Saturday 17 March 2018

Bert Schneider

Producer who revolutionised Hollywood with his iconoclastic films such as 'Easy Rider'

BERT Schneider, the film producer, who has died aged 78, was one of the principal architects of the "new Hollywood", helping to break the studio system with such pictures as Easy Rider (1969), Five Easy Pieces (1970) and The Last Picture Show (1971), all of which reflected the flourishing counterculture of the Sixties and early Seventies.

His revolution was effected by giving creative power to independent directors including Peter Bogdanovich, Roman Polanski, Francis Coppola and Dennis Hopper. Shortly before the Academy Award ceremony in 1970 Hopper dramatically announced the scale of the insurgency when he encountered George Cukor, the veteran director. Poking Cukor in the chest, Hopper roared: "We're going to bury you. We're gonna take over. You're finished."

Berton Schneider was born in New York city on May 5, 1933, into a Hollywood family. His father was Abraham Schneider, head of Columbia Pictures. But Bert was a rebel, eventually expelled from university.

In 1953 Schneider took a job as a gofer with the TV arm of Columbia, and the following year he married Judy Feinberg, with whom he had two children.

In 1964 they moved to Los Angeles, where Schneider discovered drugs and the music scene. Strikingly handsome, he was described as "Mr America" with "the charisma of a movie star".

In the mid-Sixties he teamed up with Bob Rafelson to form Raybert Productions; together, they created The Monkees, the made-for-television pop group who starred in their own award-winning sitcom between 1966 and 1968. It was the success of The Monkees that furnished the capital to finance Schneider's movie-making dreams.

Raybert's first feature, released in 1969, was Easy Rider, the story of two motorcyclists in search of the "real" America (and which made a star of Jack Nicholson). Schneider personally financed early filming.

All but one of the 50 Columbia executives gathered for the film's screening walked out, offended by its anti-establishment tone. Among them was Schneider's father. But when the finished picture was released, its success proved phenomenal. Made for less than $300,000, it grossed more than $20m, establishing a new model in Hollywood which allowed fresh directing talent to shoot unconventional tales on small budgets.

Easy Rider was one of 11 anti-establishment films that Schneider produced between 1968 and 1981, including the Oscar-winning, anti-Vietnam War documentary Hearts and Minds (1974) and Days of Heaven (1978).

Despite his success, Schneider soon tired of film production, and turned towards political activism. In 1975 he caused ructions during the Academy Awards ceremony when, while accepting the Best Documentary award for Hearts and Minds, he read out a telegram offering "greetings " from the head of the North Vietnamese delegation to the Paris peace talks. Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra protested and, according to some, nearly got into a fist-fight with Schneider.

By then, Schneider's marriage had broken down, and he was hosting increasingly sordid parties at his house. When a long-running relationship with the actress Candice Bergen foundered, he started seeing a 16-year-old girl from his daughter's school. When one friend died, he held a wake at which guests snorted her ashes like cocaine.

Estranged from his children, Schneider in later years struggled with chronic substance abuse.

Bert Schneider was married four times. His son and daughter from his first marriage survive him.

Sunday Independent

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