Bob Rafelson, Director of ‘Five Easy Pieces,’ Dies at 89

Bob Rafelson, Director of ‘Five Easy Pieces,’ Dies at 89


Robert Rafelson was born on February 21, 1933 in New York City. His father was a hat maker who expected his sons to enter the family business. But Mr. Rafelson found inspiration in his uncle, a screenwriter Samson Rafelsonwho worked with director Ernst Lubisch on several films including “Trouble in Paradise” and “The Shop Around the Corner.”

Rebelling against his comfortable Upper West Side upbringing, Mr. Rafelson left home as a teenager to work at a rodeo in Arizona and play with a jazz band in Acapulco, Mexico. He returned to the United States to study philosophy at Dartmouth College and enlisted in the Army after graduation. He worked as a DJ for the Far East network of military radio and television stations in Japan. He was court-martialed twice, once for hitting an officer and once for shouting obscenities into the air.

Mr. Rafelson, a movie buff as a child, was exposed to foreign films at an early age, and while in Tokyo he worked as a consultant for the Japanese studio Shochiko. Back in New York, he made his debut as a story editor on the “Play of the Week” TV anthology series.

After moving to Los Angeles in 1962 with his first wife, Toby Carr, a production designer, he continued to work in television, but the strictures of the format were a poor fit for his ambitions and eclectic tastes.

He lost his job at Universal Pictures’ television arm when he fell out with the Hollywood titan. Leo Wasserman More than a casting choice. Mr. Rafelson dropped everything on Mr. Wasserman’s desk to the floor and was escorted off the premises.

At Screen Gems, then the television subsidiary of Columbia Pictures, he met Mr. Schneider, a kindred spirit whose father, Abraham, was a top Columbia executive. Two well-connected young producers tried to capitalize on the success of Beatlemania with a show about an invented pop group. Their ads in search of “4 crazy guys, 17-21” benefited the Monkeys, and became heartthrob chart toppers.

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