BEFORE MONKEEMANIA – MICKY DOLENZ AS THE CIRCUS BOY

by Malcolm Tatum
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Many people remember Micky Dolenz as the drum playing lead singing fun maker from the late sixties teen sensation, the Monkees. During the peak years of the Monkees phenomenon, Dolenz' voice was featured on such chart hits as "Last Train to Clarksville", "I'm a Believer", "Stepping Stone" "Words" and "Pleasant Valley Sunday". Even the last Top 40 hit for the first incarnation of the group, 1968's "D.W. Washburn", was fronted by Dolenz in his own unique style.

What may be a lesser known accolade for the music making pop sensation is that Dolenz first gained fame some ten years before the Monkees project ever got off the ground, as a child actor on a television show.

Born to actor George Dolenz and his wife Janelle in 1945, Micky Dolenz early on made a decision to follow in his father's footsteps. George Dolenz had made a name for himself as a movie actor with RKO Studios and during the 1950's portrayed the Count of Monte Cristo for the ITV television series. To avoid the stereotype of being an actor's brat, it was decided early on that young Micky would not use his father's last name. Instead, Micky Dolenz began his acting career as Micky Braddock.

In early 1955, Norbert Productions was looking for a way to make money off a bankrupt South Carolina circus they had purchased. The idea of developing a television show that would make good use of all the property immediately occurred to Herbert B. Leonard. Leonard had developed another kid's favorite, Rin Tin Tin and was ready for another shot at a television success. By the end of the year, Norbert had a script for the pilot prepared and began to hold open casting for the various roles of what was now being called the Circus Boy project.

Micky auditioned for and won the role of Corky, the central character in the pilot. The plot had the twelve-year-old orphan being adopted by the performers of the Burke and Walsh circus, after his trapeze artist parents were killed during a high wire act that went horribly wrong. NBC picked up the series for the September 1956 lineup and ordered a season of episodes. "Circus Boy" made its debut on Sunday, September 23, 1956.

While the show did not establish itself as a runaway ratings success, there was enough buzz from young people to establish a line of Circus Boy merchandise that soon cashed in on the mini-boom. During that first year of the series, you could purchase such goodies as Circus Boy puzzles, board games and coloring sets, a lunch box, Halloween costumes, and action figures and puppets. Circus Boy promotional toys were found under quite a few Christmas trees during that first year of the series.

Still, the ratings were not quite what NBC had hoped. In the spring of 1957, it was announced that the show would be canceled, although all the 36 episodes that had been filmed would be ran. "Circus Boy" aired its last first run episode on NBC on June 23, 1957.

However, the show was not over yet. ABC, who at the time was a perennial third in the ratings race between the Big Three Networks (CBS and NBC being the other two), announced it would be picking up "Circus Boy" for a second season. The show was set to air on Thursday nights, and kicked off its ABC run on Thursday, September 19, 1957.

While ABC did a fair amount of promotion for the series, it appeared that the show was not going to perform any better for ABC than it had done for NBC the previous year. ABC had made a second season commitment of thirteen episodes, and aired all of them by the end of December 1957. The show did return in reruns periodically in 1958, and also served as a summer replacement show. ABC aired the final episode of the series' nighttime run on September 11, 1958.

While the production of "Circus Boy" had ceased, reruns of the 48 filmed episodes found a home on Saturday morning television and ran another two years, much to the delight of the small but loyal fan base. From time to time, the show has appeared in one syndicated market or another, even developing a rather strong fan base in Australia in the late 1960's, during the heyday of the Monkees' spectacular success down under.

The advent of the video tape recorder led to the production of some terrible quality tapes of various "Circus Boy" episodes in the 1980's. These days, you can purchase a DVD that contains eighteen of the episodes that have been re-mastered from the original 16mm prints of the show. While not the high definition quality one can get with DVD copies of shows from later years, these stand as the best possible copies of "Circus Boy" available to the public these days.

"Circus Boy" might have been lost to posterity if not for the amazing success that Dolenz had with the Monkees a decade later, and his continuing success as a director and performer in the United States, Great Britain and Australia. As the very least, the show helps many of us to recapture some of the innocence we knew as kids, when we saw a world of wonder in some of the most simple things

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