RIP Bert Schneider: co-creater of the Monkees

Film producer Bert Schneider, who was behind key films of the late 1960s and ‘70s including “Easy Rider,” “Five Easy Pieces,” “The Last Picture Show” and “Days of Heaven” with the likes of Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson and brought “The Monkees” to TV, died Monday, Dec. 12, of natural causes in Los Angeles. He was 78.

Schneider also earned a best documentary Oscar in 1975 for “Hearts and Minds.”

In his book “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls,” Peter Biskind called Schneider “the eminence grise of the American New Wave.”

Raised in New Rochelle, N.Y., Berton Schneider was the son of Columbia Pictures president Abraham Schneider but had a rebellious streak that saw him expelled from Cornell U. in the early '50s.

Bert Schneider started his entertainment career in the early 1960s at Screen Gems, Columbia’s TV division. He and Rafelson teamed to form Raybert Prods. in 1965 and brought “The Monkees” to NBC the next year; the pair shared an Emmy for the sitcom in 1967 and then brought the band to the bigscreen the following year in the counterculture, stream-of-consciousness film “Head,” penned by Rafelson and Nicholson, directed by Rafelson and exec produced by Schneider. Though the anarchic film was not a success at the time with either conventional fans of the Monkees or arthouse audiences, it later gained a cult following and some critical appreciation; in any event, money from the success of the Monkees (related merchandise generated sales of $20 million or so in 1966) enabled the group’s further cinematic explorations.

Schneider paid $350,000 for the rights to the biker pic that would become “Easy Rider,” a significant box office hit in 1969 that helped usher in what is now called the New Hollywood. Schneider took the project in hand and made sure it was edited (by Henry Jaglom rather than director Dennis Hopper), ensuring the film’s completion and release.

In “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls,” Biskind quotes Brooke Hayward, Hopper’s first wife, as saying, “Bert was the heroic savior of that movie. Without him, there would never have been an 'Easy Rider.’”

Next came the groundbreaking Rafelson-directed “Five Easy Pieces,” starring Nicholson, in 1970.

With the addition of partner Steve Blauner, Schneider and Rafelson’s company became BBS Prods. (for Bert, Bob and Steve). They turned out Peter Bogdanovich’s seminal “The Last Picture Show” (1971) as well as Nicholson’s directing debut, “Drive, He Said”; Henry Jaglom’s first film, “A Safe Place”; and the Peter Davis-directed docu “Hearts and Minds,” which explored the complexities in the attitudes of Vietnam War protesters.

Schneider also produced Richard Patterson’s documentary on Charlie Chaplin “The Gentleman Tramp,” exec produced Jaglom’s “Tracks” and produced “Days of Heaven” (1978), from Terrence Malick, who had earlier worked on Nicholson’s “Drive, He Said.”

Schneider’s last producing credit came on the little-seen 1981 Michie Gleason film “Broken English.”

Peter Fonda based his character in Steven Soderbergh’s “The Limey,” record producer Terry Valentine, partly on Schneider, according to Fonda’s interview on the DVD for that film.

In 2010 the Criterion Collection put out the seven-film box set “America Lost and Found: The BBS Story,” including “Head,” “Easy Rider” and “Five Easy Pieces.”

Schneider remained close to Nicholson over the years, even staying at his house for long periods.

Schneider’s late brothers Stanley and Harold were also associated with Columbia Pictures, with the former serving as president of the studio like their father.

He was married twice, the first time to Judy Schneider.

He is survived by his second wife, Greta Ronningen, and two children, Audrey Simon and Jeffrey Schneider.

Contact Carmel Dagan at carmel.dagan@variety.com

Apologies if someone else posted this on tumblr and thanks Beth for the heads-up on this. Very sad!


Production still photographer: Peter Sorel © Pando Company Inc., Raybert Productions, Columbia Pictures.

Easy Rider is still held in the greatest esteem, enjoying the reputation of one of the first indie films that created a bang that echoed around Hollywood for years. Fonda and Nicholson transformed into big stars, Hopper became an authorial force to be reckoned with and a new role model for thousands of independent filmmakers around the country, and whole generations had their lifestyles shaped by the immortal story of the non-conformist bikers. Easy Rider is a film America of the late sixties needed. What we offer you today is the rare script by Fonda, Hopper and Southern that gained almost a mythological value over the years, unearthed from a book that has been out-of-print for decades. Dear readers, examine it, study it, learn from it. For education purposes only, we give you the basis for one of the most important American films ever made.

‘Easy Rider’: A Revolutionary Road-Trip Film that Heralded a New Era of Filmmaking