February 21, 1933 |
New York City, US
|Occupation||Film director, producer, screenwriter|
|Spouse(s)||Toby Carr Rafelson (divorced)
Gabrielle Taurek Rafelson
Robert Rafelson (born February 21, 1933) — known as Bob Rafelson — is an American film director, writer and producer. He was an early member of the New Hollywood movement in the 1970s and is most famous for directing and co-writing the film Five Easy Pieces, starring Jack Nicholson, as well as being one of the creators of the pop group and TV series, The Monkees with Raybert/BBS Productions partner Bert Schneider. His first wife was the Production Designer Toby Carr Rafelson. His son is songwriter Peter Rafelson, who co-wrote the hit song Open Your Heart for Madonna.
Rafelson was born in New York City, the son of a hat manufacturer. His uncle was screenwriter and playwright Samson Raphaelson, the author of The Jazz Singer, who wrote nine films for director Ernst Lubitsch. He had an older brother named Donald and attended Horace Mann School. As a teenager he would often run away from home to pursue a more adventurous lifestyle, including riding in a rodeo in Arizona and playing in a jazz band in Acapulco. After studying philosophy at Dartmouth College (where he had made friends with screenwriter Buck Henry), Rafelson was drafted into the U.S. Army and stationed in Japan. In Japan he worked as a disk jockey, translated Japanese films and was an adviser to the Shochiku Film Company as to what films would be financially successful in the United States.
Rafelson began dating Toby Carr in high school and they later married in the mid-1950s. The couple had two children: Peter Rafelson, born in 1960, and Julie Rafelson, born in 1962. Toby Rafelson was a production designer on many films, including the early work of Bob Rafelson. She has been credited with being a guiding force in Rafelson's more acclaimed films, and according to actress Ellen Burstyn: "In both Bob's and Peter Bogdanovich's cases, their best movies were made in partnership with their wives. And when the marriages ended, their work was not ever up to that same level."
Early television career
Rafelson's first professional job was as a story editor on the TV series Play of the Week for producer David Susskind in 1959. The series produced televised stage plays from contemporary and classical authors. Rafelson's job required him to read hundreds of plays and write some additional dialogue uncredited. Rafelson's first writing credits were for an episode of the TV series The Witness in 1960 and an episode of the series The Greatest Show on Earth in 1963.
In June 1962, Rafelson and his family moved to Hollywood where Rafelson began working as an associate producer on television shows and films at Universal Pictures, Revue Productions, Desilu Productions and Screen Gems. He was once fired by Lew Wasserman over creative differences on the show Channing. Wasserman told him to come back when he learned that "film was a collaborative process."
While working on the TV series The Wackiest Ship in the Army for Screen Gems in 1965, Rafelson met fellow producer Bert Schneider. They became fast friends and created the company Raybert Productions together that year. Raybert would later become BBS Productions and produce films as a subsidiary of Columbia Pictures. Inspired by the Beatles' film A Hard Day's Night and Beatlemania in general, Rafelson and Schneider's first project was a television series about a rock 'n' roll group. Raybert Productions sold the idea to Screen Gems and, when they were unable to get either the Dave Clark Five or the Lovin' Spoonful for the show, ran ads in Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter for musicians. The band that they created was The Monkees and the TV series ran from 1966 until 1968.
The Monkees was immediately a success with audiences and, despite the band being a manufactured product, was particularly popular with the youth demographic at the time. Rafelson and Schneider won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series as producers in 1967. Rafelson has said that "the whole show was created in effect in the editing room. The tempo was of paramount importance...I had to direct one or two of the shows for television to set the pattern of how these things should be made" The show was produced during the first few years of the New Hollywood movement that would become mainstream in the 1970s with directors like Peter Bogdanovich, Francis Ford Coppola and Rafelson himself. Rafelson had said that "of the first thirty-two shows, twenty-nine were directed by people who had never directed before- including me. So the idea of using new directors not perhaps too encumbered by traditional ways of thinking was initiated on that series and just continued on the movies we made later."
Early film career
Rafelson and Bert Schneider's newfound success allowed them to get more funding for Raybert Productions, which by this time was a subsidiary of Columbia Pictures (where Schneider's father was an executive). Their next project was a feature film starring the Monkees called Head. It was Rafelson's film debut as a director and he co-wrote it with friend Jack Nicholson. The film stars the Monkees and has appearances by Nicholson, Victor Mature, Teri Garr, Carol Doda, Annette Funicello, Frank Zappa, Sonny Liston, Timothy Carey, Ray Nitschke, Dennis Hopper and Rafelson himself. When asked about the ideas for the film, Rafelson said "Of course Head is an utterly and totally fragmented film. Among other reasons for making it was that I thought I would never get to make another movie, so I might as well make fifty to start out with and put them all in the same feature."
