This week, I’d like to discuss my love for Tales of the Gold Monkey – that awesome Indiana Jones rip-off tv series that was conceived of before Indiana Jones came out, but that no network exec gave two poops to make until Indiana Jones came out.
Jake Cutter. He flies a sea plane called the Goose. A samurai, and a Nazi priest and a drunken airplane mechanic walk into a bar. One time, they found a golden monkey sculpture and decided that was so important, they would name the whole series after it, though I’m pretty sure it was never brought up again. There’s a talking dog with an eye patch. Well, that part was dumb. The talking dog. The eye patch was cool.
I guess the best way to explain to show is something my father used to say as we’d all gather as a family around the television in the late 80’s and wait in anticipation for that week’s rerun episode on the USA Network: “Why do we always have to watch this shit?!!! Why do you even like it?!! It’s not adventure! It’s stupid!”
Hey Dennis, did Muscle and Fitness or Flex ever have Balki on the cover? I think not! You backed the wrong horse this time, fool!
I guess the show struck such a major chord with me because it came at an age where I was just learning to develop my own tastes that were separate from my older brother’s. (Dennis. I believe I’ve spoken about him here before.) When I learned to stop following his lead and think for myself, I understood things that no one else did. Like how the Gobots were cooler than the Transformers. And how Narnia was better than Middle Earth, because it had talking beavers AND Santa Claus. And how Muppet Magazine was better than Dennis’ stupid magazines.
You can imagine my astonishment years later (having decided that the best way to promote our new multimedia project, BADNESS, was to hang out on the Tales of the Gold Monkey fan message board and post screen captures I had made from my VHS tapes of those USA cablecasts) that one of my posts was answered by an email from none other than Jeff MacKay, who played Corky, the drunken airplane mechanic.
Jeff MacKay as Corky the drunken airplane mechanic with Jack the… um… talking dog… yeah… Check out his cool eye patch, though.
“Where do you hooligans live?” he asked.
Corky just called me a hooligan.
At the time, I was 24 and my dreams of annoying someone else’s dad with my own Tales of the Gold Monkey were in danger of never being fulfilled. I had recently finished my 4 years at a 2 year college 2, and my first real television job ended with me being fired because I “kinda forgot I worked there.” A year later, I was finally able to get hired on by a real production company.
It was the worst production company ever. I quit, and decided to start freelancing, which involved me sitting alone in my apartment thinking about companies I could fax my resume to and… should I call them? I don’t want to call them… What do I say… I’m not really a good with people… I know! I’ll FAX my resume! THAT’LL GET ME JOBS! (I didn’t get any jobs.)
The original Far Booth poster featuring the unused tagline.
Dennis and I had just, that year, shot our first dramatic short, The Far Booth (later renamed The Projection Booth) and for some reason it just wasn’t coming together the way I…. It was like it sucked or something…. but that couldn’t be… Also, we had just launched our interactive web experience with our fictional band, BADNESS, who couldn’t play their instruments. We had just shot our first short with them, The BADNESS Halloween Special ’98 and all that was left was to become a huge Internet comedy sensation.
Which was sorta hard. It was lot harder than getting freelance gigs. It was definitely a lot easier to daydream about than to actually do.
The renowned bodybuilding chiropractor Franco Columbu once said of the differences between the United States and his hometown in Sicily. “Here, when someone asks you where you going you say ‘go to hell’ when you get upset. There, they say ‘go to California.’ It’s like a place where you never get there.”
As a kid, I used to make fun of Dr. Columbu for saying this because I found it nonsensical and thought his accent was funny. But at 24, I knew what he meant. California WAS a place where I never get there.
And then there was Corky. Out of the blue, and thanks to a terrible marketing plan I had concocted, my favorite drunken airplane mechanic was now corresponding with me.
“You guys are really insane… but funny! I enjoyed your site,” he said, referring to the BADNESS website.
I was floored. It’s not supposed to go this way. I’m supposed to be telling him I loved HIS work – Tales of the Gold Monkey! The talking dog with the eye patch! Well… the talking dog part was dumb, but I loved the eye patch.
A Gold Monkey web banner I had created as part of phase 2 of my plan to become a comedic Internet sensation. It didn’t work. I never could figure out why.
“We’ve been doing this webpage since February and I’ve been surprised at the number of people that simply don’t get it,” I said, having momentarily confused myself with a either a misunderstood comic genius or an enormously pompous ass. “Actually, we’ve been working on the “Badness Halloween Special,” a Real Player video. It should be up on the page either today or tomorrow. You might want to check it out.”
