Friday, March 2, 2012

Friday Dance Party: The First Teen Idol

Davy Jones
Well, "The First Teen Idol" is not exactly accurate. The phenomenon of the Teen Idol predates Davy quite a bit. 
Ricky Nelson was the first Teen Idol
launched by a TV show. His
Dance Party is here.
By the time The Monkees hit the TV airwaves in 1966, turning all four members of the group into teenagers' heartthrobs, Ricky Nelson had already been there, done that.  So had Bobby Rydell, and even Paul Anka, of all people, was considered a teen idol in his early career.  It's sometimes observed that a young Frank Sinatra was the first real teen idol, though I've also heard that some cultural historians point to silent film star and closet case Rudolf Valentino as the first.  I think those folks are confusing "Teen Idol" with "Matinee Idol," but why quibble?

I will go out on a limb, though, and suggest that Davy Jones was the first superstar Teen Idol ("Superteen Idol"?). 

After his death earlier this week (at the shockingly young age of 66), several media outlets displayed polls which put Jones at the top of a list of All-Time Teen Idols.  Again, I wouldn't quibble with that, as I remember the frenzy which greeted his arrival in the national consciousness in 1966.

Jones was the first of the four guys to be cast as a Monkee, primarily due to his being under contract to the studio producing the show.  But he came by his celebrity honestly, I think, as he had legitimate performance credentials before ever being cast in the TV sitcom which made his career. 
Davy spent some time on Brit soap Coronation Street.
In London in 1960, he was part of the supporting cast of the iconic soap opera Coronation Street (that sucker's still running!) when he snagged the scene-stealing role of the Artful Dodger in the original musical Oliver!. He was a replacement in the cast, but his performance was deemed superior to the originator of the part, and he traveled with the show to Broadway. 
Jones won a Tony nomination as
Oliver's Artful Dodger.
While he was Considering Himself One Of Us (and earning a Tony nomination, which he lost to David Burns from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), he was spotted by some bigshots from Screen Gems, and put under contract.

(Coincidentally, while appearing on Broadway, Davy and his castmates from Oliver! performed a medley of songs on The Ed Sullivan Show, you can see that grainy clip here.  The date was February 9, 1964, and was also the first appearance of The Beatles on American television.  Davy watched the crowd go wild for the Fab Four, and thought, "I want some of that.")
Vivienne Martin played Nancy to Davy's Dodger. They were both replacements in the long-running Oliver in London.
Davy went to Broadway, playing opposite Georgia Brown, who became the iconic Nancy.
I've written a bit about the formation of The Monkees previously, in fact, the group has appeared several times on the Dance Party. 
Their first album spent 13 weeks at #1.
Go here for their initial appearance in these pages, which coincided with the alarming announcement that Peter Tork had been diagnosed with mouth cancer (it is partially that announcement which makes it so strange that Davy Jones would be the first of the Pre-Fab Four to die.  If you saw a picture of Jones today...or rather, last week, you would agree that he has aged better than any of his castmates.) 
In their later years, reunion tours disolved into egotistical bickering.
His heart attack this week remains astonishing.  The Monkees also appeared on the Dance Party here, when another Teen Idol of the period, Bobby Sherman, guested on their show. 
The Monkees never recorded a Christmas Album.
This is a compilation of holiday tunes
sung by members of the group at various times
in their careers.
Finally, here is a sweet little clip of a Christmas song the guys sang a capella, putting to rest the lie that they were only actors playing musicians, and not musically talented themselves.

I remember watching The Monkees during its initial two-year run, and everybody at school had their favorite Monkee. 
Davy always had a vaudevillian vibe about him.
Mine was Peter, but Davy must be considered the breakout star of the series. He displayed a non-threatening sexuality which was wildly attractive to adolescent girls (and a few, ahem, boys), and that British accent didn't hurt a bit. His face was plastered all over the teen magazines of the day, and after the show folded, he remained on teenagers' walls for quite a while. 
In 1967, The Monkees won the Emmy as
Best Comedy Series, beating leading contenders
 Bewitched and Get Smart.

The reunion tours always fell apart.
Davy and Mickey formed their own tour,
with Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart,
who wrote several Monkees hits.
There have been many contentious reunion tours of The Monkees over the years, but here's a fact I find most fun.  Decades after his pop stardom had waned, Davy returned to his theatrical roots, to Oliver!, in several regional productions. He was now playing the comic villain of the piece, Fagin.

Davy, Mickey, Peter, and Mike.
Their onscreen chemistry was undeniable and infectious.
There are lots of clips out there of The Monkees performing, so I chose this one for this week's Dance Party.  I think its tone is reminiscent of the show which made Davy Jones a household name, and it's one of the few hits from the group where he is singing lead vocal.  As everybody knows, Davy Jones died this week from a heart attack.