Head is a plot-less, stream of consciousness film that, amongst other things, attempts to deconstruct the musical personas of the Monkees and satirize the consumer ideals of "image". In a song sung by the Monkees, they seem to confess by saying: Hey, hey, we are The Monkees/ You know we love to please/ A manufactured image/ With no philosophies. Other scenes utilize psychedelic or surrealistic theatrics such as the Monkees being sucked through a giant vacuum cleaner and turning into specks of dandruff in Victor Mature's head. The film ends with the Monkees being loaded into a truck and driven out of the Columbia Studio gates. The film was a financial failure and the popularity of the Monkees were already in decline. It later became a cult classic, exemplifying film of the Psychedelic 60s.
While Rafelson was making Head, Raybert was also working with Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda on the film Easy Rider. The film premiered at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival and was released in July 1969, quickly becoming a cultural phenomenon. The film's success gave Raybert enough funds and clout to pursue more ambitious projects. Rafelson and Schneider soon added Schneider's childhood friend Stephen Blauner to their company and changed the company name to BBS Productions (Bert, Bob and Steve). BBS's first project, Five Easy Pieces, was Rafelson's second feature film, shot in 1969.
Five Easy Pieces was written by Rafelson and Carole Eastman (under the alias Adrien Joyce) and starred Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, and Susan Anspach. Jack Nicholson stars as Bobby Dupea, a once gifted classical piano player who works on an oil rig in California and spends most of his time drinking beer and bowling with his put-upon girlfriend Rayette (Black). Bobby is constantly dissatisfied and a non-conformist, stating: "I move around a lot. Not because I'm looking for anything really, but to get away from things that go bad if I stay." Bobby learns from his sister that his father has had a stroke and decides to travel back to his family home in the San Juan Islands in Washington State. He and Rayette go on a road trip to Washington, picking up two hippie hitch-hikers along the way and (in the film's most famous scene) unsuccessfully battle a waitress in a diner for an omelet with wheat toast. Rafelson described Bobby as "a guy who is out of touch with his emotions."
The film was a financial hit, earning $18 million and was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (Jack Nicholson), Best Supporting Actress (Karen Black) and Best Original Screenplay. After this film, Jack Nicholson became a big star who continued to play rebellious men. It also received the New York Film Critics Award for Best Director and for Best Film of 1970. Film critic David Robinson called Rafelson "a new director who uses film with the subtlety of a novelist, but without losing any of the concentration and economy potential in the cinema's unique mixture of image and sound."
Rafelson's next film was The King of Marvin Gardens, released in 1972 through BBS Productions. The film was written by Jacob Brackman (with uncredited collaboration by Rafelson) and starred Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Ellen Burstyn, Julia Anne Robinson, Scatman Crothers and Charles Lavine. The title refers to the original Atlantic City version of the Monopoly game board, where the misspelled and misplaced "Marvin Gardens" was one of the Yellow squares in the children's game of capitalistic success.
In the film, Nicholson plays David Staebler, a melancholy Philadelphia disk jockey who tells long, angst ridden stories of his childhood over the radio and lives with his elderly Grandfather (Lavine). David receives a call from his extroverted con artist brother Jason (Dern) asking him to bail him out of jail in Atlantic City. When David arrives he gets caught up in Jason's scheme to develop a South Pacific island into a gambling casino so that the brothers can "fulfill their childhood dream of an island kingdom of their own". David joins up with Jason, his girlfriend Sally (Burstyn) and Sally's stepdaughter Jessica (Robinson) to make the dream a reality. But David soon learns that Jason is in over his head and owes money to a real gangster named Lewis (Crothers), who is not amused with Jason's idealism. The film received mixed reviews and was not a financial success. Columbia Pictures was having financial difficulties after the failures of such films as 1776, Nicholas and Alexandra and the disastrous 1973 musical version of Lost Horizon; as a result, BBS was no longer able to make the films that it wanted and effectively ceased to exist after 1973.
In August 1973 Rafelson's 10-year-old daughter Julie died of injuries when a propane stove exploded in the Rafelson's Aspen home. Shortly after that Toby Rafelson was diagnosed with cancer, but eventually recovered. The death of their daughter and Rafelson's years of infidelity began to take a toll on the marriage. Rafelson was a notorious womanizer and had a long-term affair with his sister-in-law Paula Strachan.
Rafelson then spent more than a year researching a film that would never be made about the slave trade in Africa. He traveled over five thousand miles in West Africa and has said that he "lived the life of many of the characters that I'd read about." Rafelson then "wanted to turn to something more cheerful, to project a more exhilarating aspect of myself." His next film was Stay Hungry, based on the novel by Charles Gaines and adapted by Rafelson and Gaines. The film starred Jeff Bridges, Sally Field, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Scatman Crothers.
