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''The Monkees'' on NBC

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”Madness!!” screamed the ad that ran in Daily Variety on September 9, 1965. ”Auditions. Folk & Roll Musicians-Singers for acting roles in new TV series. Running parts for four insane boys, age 17-21.” This was the beginning of The Monkees, one of the first prime-time shows aimed at the youthquake generation. During its brief 1966-68 run, the NBC series would make instant idols out of Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, and Peter Tork, but finding them wasn’t easy: 437 hopefuls showed up to audition for producers Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson.

”They were looking for people who could do more than one thing — sing, dance, act, improvise, and play an instrument,” recalls Dolenz, now 48 and author of the new book I’m a Believer: My Life of Monkees, Music, and Madness (Hyperion, $9.95). ”You’d go back for audition after audition.”

The rejects from these arduous try-outs now make a distinguished alumni group. The Lovin’ Spoonful were nixed, according to Rafelson, for not being an ”all-around performance group.” Stephen Stills, pre-Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, had bad teeth and hair. Danny Hutton, who went on to success with Three Dog Night, was reportedly eliminated in the final round. Singer- songwriter Paul Williams (”Evergreen”) lost out to Dolenz for the second time — the first was for the star spot on TV’s Circus Boy (1956-58). Rafelson can’t recall if Charles Manson was among the long-haired auditioners as rumored but says if Manson was he would have rejected him for his ”malevolent smile.”

As for the final four, Nesmith, now 50, who sold the original concept for what later became MTV, impressed the producers by walking in, pounding on the desk, and asking, ”What’s all this about?” Jones, now 47 and a performer (who still sings ”Daydream Believer”), was picked because (1) he was cute and (2) he was already under contract to Columbia, which was funding the series. Dolenz was selected because of his TV experience and his ability to sing rock & roll. And Tork, 51, now a singer-songwriter, made it thanks to his folkie friend Stills. ”They asked him if he knew anybody who looked like him but whose hair and teeth were better,” says Tork.”Stephen said, ‘I thought instantly of you, buddy.”’

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