How one hip coffee shop on the Sunset Strip had heavy influence on the Monkees

Buffalo Springfield, coffee and the Lovin' Spoonful all somehow led to the Monkees as we know them.

In September 1965, an ad ran in the pages of Tinseltown trade publications Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. It read:

Madness!!
Auditions

Folk & Roll Musicians-Singers
for acting roles in new TV series.

Running parts for 4 insane boys, age 17–21
Want spirited Ben Frank's-types.

Have courage to work.

Must come down for interview.

Creators Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider were crafting a fresh television series inspired by Beatlemania. The duo's original plan was to simply cast an existing rock group. Rafelson and Schneider eyed the Lovin' Spoonful as their potential small-screen stars. After all, that vital band chemistry was there, as well as some hit songs. But there was the rub. The Lovin' Spoonful was loath to cede its song rights to a studio. 

The original personal ad seeking Monkees

So Rafelson and Schneider opted to create a "Faux Four" out of thin air. Hence the ad seeking "Ben Frank's-types." They would become the Monkees.

What the heck are "Ben Frank's-types," you might be asking. No, it is not jazz slang for mod dudes who dress like Benjamin Franklin. (Paul Revere and the Raiders already corned that market.)

Any local Los Angeles teen would have known the importance of Ben Frank's Coffee Shop. The diner opened on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood in 1952. Arthur Simms and Bob Ehrman owned and operated the joint, which quickly became the de facto hangout for the Sunset Strip scene. When local clubs closed for the night, kids congregated at Ben Frank's for coffee and chat. Purchasing a cheap cup of joe was enough to allow one to sit in the place for hours. 

Soon enough, rock & roll luminaries became regulars. Fans could brush shoulders with celebrities like the Rolling Stones and Andy Warhol. 

AP Photo / George BrichTeens hang out in Ben Frank's circa 1966.

Legend has it that Buffalo Springfield formed in the parking lot of Ben Frank's. Whether that's true or not, the band certain had its history tied to the coffee shop. 

For starters, Stephen Stills was one of those "Ben Frank's-types" who auditioned to become one of the Monkees. He did not get the gig, obviously, but he did recommend that his buddy Peter Tork try out for a role. Thanks for that!

In November 1966, mere months after The Monkees had premiered on network television, Ben Frank's became the epicenter of an infamous incident. Loads of local teens rebelled again the enforced curfew and took to the street. The "Curfew Riots" became a hot topic of booming Boomer revolution. 

AP Photo Teens take to the streets in the November '66 ''Curfew Riots.''

Buffalo Springfield, inspired by the events of the evening, wrote a song about the Curfew Riots that bloomed from Ben Frank's. They called the tune "For What It's Worth." 

The pioneering folk-rock band would have more entanglement with the Monkees beyond an audition. Both Stills and Neil Young played guitar on several Monkees tracks. Young's fretwork can be heard on cuts such as "As We Go Along" and "You and I". Stills jammed on "Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?", a tune penned by his old pal Peter Tork.

Ben Frank's closed in 1996. Today, the structure, a beautiful example of futuristic midcentury "Googie architecture," still stands. It is the home of Mel's Drive-In. But that reminds of us a different sitcom…

Are you sure you want to delete this comment?
Close

10 Comments

Post a comment
MikefromJersey 4 months ago
Hi Guys,
This is the best work ever done by the MeTV staff to date, bravo guys, take a bow.
Before "Ben Franks" there was Chez Paulette, THE original hangout for the Beatniks
and The Night People. It was featured in 3 episodes of 77 Sunset Strip, though they
built a stage reproduction for filming. However it's host/owner, the beyond legendary
Max Lewin, did appear in these episodes and thus has been preserved for posterity.
77 Sunset Strip caught the flavor of the times, as opposed to the awful Barnaby
Jones that MeTV decided to replace it with, starring an apparently asleep Buddy
Ebsen.
MeTV guys, how come when I click the "Heart Like" icon, as I did for the below excellent post by one Domenic Priore, it instead becomes "UNLIKE"! Haven't you guys noticed this glitch before?
I am not being critical, just trying to help my favorite TV site get better.
Meanwhile, good job Domenic Priore on your below post.
texasluva MikefromJersey 4 months ago
Hey Mike. When you hit the like button it then states Unlike only for you. So let's say latter if you wish to unlike it then removes your vote. When you you come back later it just says how many likes. If you forget that you have voted it up before up pops a prompt that you have already liked this posting. I think it is also for (1). you meant only to click reply and you see your mistake. You then can click the Unlike and remove your vote. (2). You clicked the wrong dang post by mistake (I've done that once or twice myself). Click again and it's removed. Just the way it is in MeTV Town.
MikefromJersey texasluva 4 months ago
Thanks pal. I just "liked" your post. And will check later to see if it registered.
You know, MeTV must have board moderators that check these posts for
naughty material. How come they never respond? I have seen some
outstanding posts with cogent comments by people that they should
respond to. If only for good public relations. For instance there have
been more than a few Quiz questions whose "answers" are wrong
that people here have caught, so why not fix the quiz and say
for example "thanks texasluva for the heads up."
texasluva MikefromJersey 4 months ago
I know. About 2 weeks ago. They showed a pic of Walt Fraizer of NY Knicks. The 3 answers gave one of the right answers but the pic was wrong. I got right because I knew a player played for the Knicks and not the other two. Went back and sure enough the pic MeTV gave was wrong. It was kinda funny. Others caught on and agreed. I do not think MeTV is going to respond to these postings but you can email or call and ask them anything you wish. They seem to come up with quizzes and other interesting topics everyday. Have a good one Mike.
Because we all should have better things to worry about?
DomenicPriore 4 months ago
Good story, and a great picture of the interior of Ben Frank's. One 1/2 corrections... the curfew riots didn't "bloom around Ben Frank's" but in fact it was a rally around the teen nightclub Pandora's Box, intended as a peaceful demonstration to a.) save the club from the city closing it but even more so b.) to stop police harassment of teenagers attending all those great clubs on the Strip that existed back in the '60s, only one of which survives today (and is a far cry from its roots in said revolution). The other thing was not only was Buffalo Springfield formed (loosely) in the Ben Frank's parking lot, but also the band Love, whose "Forever Changes" album has continually been on critics lists of best albums ever made. - Domenic Priore, author of "Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock 'n' Roll's Last Stand in Hollywood" (2015 Jawbone Press, London)
gracie200 DomenicPriore 4 months ago
that was a great post. love to learn stuff like that and hear stories of back in the day.
.....and all those teenagers turned out to be a bunch of druggies.
DawnGraham 4 months ago
Love hearing stories about the Monkees.
MikefromJersey DawnGraham 4 months ago
There's this British guy who wrote a great book about them, he goes by the name Charles Darwin.
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?