Samantha and together they had a daughter, Ami, who is now a successful actor.  In the end, however, Micky found out family life and the endless L.A. party scene were not compatible.  Samantha filed for divorce and he tried to blot out his sadness with more partying, drugs, and alcohol.  As he said in his book I’m A Believer – My Life of Monkees, Music, and Madness (Micky Dolenz & Mark Bego – 1993 Hyperion Books), “There’s a period of about a year in here (1975?) that is simply missing from my life.  I was taking antidepressants, drinking a little too much, smoking a little too much, and completely wallowing in my self-made misery.” All in all, he was lucky because a person with less self control might have been the next Hollywood tragedy.  Instead, Dolenz found the treadmill lifestyle he was living a bore and began looking for a constructive way to work out his grief.

     The lifeline he was tossed by songwriters/producers and musical artists Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart was the beginning of Micky’s rehabilitation program.  Boyce and Hart suggested that the four of them (including Davy Jones) go on tour as Dolenz, Jones, Boyce, and Hart – “The guys that sang ‘em and the guys that wrote ‘em”.  With The Monkees TV show now in reruns, the timing for them to cash in the mini-nostalgia wave was perfect.  Micky says, “We hit it hard – fair dates, club dates, lounge dates, amusement parks, the works.  The five-star hotels and the airborne Monkees Express (the name of their old touring plane) were traded in for Ramada Inns and a Buick Station wagon.  It was shades of Micky and the One-Nighters (Dolenz pre-Monkees band).”  Again, Dolenz recalled, “Things were looking up.  I stopped the drinking, the smoking, the Valium, etc, and was beginning to get my life back in order.”

     When the D,J,B&H gig ended, Davy and Micky went out on their own until they had performed the act enough times, ‘too many times’ (“the old songs over again….and over and over and . . .”).  The first time the four Monkees were in the same room together, it was to consider an offer to do a commercial for the Golden Arches.  First, they tried to impress each other with how busy they were in their post-Monkees careers.  Then Peter put the old kibosh on the commercial:  “If you think that I’m going to do a commercial for those meat-eating, fat cat, rain-forest-killing, bourgeoisie, fascist pigs . . .”.  One wonders; where was this version of Peter  hiding when they were trying to renegotiate their deal with B & B back in their glory days?

     Old pal Harry Nilsson was turning his very successful TV cartoon/album The Point into a stage musical in London.  He convinced Davy and Micky to co-star.  Though he was not the stage veteran that Jones was, Dolezn thought it would be a great way to get back to London.  After being typecast from his role in The Monkees (“I am an actor, not a drummer!  I played a drummer on TV!”) Micky thought doing a theater gig with Davy would be another way to broaden his horizons.  Unfortunately, Jones had changed.  His sunny demeanor had gone south and he had baggage galore (problems with managers, accountants, agents, business partners, etc.).  Micky found it was becoming increasingly hard to work with him.  “He had changed from the fun-loving, cheeky little rascal I had known into an unhappy, bitter, misanthrope.  One night after a performance, Davy and I had a massive fight, a real knock-down, drag-out battle.  We finished the play but I canceled all of my upcoming engagements as Dolenz and Jones, and I washed my hands of the entire relationship.”

     When the twelve week run of The Point ended, Micky found himself ‘footloose and fancy free’ in London.  He figured he may as well spend a little time…and ended up staying fifteen years!  So what does a former TV star/musician do in England for fifteen years?  First off, he hired a literary agent named Linda Seifert and armed her with his ‘director’s reel’ (consisting of one episode of The Monkees and a couple of commercials he had directed) to see if he could find some work behind the camera.  Needless to say, he was in the right place at the right time and started to find work directing a variety of shows for the BBC and various commercial interests.  One of the first was a TV sitcom about a boy and the mechanical robot he built in his basement that suddenly comes alive.  Ironically, during his time directing Metal Micky, he decided to formally change his first name to ‘Michael’ as it sounded more professional in his new trade:

“The truth was that I did feel like a new person.  I found that the British don’t have nearly the same problem with typecasting as they do here in the States.  I was soon working full-time, and best of all, there was no mention made of the Monkees . . . ever.”

     One might accuse Dolenz of being a name dropper, but in viewing his credentials during this period of time, it isn’t bragging – ‘just the facts, ma’am’ as Sgt. Friday used to say.  As a director, he worked with Monty Pythons’ Flying Circus members Michale Palin and Terry Jones.  Micky takes credit for discovering, “a very funny, talented young actor named Robbie Coltrane,” who would later resurface in a couple of James Bond films.  The recently deceased Coltrane was probably best known for his portrayal of Hagrid in all of the Harry Potter movies.  Dolenz also remarried and added three more daughters to his family.  At the time he was writing I’m a Believer, they were 11, 9, and 8.  All was idyllic in the Dolenz household until 1986 when Peter Tork called and asked if Micky would be interested in a new Monkees tour celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the show.

