Wednesday, August 10, 2016


The American Cinematheque’s upcoming "Groovy Movies of 1966" series featuring Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-Sac, Lord Love a Duck, Our Man Flint, Modesty Blaise, and the 50th anniversary of the Emmy Award-winning series The Monkees, has me in a sentimental mood.

Talk about memories of things past.

That year was one of the watershed 12 months of my young life.

photo: Susan King's personal collection.

I went from a tubby 11-year-old sixth grader bullied by a lot of my fellow students at my Catholic girls’ school in Belmont, California to a slightly thinner, slightly less bullied 12-year-old in seventh grade.

The Vietnam War was telecast every night on the news, but most of us were more interested in looking like British supermodel Jean Shrimpton. And I persuaded my mother to buy me the product that would make my hair shine just like her long locks.

My parents finally got a new car - a forest green Dodge Coronet with white faux leather seats, black carpeting, a radio and working air conditioning. They kept it for 20 years.

We moved from a dreadful garden apartment in San Mateo with Kleenex-thin walls to a duplex that was new and clean.

That move totally changed my life, because for the first time I had girls my age as neighbors. Jenny, with whom I am still in touch, and Lynn, whom I lost contact with four decades ago, lived in nearby duplexes. Every Friday, we would meet at one of our homes to watch The Wild, Wild West on CBS and The Man From U.N.C.L.E on NBC. My parents always made pizza.

Though the Production Code would end in 1967, several films released in 1966, including the pictures featured at the Cinematheque, pushed the envelope, including Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and the British imports Alfie, Georgy Girl, Morgan, and Blow-Up.

An ardent film fan since I was three, my movie diet was still strictly Disney (The Ugly Dachshund, Robinson Crusoe U.S.M.C.), family comedies (Munsters, Go Home!, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken) Doris Day comedies (The Glass Bottom Boat) and an occasional classic (Fantastic Voyage).

Thanks to Jenny and Lynn’s influence, my musical tastes began to change that year. I couldn’t stop listening to KYA on the AM dial. Every Saturday morning, I would listen to “The Emperor” Gene Nelson count down the top 30 of the week. The summer of ’66 I was grooving to “Summer in the City,” “Sweet Pea,” “Sunny,” “Paperback Rider” and even “They’re Coming to Take Me Away Ha-Haah.”

My parents began tearing their hair out on Sept. 12, 1966 when The Monkees premiered on NBC. Borrowing heavily from the fast-paced editing and rapid-fire quips of Richard Lester’s groundbreaking Beatles films A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, the series followed the adventures of a struggling rock group who somehow had enough money to live on the beach in L.A.

It was love at first sight. Stars Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Mike Nesmith were the greatest things since sliced bread. I bought 45s, albums, 16 Magazines, Tiger Beat, and Tiger Beat Monkees Spectaculars.

There were many reasons I went “ape” over The Monkees.  We all had crushes on David McCallum and Robert Vaughn from The Man from U.N.C.L.E, but they were almost the same age as my mother. The Monkees quartet were young - they ranged in age from 20 to 23 when the series started. And they were awfully cute.

The Monkees also didn’t look like any other sitcom on television. Remember, it was the era of such traditional comedies as  Gilligan’s Island and I Dream of Jeannie. 

I loved the music. The songs were peppy and fun and prompted me to listen to other groups dominating the airwaves. 

And most of all, after a trying time at school, I could watch the show or retreat to my bedroom and listen to the music and feel happy.

My parents couldn’t take me playing this music in the living room, so they bought me a portable record player for my room.

Lynn’s brother Rick played the guitar and we would rehearse and sing for our parents - all of whom politely smiled as we would do our best with “I’m A Believer” and “Sometime in the Morning.”

I still have all my Monkees memorabilia. And during my years at the L.A. Times I interviewed Tork, Dolenz, and the late Jones on the phone and chatted with them in the flesh when they guest starred on Boy Meets World. When Jones died of a heart attack four years ago, I felt like I had lost a bit of my childhood.

Tork and Dolenz are on currently on tour, performing old hits as well as tunes from their new album, “Good Times!”. And Rhino has also released a restored Blu-ray collection of the two seasons of the series.

Dolenz, 71, is going to be at the Egyptian on August 13th for an evening celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Monkees. Besides screening four episodes (including the final installment, which he wrote and directed), Dolenz will also chat with actress/writer Illeana Douglas after the second episode.

In a recent phone interview (I didn’t gush, honest), Dolenz noted the the Monkees have endured five decades because “I think it’s kind of a perfect storm. You surround yourself with talented people and everybody works hard. You never know when you start something if it’s going to work. The way I’ve always described it, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.”

The series definitely had talented people involved. Executive producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider went on to make such groundbreaking films as 1969’s Easy Rider and 1970’s Five Easy Pieces, which Rafelson directed. Neil Diamond, Carole King, and Gerry Goffin were among the composers who penned the catchy songs.

Ron Simon, curator of television and radio at the Paley Center in New York, noted that though The Monkees was often compared to A Hard Day’s Night, the series had its “own personality and charm. It’s different than A Hard Day’s Night because it had a colorful American spirit that embodied pop music at that time in 1966.”

Though the series only lasted two seasons, said Simon, fans got the opportunity to witness these four grow, not only as individuals, but also as a group.

“The knock against them was always that they were a manufactured- Pre-Fab Fab Four,” noted Simon. But you could see they were developing their own chemistry musically and also as performers. I think The Monkees proved you could do anything. It was contemporary. You got a sense that there is something fresh and of the moment. “

Dolenz, who had begun his career a decade earlier as Micky Braddock in the series Circus Boy, took the success of the series “with a little bit of a grain of salt because I had done it before. [As Circus Boy] I had a fan club I had autograph signings. I was in parades. It didn’t come as quite the same shock to the system.”

Though we only chatted for 15 minutes, it was great to reconnect to a particularly memorable time in my life. And it reminds me - I have to give Jenny a call.

The Groovy Movies of 1966 runs from August 13-21 at the Egyptian Theatre.

Veteran journalist Susan King wrote about entertainment at the Los Angeles Times for 26 years (January 1990 - March 2016), specializing in classic Hollywood stories. She also wrote about independent, foreign and studio movies and occasionally TV and theater stories. She received her master's degree in film history and criticism at USC. After working 10 years at the L.A. Herald Examiner, she moved to the Los Angeles Times.