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Return of The Hit Man

"Because of all the bows Donny was taking in the press," Blauner says, "when the band went on tour, there were reviewers who didn't believe they were playing their instruments. And they were. All the bows he was taking were hurting the act."

Blauner says he gently suggested at the meeting that Kirshner keep a lower profile. At that, he says, Kirshner boiled.

"I feel sharper now than ever," says once-ubiquitous, then reclusive music impresario Don Kirshner, 70, who intends to start a global entertainment company. (Joshua Prezant For For The Washington Post)

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"He kept saying, 'That's revealing, that's very revealing,' " Blauner recalls. "We've never spoken since."

Kirshner says the whole dispute was about jealousy, over the credit he was getting, as well as his pay, which ran to the millions. The end came not long after a meeting with the band at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where he summoned the Monkees to present them with a huge royalty check, plus a song he was sure would be their next hit. By then the group was determined to write its own material, and guitarist Michael Nesmith punched a hole in the wall of Kirshner's bungalow to emphasize the point.

"Donny was there with his attorney," recalls Micky Dolenz, the Monkee drummer who sang lead vocals on many of their hits, "basically presenting us with this money and saying, in so many words, 'Why don't you shut up and cash the check?' And that's not the sort of thing you said to Mike Nesmith at the time. To be honest, I couldn't have cared less. I was 20 years old, making money. But Mike led this revolt, and out of camaraderie, we all went along."

With both the band and the bosses fed up, Kirshner was fired. He later sued for breach of contract and won what he described as a huge out-of-court settlement.

And the song he'd been pushing on the Monkees? He started a new band, this one a quintet of cartoon characters based on a comic book he'd seen his son reading. Ron Dante handled the vocals. "The Archies" became a hit TV show, and "Sugar, Sugar" sold more than 10 million copies.

"I said, "Screw the Monkees. I want a band that won't talk back,' " Kirshner says. "It was the Number 1 song of 1969. It outsold the Rolling Stones."

From Rock to Rocky

Kirshner hatched the idea of a weekly TV concert program while watching "The Tonight Show." Someone in the band was playing a piano solo, but the camera was trained on the guitarist. It made him nuts. His wife said, "Why don't you start your own show?"

There were more than 180 episodes of "Don Kirshner's Rock Concert," starting with the Rolling Stones in 1973 and ending in 1982. In between, he raised the curtain for dozens of bands, all in a nasal drone, his gaze just off to the right of the camera as he read from a teleprompter in some nondescript studio. Kirshner looked startled and stiff, and for some reason he was always name-dropping the bands' management.

"Lillian and Gerry Braun were kind enough to make an exclusive tape for you tonight to show on 'Rock Concert,' " he said, introducing Uriah Heep. Not a word about Heep's music.

"When I did him on 'Saturday Night Live,' I just would make up names of promoters and managers," says Paul Shaffer, who imitated Kirshner a dozen or so times for the show. Shaffer, it turns out, had spent a lot of time with Kirshner, having acted in a sitcom pilot that was created by Kirshner and Norman Lear, just before "SNL" started. What struck Shaffer was the way this colorful, kibitzy character would suddenly flat-line when he read before a camera.

"The guy on 'Rock Concert' was nothing like the real Don Kirshner," Shaffer says. "He's actually a really funny guy. And he was flattered by my impersonation."

"Rock Concert" went off the air the same year MTV arrived, and Kirshner quit the business.

Then he went a little crazy.

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