     Dolenz contacted the tour producer in New York, David Fishof, but declined the offer because 1) the money wasn’t very good, 2) he was ready to start production on a new TV series in England, and 3) he had no real desire to get back on stage again.  In fact, he turned Fishof down twice, but as they say, the third time’s the charm.  The money was better and during the re-think, Micky reasoned it would be a great way to show his kids America while getting to revisit his musical past.  Mike Nesmith declined the offer so it was just Davy, Peter, and Micky involved.  Their first meeting in the Catskill mountains to rehearse started poorly – it seems Davy was still living in the past.  Dolenz and Tork gave him the task of ‘staging’ the show (putting together the set list) which eased the tensions some but Davy, in a repeat of the London scene, became more and more of a fly in the ointment.

     The 1986 outing was the highest grossing tour of the year.  Offers to record more music, films, commercials, and what not were rolling in.  With MTV re-running the entire Monkees series to a new, younger audience, it seemed the sky was the limit and the world was poised for another dose of Monkeemania.  When Davy had a meltdown backstage at the MTV Music Video Awards Ceremony, the golden goose was cooked.  

     Davy was upset that Arista Records was ready to release a second single from their newest album, Then and Now….The Best of the Monkees.  Peter and Micky had recorded a couple of new songs for the Best of release and Davy had pointedly turned down the opportunity to participate.  He was angry when the first single That Was Then, This Is Now became a hit.  He went ballistic when he found out the label was now planning on releasing another new track, Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere.  The backstage blow up was set aside long enough for the three to present their part of the awards program, and then they scattered to the wind.  It is no wonder the tour ended on a sour note – they didn’t speak again for a month after the MTV awards show.

     By 1993, Micky was back in Los Angeles, living closer to his first daughter Ami and charting a new course.  His first two marriages lasted 7 and 15 years but he has been with his current wife since 2002.  He spent the better part of his time after the last Dolenz and Jones tour both acting and working behind the camera.  Dolenz says he is comfortable on camera but actually prefers the behind the scenes aspect of entertainment better.  This does not mean Micky has gotten totally out of the music business.  After the passing of Jones (2-29-2012) and Tork (2-21-2019), Dolenz and Nesmith joined together for what they called The Monkees Farewell Tour.  In clips of their last tour date together at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles (November 14, 2021), Dolenz shouldered the majority of the workload.  Nesmith participated but came and went from the stage several times.  He didn’t look feeble, but he moved like a man feeling his age.  Less than a month later, Nez passed away at the age of 78 leaving Micky as the only surviving member of the Pre-Fab Four.

     March 9, 2021 saw the release of Micky’s latest album, Dolenz Sings Nesmith.  Dolenz said the album, his first in nine years, was meant to honor his friend and colleague and was recorded during the height of the COVID 19 pandemic.  Always a fan of Nesmith’s songwriting, Micky even unearthed a few numbers that had not been previously recorded.  Early in 2022, Dolenz announced he was going to continue to honor his old friend by taking their touring band back on the road to celebrate the music of the Monkees for as long as the public wants to hear it.  As of this date, The Monkees Celebrated by Micky Dolenz tour has a full set of bookings into June of 2023 including an April 21 date at the Kewadin Casino in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

     George Michael Dolenz has a resume that many would give their right arm for.  He started out as a child star who got to ride a small elephant in parades across the land.  He was able to survive being an ECA (ex-child actor) because his parents were willing to let him go back to being a normal kid.  He got to spend time touring with Micky and the One-nighters before The Monkees upped the ante.  When the Monkees ended, he was able to explore both sides of the acting world – in front of and behind the cameras.  He survived wild times, raised four daughters, and pretty much has been able to pick and choose what projects he wanted to pursue.  Dolenz got to live in both England and America and learn to appreciate the subtle differences between the cultures in both countries.  Micky has now come full circle and as the last Monkee standing, he is enjoying every minute he can performing the music that made them stars.  

     To the fans, Micky Dolenz is eternally grateful.  To the haters who tried to diminish the music the Monkees made out of jealousy or spite, he has a short two word declaration that we can’t print here.  Love them or hate them, one can not deny Micky Dolenz his right to celebrate his career anyway he wants to.   He may be, after all, the last Monkee standing, but he isn’t just Monkeeing around.

Top Piece Video:  Micky and Michael Nesmith performing The Last Train to Clarksville on one of the earlier dates of their final tour together.  Nez still looked pretty fit at this stage of their last tour.