Call it a case of Monkee see, Monkee do. Call it a case of a chimp off the old block. And, okay, maybe it’s nothing to go absolutely ape over, but Ami Dolenz, daughter of Micky Dolenz, drummer in the prefabricated ’60s rock group the Monkees, is about to join the Hollywood jungle. Ami, who for the last two years has played Melissa McKee on ABC’s General Hospital, just made her feature film debut as Tony (Who’s the Boss?) Danza’s blossoming daughter in the teen comedy She’s Out of Control.
Needless to say, erstwhile Monkee Micky is pounding his chest with pride. “I’m thrilled,” says Dolenz, 44, a former child actor (Circus Boy) and the son of late character actor George Dolenz. “I never had any desire to be in the business. Maybe that’s why I was never very good at it. But Ami’s made a conscious choice to act. She never would have been a brain surgeon or a lawyer,” he adds, referring to her ambitions, not her limitations. “She just wasn’t into that. Handling the business comes very naturally to her.”
“I always knew I’d eventually be an actress,” says Ami, 20, her voice just tinged with a leftover Val Gal lilt. She grew up surrounded by performers, raised in a Los Angeles household where Alice Cooper and Jack Nicholson were frequent guests, where various members of the Beatles would stop by for tea. Her first break came four years ago when she won a junior Star Search competition, acting a scene, coincidentally, with Danza. Since then she has earned guest shots on Silver Spoons and Growing Pains.
Pleased as they are with her career, Ami’s parents are equally pleased that she waited so long to pursue it. “I’m thankful she didn’t get into the business too young,” says Dolenz. “You can’t make that kind of life healthy for a child, because it’s just so abnormal. It certainly didn’t do me a lot of good. But still, I came out of it pretty together, relative to some of my peers. Some of them aren’t around anymore, and some who are have very desperate problems.”
“It’s a difficult business, especially for a child,” agrees Ami’s mother, Samantha Just, 43, a former model and star of the ’60s British music show Top of the Pops. “It’s such a soul-destroying business. We didn’t want Ami to go through all that.”
Samantha and Micky met when the Monkees made a guest appearance on Top of the Pops. Married for eight years, the two divorced when Ami was 6, but have remained friendly for their daughter’s sake. Still, it hasn’t always been easy for Ami, who even after 14 years can still recall the pain of watching her dad on reruns of The Monkees. “I didn’t really understand why I could see him there on the TV, but not be with him,” she says of Dolenz, now a director-producer living in Manchester, England, with his second wife, Trina, and their three daughters. “We talk a lot on the phone and see each other when we can. We get along great, like really good friends.”
After the divorce, Ami and her mother led a nomadic existence, living in England and Mexico, where Samantha owned a clothing boutique. Life on the road sometimes took its toll on Ami. She can remember living in Acapulco at age 7 and being so unhappy about having to learn Spanish that “I’d hide under the bed when it was time to go to school.”
In 1981 Ami and Samantha settled back in L.A. “I’m very thankful that Ami has come through the divorce relatively unscathed,” says Micky. “I think she’s weathered it quite well, and I think much of that was due to her very stable English mother. The English have a lot of common sense, something we lack a bit of in America, especially in Los Angeles.”
By contrast, Micky sees himself as an overprotective father—a reflex that started in the Monkees days, when he and his family would receive death threats. Ami knows from overprotective fathers. She also has to deal with one in She’s Out of Control. Ami plays an ugly teen duckling who turns into a highly hormonal swan—turning her father (Danza) into a nervous, overly vigilant parent. Micky shares some of the fictional father’s concern, but says that since Ami hadn’t gotten into trouble “by the time she was 16, I think she’s relatively safe now.” Still, he adds, “I’m not going to let my guard down.”
He can rest easy. At the moment, all is quiet on that front. Rumors linking Ami with Nicolas (Moonstruck) Cage were merely rumors. “We went out a few times. We were just friends,” insists Ami, who lives with three rambunctious dogs in a one-room guest house 25 feet behind the North Hollywood home shared by her mother and grandmother Phyllis Slater. “It’s difficult to make a commitment. I get bored easily.”
Right now, her only vow is to her career. “When I was growing up,” she says, “people would sometimes say, ‘Wow, your dad’s Micky Dolenz.’ ” Someday, people may be sidling up to her father and gasping, “Wow, your daughter’s Ami Dolenz.” The former Monkee wouldn’t be a bit surprised. “I was always impressed when Ami talked to me about having this career,” says Micky. “She never said, ‘I want to be a star.’ She said, ‘I want to be an actress.’ She’s already a better actress than I ever was an actor.” Which may not be the highest praise, but you know what he means.
—Joanne Kaufman, Melissa McCoy in Los Angeles