Free-form Monkees humor once drove Hollywood legend to curse: ‘I hate these f–ing kids’

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The zany brand of fun exhibited by the Monkees on their television show was no accident. In fact, Micky Dolenz says, everything on the set was designed to encourage them to work in as free form a manner as possible.

“One of the important elements was the improvisational quality,” Dolenz tells Gilbert Gottfried. “Back in those days, that didn’t happen a lot on network sitcoms. Television was usually very scripted. You’d read the lines, and you’d go home. But they’d created this environment which was very, very spontaneous. They encouraged us; they trained us.”

That meant keeping the rambunctious Monkees locked away — quite literally — until it was time to shoot key scenes. The hope, obviously, was that their madcap sensibilities could be captured with first-take efficiency, making the Monkees television program crackle with life. “We had all of these separate little dressing rooms,” Dolenz remembers, “and then the assistant director would say, ‘OK, here they come!’ … That’s what they wanted. That was the dymanic behind the show.”

Of course, not every guest star meshed with the Monkees’ gonzo approach to television. One particularly funny instance found the amped-up Monkees completely stealing the spotlight from Hans Conried, the old-school Hollywood veteran.

“I was a huge fan of his,” Dolenz says, “and we had a number of scenes with him. In one of them, we’re out there, and they’re trying to record this scene, and Hans Conried is trying to do his lines. Finally, he looks at the camera and says: ‘I hate these fucking kids.’ [Laughs uproariously.] They shut down the set, and stopped filming! Years later, I was so embarrassed. … But that’s what they wanted.”

Hans Conreid also appeared with George Burns, Lucille Ball and Danny Thomas on some of early broadcasting’s most famous programs. His many, many other star turns also included work as the voices of Captain Hook in Peter Pan and of Snidely Whiplash on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.

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