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You can't blame Micky Dolenz for being cranky. After all, he's sitting in a hotel room in Rochester, New York, where he's currently appearing in a production of that theatrical landmark Grease. Worse, he's got a cough and a touch of the flu that he's been unable to kick. He should be resting in bed, a hot towel over his face, Vicks VapoRub slathered all over his chest. But instead, he's got to talk at length about his greatest claim to fame--the time he spent as Micky the happy-go-lucky drummer in a CBS television show called The Monkees. And while he does his best to maintain a professional demeanor--an attitude that's kept him going through forty years as an entertainer--you don't have to dig deep to reach the resentment.
"I have come to terms with it," he says, somewhat unconvincingly, about his Monkeedom, "but I don't like to dwell on it. Because basically, it was thirty years ago for me--and it was only two or three years of my life. I've had dinner parties that were longer than that. But that's what everyone wants to talk about. Would you like to talk about what you did thirty years ago for 24 hours a day? I doubt it."
Although these complaints are eminently understandable, they're also more than a little hypocritical. You see, the fifty-year-old Dolenz hasn't shunned all things Monkee; rather, he's done as much as anyone to keep them in the public consciousness. He helped promote syndicated airings of the 58 Monkees episodes, which aired nationwide on prime-time TV between 1966 and 1968 and on Saturday mornings between 1969 and 1973. He willingly participated in a 1986 Monkees reunion tour that also featured cast members Davy Jones and Peter Tork (Mike Nesmith was the sole holdout). He wrote an autobiography/Monkees memoir called I'm a Believer. He hyped the recent CD reissues of the nine original Monkees albums in association with Rhino Records. And he's spending a considerable chunk of 1995 touring with Jones under the moniker "Best of the Monkees."
In short, then, this is not a man who sees money earned from Monkees nostalgia as tainted. He's a veteran of the footlights, a trouper extraordinaire. And as a man who wants to work rather than sit on his ass and live off residuals, he understands that practically any job is a good job. Every real thespian knows that. And Micky Dolenz is a genuine thespian--as he'll tell you every chance he gets.
"The Monkees were not a real group," he says, with considerable exasperation. "It was a fictitious group. And I was an actor playing the role of a drummer in that fictitious rock-and-roll group. There was never any mystery about it, I didn't think. But back in 1967, I think what we were doing went over a lot of people's heads. We'd get criticisms of us as a band--which we never were. To tell you the truth, it confused me. I'd wonder, do these same critics think Leonard Nimoy is really a Vulcan?
"But critics have never really bothered me. I've been too successful to be concerned with them--and we were certainly too successful back then to even care. We always knew the music was good. We had writers like Carole King and Neil Diamond and Harry Nilsson and Paul Williams, and they don't write duff tunes. So the people who were criticizing us were criticizing them, too. Somebody had to be wrong, and I reckoned it was them. So, to be blunt, who really gives a fuck what critics say?"
Sentiments like these have had four decades to germinate. Dolenz got his start in show business as a child and first found fame before he was in his teens. Using the name Mickey Braddock, Dolenz starred in Circus Boy, a TV series that ran on NBC in 1956 and ABC in 1957 (reruns were Saturday morning staples until 1960). He played Corky, a blond-haired orphan who was taken under the wings of Big Tim Champion (Robert Lowery), Joey the Clown (Noah Beery Jr.), Little Tom (Billy Barty) and the other employees of a traveling circus. Young Corky's main chore was to serve as water boy for an elephant named Bimbo.
After Circus Boy's cancellation, Dolenz followed the usual former-child-star trajectory and did a wind sprint toward obscurity. As the mid-Sixties approached, he was barely making ends meet. At one point he joined a combo called the Missing Links, which Nesmith dismissed at the time as "strictly San Fernando Valley rock and roll. Comb your hair back into a pompadour and sing everybody else's music." However, Dolenz left the act after a bone ailment from which he suffers flared up. He had quit acting and singing to study architectural drafting when he heard about auditions for The Monkees.
The sitcom's concept was straightforward: Creator Bob Rafelson (who went on to direct films such as the 1981 remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice, with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange) wanted to bring to television the wit and verve that fueled the Beatles' movie debut, 1964's A Hard Day's Night. To that end, he auditioned some 500 actors and musicians for the parts of four bandmates intended to approximate the charm of John, Paul, George and Ringo. Stephen Stills was among the also-rans in this selection process. And the winners? Nesmith, a veteran of a folk group called the Survivors, as well as the heir to the Liquid Paper fortune (his mom invented the goop). Peter Tork (born Peter Torkelson), a folkie and ex-member of the Mugwumps, which featured Mama Cass Elliott and Zal Yanovsky, later of the Lovin' Spoonful. Davy Jones, a onetime jockey who appeared on Broadway in big-budget productions such as Oliver. And, of course, Corky the Circus Boy.