“You might want to check it out?” What an asshole. In my defense, I’m a socially awkward freak and, at this point in my development, was only able to mimic what I thought real people sounded like when they communicated.
Here I am, intently shooting an actual people conversation at Xavier University so that I may study it later and attempt to learn their secrets.
I went on to tell him how much I enjoyed him on Tales of the Gold Monkey, carefully omitting any references to talking dogs. He told me he enjoyed the Gold Monkey stills I had posted and went on to give me a little first-hand behind-the-scenes insight into the episode – the kind of thing fans rarely get a glimpse into:
“I never saw that episode, but remember flashes of it… much like the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. I’m getting better, though, I remember most of the 90’s.”
Then he signed off as “Jeff MacKay – The artist formerly known as working.” (This was a reference to the way I had signed my previous email – as “The artist formerly known as Dave Smith.” We did all our “promoting” of the web site in character – Dave Smith was my character and the name he knew me by – and this was probably my subtle attempt on my part to let him know I was a lying, deceptive fraud.)
To Jeff’s credit, when we posted The Badness Halloween Special a few days later, my douchey claim that he “might want to check it out” did not deter him from attempting to do so. He wasn’t able to, though, because he couldn’t get the plug-in to work on his computer. Which is just as well, as he would have only appreciated the film had he been an actual drunken airplane mechanic rather than a talented character actor.
In Jeff’s defense, he thought he was talking to this guy.
There was one more exchange between us, but the emails are conspicuously missing from the Meyer Bros. archive. I remember he said something that was very encouraging and motivating that really inspired me to get out there and make things happen for myself. In closure, he said, “Keep hummin’ and strummin’.”
“Wow!” I thought, “What the hell does that even mean? ‘Keep hummin’ and strummin’?’ Really?”
Still, his email invigorated me. I wrote him an enthusiastic gushing email about how awesome he was. He often made self-deprecating comments (jokes) on the Gold Monkey message boards and in his emails (“The artist formerly known as working”) so I thought I should pep-talk him the way he just pep-talked me, telling him he would soon be back on top and that he was going “to kick ass” at his acting career.
Never heard from him again.
STUPID… STUPID… Well, he did say “keep hummin’ and strummin’.” When you think about it, is what I wrote really any more embarassi- YES!! STUPID! STUPID!
A few years later, I came up with some dumb fake reason to email him so I could prove that I wasn’t a MORON who only says MORON THINGS but he never responded. It wasn’t too long after that, maybe another year or two, that it was announced that Jeff MacKay had died from liver failure at the age of 60.
I was crushed.
I knew very little about him except that he was very funny, didn’t take himself too seriously, and loved his fans. I wish I could have conveyed to him that with something as simple as a few simple, friendly emails, he was able to reach into a cage that I had built for myself and show me that I could reach the other side. “Keep hummin’ and strummin’” gave me hope when I needed it. My unreachable goals were no closer to being within my grasp, but now I knew they could be.
Unfortunately, it didn’t prevent me for gushing like a MORON and releasing a torrent of MORON SPEAK. “Kick ass at your acting career…” STUPID! STUPID!
And maybe that’s why it was so important to me to get those cameos from actors who had been in classic Bigfoot films. Like Adam, in that painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, I want to touch the source of my inspiration. And for too many years, I had convinced myself it was impossible.
Actually, Adam doesn’t seem to give a shit. He’s all like “I suppose you may touch me if you must.” God’s the one making the effort here. And God’s peeps are all like “Uh, no… You are NOT touching that creepy naked dude. He looks like a total pedophile.” And God’s like “YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!!!” Actually, when you think about it, it does make more sense that the creator would be more inspired by the creation than visa versa.
Like God, in that painting on the ceiling of that one chapel, I want to touch the source of my inspiration. Except, unlike God, who created Adam, I haven’t created any Bigfoot actors. It’s more like I’m a different god, who creates different things, and I want to touch another god’s Adams.
Incidentally, I never come out and tell these actors I work with that I really just want to touch them. They don’t like that. What I like to do is wait. Until the moment is right. Oh, I’m sorry. Was that my hand that just brushed across you?
Next Week: The touching starts in Texarkana!!!
From Jeff MacKay: “Thought I’d send you a picture I took that I didn’t send to the GM website. During the shooting of the pilot, my standin was doubling as one of dozen or so ‘monkeys’ on an island. Between shots, I asked him to climb a tree and tell me his IQ” (Photo credit: Jeff MacKay)