In 1966, the powers-that-be at NBC-TV decided that what America needed was a fake version of The Beatles. And so, The Monkees came into being as a prime-time television series. Former English pop singer and jockey Davy Jones played the McCartneyesque teen-heartthrob, folk musician Peter Tork was the goofy Ringo Starr stand-in, one-time TV child star Mickey Dolenz was the Lennon-like free spirit, and Texas-born musician and composer Michael Nesmith was the Harrisonian deep thinker. The show only lasted two seasons, but the band has played on in various configurations until only Dolenz survives. I saw them, without Nesmith, in 1986 at Starwood Amphitheater in Nashville. Good show. Wish you could have been there.
As was de rigueur for American TV programs in those days, the Monkees were obliged to meet the monsters at least once. It was, after all, the decade of horror in all aspects of the popular culture, for reasons already detailed in this space. Oddly, it was not a Halloween episode, which would have been the norm. Instead, “Monstrous Monkee Mash” aired on January 22, 1968, and was the eighteenth show of the second season. Davy is entranced by a magical necklace in the possession of one Lorelei, played by ubiquitous 60s TV guest star, the lovely Arlene Martel (AKA Arlene Sax), making her second appearance on the show. She also appeared in very nearly every genre-related-or-peripheral series of the decade, including two episodes of The Twilight Zone, one of The Outer Limits, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, My Favorite Martian, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Mission: Impossible, The Wild Wild West and even The Flying Nun. Yes, there actually was such a series. Arlene is best-known for playing T’Pring, Mr. Spock’s intended bride in the “Amok Time” episode of the original Star Trek series. Her last genre role was in the 1977 cheese-fest, Dracula’s Dog. She passed away in 2014 at the age of 78.
Lorelei’s father is a Transylvanian count named Sylvanius T. Batula, who has a werewolf, a mummy and a Frankenstein monster in residence at his castle. He was played by Ron Masack, who was in reality three months younger than his ‘daughter’. Masack’s career covered a lot of the same television shows as Arlene’s and continues to this day. He has a role in the recently completed but not yet released horror film, The Curse of the Gorgon, co-starring with no one you’ve ever heard of. Lo, how the mighty have fallen!
Anyhow. Back to the show.
The count wants to turn Davy into a vampire. The other Monkees come to Davy’s rescue and standard chaos ensues. Mickey nearly becomes a werewolf, Peter almost has his brain transferred to the Frankenstein monster’s cranium, and Mike gets wrapped up in the Mummy’s business. Davy is, as always, saved, and a song (“Going Down”) is performed during the final action sequence.
The Frankenstein monster, by the way, was played by Mike Lane (1933-2015), who had a fair-to-middlin’ genre film career. He previously played The Monster in Frankenstein 1970, with Boris Karloff as the mad scientist who brings him to life using atomic power. He returned as Frank N. Stein in the 1976 television series, Monster Squad, and as the similarly named villain Frank N. Stien in 1988’s Grotesque. His last role was as Asmodeus in Demon Keeper (1994).
The Monkees produced one film after the show was canceled, Head, in 1968. Nesmith composed some of the best songs of the era, including “Different Drum” which was a huge hit for Linda Ronstadt when she was with The Stone Poneys. He had a key part in creating the modern music video and what became MTV. He died of heart failure on December 10, 2021. He was 78.
Jones’s subsequent non-musical career consisted largely of playing himself in cameo roles and guest spots, including one episode each of The New Scooby-Doo Movies (1972) and Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1997). He passed from a heart attack in 2012, aged 66.
Apart from music, Tork taught algebra at a private school and worked as a waiter. The most accomplished musician in the group, he played twelve instruments. He died of cancer in 2019 at the age of 77.
Dolenz went back to acting as well as music, doing voice work for TV cartoon shows The Funky Phantom and The Scooby Doo/Dynomutt Hour, and as Arthur in The Tick (1994-1995). He also appeared in the truly execrable film The Night of the Strangler (1972) and in Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake of Halloween. He’s planning a tribute tour to celebrate his late band-mates and their music.
And so, until next time, my fellow lovers of lunacy,
Be afraid. Be very afraid.