Stay Hungry stars Jeff Bridges as Craig Blake, a millionaire in Alabama who has recently inherited his parents' fortune after their tragic deaths in a plane crash. He lives a lonely life in his mansion with only his butler (Crothers) to keep him company as he idles away his days. When he becomes involved in a shady investment firm, he visits the Olympic Spa gym, where bodybuilders are training for the upcoming Mr. Universe contest. He befriends bodybuilder Joe Santo (Schwarzenegger), who teaches him that "you can't grow without burning. I don't like to be too comfortable. Once you get used to it it's hard to give up. I like to stay hungry." He also begins dating the gym's receptionist Mary Tate (Field), but his upper class friends do not approve of his new lower class friends. In the end Blake chooses his new friends and buys the gym with Santo.
Bob and Toby Rafelson separated shortly after the shooting of Stay Hungry, where Rafelson was allegedly having affairs with both Strachan and Sally Field. They eventually divorced and Rafelson would later get remarried to actress Gabrielle Taurek, with whom he had a son named E.O. Rafelson.
Later film career
By 1976 the era of the New Hollywood directors was shifting dramatically. Jaws had been released the year before and Star Wars would be released the following year. Like many directors who began early in the decade, Rafelson found it more and more difficult to get films made or seen, and his career would never reach the heights of the early 1970s.
In 1978 Rafelson began production on the film Brubaker, starring Robert Redford, Yaphet Kotto, Jane Alexander and Morgan Freeman. He had spent several days at a top security prison to research the film. Rafelson was fired from the film after just ten days of shooting and was replaced by Stuart Rosenberg.
In 1981 Rafelson directed The Postman Always Rings Twice, based on the novel by James M. Cain which had famously been made into a film in 1946 with John Garfield and Lana Turner. Rafelson's 1981 remake was written by David Mamet and starred Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange. In the film, Nicholson plays a depression-era drifter who happens upon a rural diner and gets involved with the owner's wife in a plot to kill her husband. The film was unfavorably compared to the 1946 version and received poor reviews from film critics.
In 1987 Rafelson directed Black Widow, starring Debra Winger and Theresa Russell. In 1990 he made Mountains of the Moon, a film about the 1857–58 journey of Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke in their expedition to central Africa — the project that culminated in Speke's discovery of the source of the Nile River. It starred Patrick Bergin and Iain Glen.
In 1992 Rafelson teamed up with Nicholson and screenwriter Carole Eastman for the film Man Trouble and made his last film with Nicholson to date in 1996, Blood and Wine. His recent films have included the TV film Poodle Springs in 1998 and No Good Deed in 2002. No Good Deed was entered into the 24th Moscow International Film Festival.
Rafelson and Nicholson have been collaborators for over forty years. Nicholson and Rafelson wrote and produced and Rafelson directed Head, starring the Monkees, in 1968, followed by Five Easy Pieces. In subsequent years, Rafelson directed Nicholson in four more films, including The King of Marvin Gardens (1972), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981), Man Trouble (1992), and Blood and Wine (1996).
- 1968 Head
- 1970 Five Easy Pieces
- 1972 The King of Marvin Gardens
- 1976 Stay Hungry
- 1981 The Postman Always Rings Twice
- 1987 Black Widow
- 1990 Mountains of the Moon
- 1992 Man Trouble
- 1996 Blood and Wine
- 1998 Poodle Springs (TV Movie)
- 2002 No Good Deed
Television and Shorts
- 1966–1968 The Monkees (6 episodes)
- 1981 Modesty (short)
- 1983 All Night Long (Lionel Richie Music Video)
- 1995 Armed Response (episode of Picture Windows, TV)
- 1995 Wet (short film released in Tales of Erotica)
- 2002 porn.com (short)
- 2002 Afterthoughts (TV documentary)
- 1966–1968 The Monkees
- 1969 Easy Rider (uncredited)
- 1971 The Last Picture Show (uncredited)
- 1973 The Mother and the Whore (uncredited)
- "Peter Rafelson".
- Bob Rafelson Biography (1933–)
- Biskind, Peter. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. Simon and Schuster. 1998. 53.
- Biskind. p. 54.
- Wakeman, John. World Film Directors, Volume 2. The H. W. Wilson Company. 1988. pp. 821–826.
- Biskind. pp. 53–54.
- Toby Carr Rafelson at the Internet Movie Database
- Biskind. p. 273.
- Lefcowitz, Eric (1990). Monkees Tale. Berkeley, CA: Last Gasp. pp. 4, 7–8, 10, 26, 66, 76. ISBN 0-86719-378-6.
- "Primetime Emmy Award Database".
- Biskind. p. 177.
- Biskind. p. 187.
- Biskind. pp. 177, 253.
- "24th Moscow International Film Festival (2002)". MIFF. Retrieved March 30, 2013.
- Bob Rafelson at the Internet Movie Database
- "Bob Rafelson and His Odd American Places" interview and essay by Peter Tonguette
- "The Monologist and the Fighter: An Interview with Bob Rafelson" by Rainer Knepperges and Franz Müller, Senses of Cinema.
- Sight and Sound magazine interview