Thursday, December 15, 2011

Rant #638: One Day At a Time With Schneider

Another guy who had a tremendous influence on my youth is gone.

You might not know the name Bert Schneider, but he died on Monday at the age of 78.

No, he wasn't the Schneider from the TV show, "One Day At a Time."

No, this guy had a much more important role in Hollywood.

Bert Schneider was a key person in Hollywood's counter-culture movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The son of Columbia Pictures president Abraham Schneider, he somehow convinced his father that a teen-oriented rock show was needed on network TV, a show that would showcase the new, emerging talent that was playing out throughout the country.

Yes, there was "American Bandstand," and later, "Where the Action Is," but these Dick Clark productions weren't on in prime time. Schneider convinced his dad, sometime in 1964 or 1965, that the popularity generated by the Beatles could be compressed and repackaged in a half hour comedy show in prime time.

His father went for the idea, but who would star in show?

Jan and Dean were first mentioned, and then the Lovin' Spoonful. The Spoonful were what they were really going for--a lovable, daffy bunch who could play music--but then Schneider and his partner, Bob Rafelson decided that a created-for-TV group was more to their liking.

In 1965, an ad was placed for "Ben Franklin" types to audition for the TV show, and a horde of rock and roll types auditioned for these roles. Some were already established in the business, such as Paul Peterson, who was a star from "The Donna Reed Show." Others were just starting out, such as future Oscar winner Paul Williams.

But four guys were chosen, and the Monkees they became. Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork became overnight sensations, and solidified the newly named Raybert Productions as a force to be reckoned with.

Through the Monkees, Schneider and Rafelson brought long-hairs to living rooms around the world. The show was an unqualified success, and the music was among the best of the period.

And through this show, Schneider and Rafelson met Jack Nicholson, a partnership that would pretty much begin with the Monkees' film "Head" and which would continue for the next several years.

Using money that came from the Monkees project, Schneider and Rafelson were able to make "Five Easy Pieces and "Easy Rider," films that brought the counter-culture to the masses and which made people like Nicholson, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper massive stars.

He also produced other well known films, including "The Last Picture Show" and "Hearts and Minds," but it all started out with a little project called "The Monkees."

Schneider had been retired from the business for many years, but his legacy is an incredible one, one that most people really don't know about.

The films and TV shows that he was involved with live on on DVD, and his knack for capturing the moment really was pretty incredible. Of course, he had the proper Hollywood connections, which certainly helped, but his ability to launch new talent--remember, he also launched the career of director Peter Bogdanovich--was amazing.

Rest in peace, Bert. You done good.

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