Peter Tork was best known for his work with The Monkees, but there was much more to his career than the made-for-TV band. Tork, who passed away this week at age 77, was an accomplished musician in his own right, and he even boasted an acting career that went beyond The Monkees.
In a 1967 interview with Hullabaloo magazine conducted during The Monkees original run on NBC, Tork, then 25-years-old, was cheekily asked if he wanted to be an actor when he grows up.
“Grow up?” Tork said. “Heck, I’ve been there already and back. My ambition is to be president of the United States.”
While he didn’t achieve that goal, Peter Tork nailed his role as “the lovable dummy” on The Monkees, which aired on NBC from 1966 to 1968. The real-life musician later told Guitar World that producers of The Monkees made magic when they handpicked him, Mickey Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Davy Jones as the zany bandmates in the TV sitcom.
“I refute any claims that any four guys could’ve done what we did. There was a magic to that collection. We couldn’t have chosen each other. It wouldn’t have flown. But under the circumstances, they got the right guys.”
Tork also revealed that after he was hired, producers asked him if he would mind “playing the dummy” on The Monkees, a proposition he had no problem with.
“I had developed that character on the Greenwich Village stages when I was a basket-passing, coffee house folk singer in my early ’20s,” Tork said in 2013. “One of the reasons I was able to play that character so well was that I’d been working on it for quite a while.”
While he was a seasoned musician before he became a TV star, in an interview posted by The Baltimore Sun, Peter Tork admitted that the first two Monkees albums were “pretty much made by studio musicians, with one or another of us singing lead.” The star explained that the amount of time it took to produce the fast-paced TV show only allowed for limited time for the foursome to be involved in making the actual music.
“So they were cranking this stuff out while they were cranking out a TV show,” Tork explained. “You know, at the time, I was a little upset about it, because I wanted to be part of the record-making process myself. But as I look back on it, they were making a TV show, and we were at work on a soundstage from 7:30 in the morning until 7 at night without letup. We weren’t going to make any records. … Primarily, we were the actors on the TV show.”
Peter Tork amicably left The Monkees in December 1968 shortly after the filming the band’s NBC special, 33 1/3 Revolutions per Monkee, citing exhaustion, according to Medium. While he continued to work as a musician, Tork didn’t completely say goodbye to his acting career.
Peter Tork’s IMDB page reveals that he logged more than a dozen acting credits on TV shows, in addition to his movie roles in Head, Cathedral Pines, and his cameo in The Junior Defenders in 2007.
In 1995, Peter Tork made a hilarious cameo on the NBC sitcom Wings. In the episode “She’s Gotta Have It,” The Monkees star appeared as himself, bidding against Helen Chappel (Crystal Bernard) for the Monkeemobile at an auction.
In 1995, Peter Tork played Jedadiah Lawrence, the father of Topanga (Danielle Fishel), in two episodes of the ABC sitcom Boy Meets World. Tork’s Monkees bandmates Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones also made cameos on the popular show in the episode “Rave On.”
In 1999, Peter Tork played a bandleader in a wedding-themed episode during the first season of the CBS sitcom The King of Queens, which starred Kevin James and Leah Remini. You can see Tork in his band leader role at the 14:40 mark in the video below.
And in 2001, Peter Tork logged two guest appearances on the WB drama series 7th Heaven, playing a musician named Chris in the episodes “One Hundred” and “No Sex, Some Drugs, and a Little Rock ‘n’ Roll.” The “One Hundred” episode featured Peter’s character’s band playing the 7th Heaven theme song at a birthday party, and Tork served as lead singer.
Of course, Peter Tork will forever be remembered as an actor on NBC sitcom The Monkees, where he logged 58 episodes over two years. But Peter’s songwriting skills also came into play when he composed the song “For Pete’s Sake,” which became the closing theme for the second season of the popular 1960s television show.