To theater-lovers, he was a star of London's West End and Broadway as a young teenager -- in a Tony-nominated performance as The Artful Dodger in "Oliver!" and as Sam Weller to Harry Secombe's Pickwick in the pre-Broadway tour of the musical "Pickwick" before he was co-opted by Hollywood and went on to Monkees' fame.
And, in a moment of his past and future at a crossroads, he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show with the Broadway cast of "Oliver!" on February 9, 1964 -- the same episode that introduced the Beatles to America.
For me, though, Davy Jones was my challenging final assignment in my first college Reporting class.
The assignment was to gain access to, interview and write an article about a public figure.
The professor might as well have said "For your final, climb Mt. Everest." I was shy and scared of interviews -- not promising qualities in a future journalist.
So, in a move to decrease my nervousness, I decided to interview someone my own age. How bad could that be? "Oliver!" had closed on Broadway by 1965 and was doing a brief national tour of major cities. The show had recently landed in Chicago and I had seen it, marveling at the talent of young Davy Jones, who was exactly my age. I decided he would be the subject of my Reporting final.
The show's publicist -- an older woman -- smiled sweetly at me when I requested an interview. "Of course, my dear," she said with equanimity that surprised me. "Be at the stage door an hour before next Saturday's matinee. And I'll ask him to come to the theatre early that day."
And so I met him at the stage door. He smiled and invited me to the dressing room he shared with two adult members of the cast. His dressing room mates were there, laughing and joking. He asked them to keep it down, saying I was going to interview him. They laughed again. "Interview US!" they said. "We know the real scoop! Ask him about his sex life!"
I tensed, clutching my notebook.
"Come on, guys!" he said affably and then turned to me with full attention.
We may have both been 19 years old, but Davy Jones was a grown-up. He was confident, good-natured and kind. On his own since the age of fourteen, he had the air of someone considerably older. I was a scared, self-conscious kid.
I started tremulously, asking uninspired pre-written questions, avoiding his steady gaze and frowning over my notes.
After a few minutes, Davy interrupted me. "Can I ask you something?"
I stopped and our eyes met.
"Why are you here? I don't want to sound like a jerk, but I'm curious. Usually when a girl arranges to come backstage, it's because she really wants to meet me. But you don't seem especially glad to meet me, so I'm just wondering..."
My lip trembled. My eyes filled with tears. "I'm not meaning to be rude," I said. "I'm just nervous. I'm the shyest person in my Reporting class and for the final I have to do a really difficult interview and..."
"And so you picked me?" he said, smiling, handing me a tissue to dab my eyes. "I'm not so bad. I'll tell you anything you need to know for your article. We'll get through this interview together. We'll get you an A+ for your final!"
And so we got through the interview, slipping into easy conversation and laughing together by the end. When I asked him to sign my interview notes -- which my professor wanted turned in with my final paper -- I added "If my professor calls to check with you, please don't tell her that I cried."
He laughed softly and gave my arm an affectionate squeeze. "I won't," he said. "But you may have some explaining to do to her about all those tear spots on your notes!"
He was right. My professor noted the tear spots and smiled. "Maybe the next interview, you won't cry at all," she said. "And maybe you'll sort of enjoy the one after that. And maybe someday you'll love interviewing."
And so it came to be. But the interview with Davy Jones was an important turning point for me. It was my very first interview with a public person. The Davy Jones article I wrote for my final was also my first national magazine sale (to the now long-defunct teen magazine "Ingenue.") And, thanks to his patience and compassion during that interview, I began to lose my fear.
So, through all the years our lives have gone their separate and singular ways, Davy Jones has always been dear to my heart.
The last time I saw him was some years back on a Chicago talk show when both of us were promoting our books. Middle age had left its mark on us. We were graying. I was totally at ease with interviews -- televised and otherwise. He had an entourage that included at least one of his young adult daughters. Before Davy's arrival, I had told the host of the show about our long-ago interview and he regaled Davy with the memory as soon as he walked in the Green Room.
I wasn't sure that he truly remembered the incident well or at all, but he was gracious - greeting me like an old friend.
When we found ourselves temporarily alone in the Green Room before the show, he turned, smiled and said "Can I ask you something -- again?"
I laughed. "I promise I won't cry this time. And I am glad to see you!"
"No, that's not it," he said quietly. "I guess what I want to know is...well...I hope I wasn't a jerk that day. You know, being so young and having the great start to my career like that and having girls all wanting to meet me could be a very heady thing at times. I hope I was nice. I hope I didn't seem an egomaniac."
"You were wonderful," I said.
He looked relieved. "I'm happy to report that my head is now back to its regular size," he said. "I have a couple of teenage daughters who delight in telling me everything that's wrong with me."
We laughed and then we got the call to take our places on the set. "Showtime!" he whispered and squeezed my hand.
When I heard the news of his death yesterday, I felt a terrible sadness. I felt sad that this still energetic performer would die so suddenly and so young. I felt sad that the amazing success of his early career -- the Broadway accolades and the adoration of a whole generation of teenage girls for The Monkees -- didn't continue throughout his life. I felt sad that his life after the fame had faded had so many rough spots -- with losses and divorces and disappointments. And yet, it seemed, he was happy and gracious throughout his life, regarding his place in the nostalgia niche as a positive, treasuring his family and his growing number of grandchildren, and welcoming friends and fans alike into his life to the end.
May this sweet soul rest in peace and those who loved him -- from his family to his fans -- find consolation in warm memories.