Jessica Lange and Jack Nicholson

Bob Rafelson, Monkees co-creator and Hollywood New Wave director, dies at 89 | Movies

Bob Rafelson, one of the founders of the Monkees who became an influential figure in the era of New Hollywood in the 1970s, has died. His wife, Gabriel Turek Rafelson, said that Rafelson died at his home in Aspen on Saturday night among his family.

Raffelson was responsible for co-creating the fantasy pop music group and the TV series Monkees alongside the late Burt Schneider, for whom he won an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1967.

But Rafelson is perhaps best known for his work during the New Hollywood era, which saw a classic studio system give way to a host of rebellious young voices and new filmmaking styles, and helped attract talents such as Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg.

Jessica Lange, left, and Jack Nicholson in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Photo: TCD / Prod.DB / Alamy

Raffelson directed and co-wrote Five Easy Pieces, about an upper-class pianist yearning for a more blue-collar life, and The King of Marvin Gardens, about a depressed late-night radio talk show host. Both films starred Jack Nicholson and explored themes of the faded American dream. Five Easy Pieces earned two Raffelson Oscar nominations in 1971, for Best Picture and Screenplay.

Along with Bert Schneider, Raffelson has also produced innovative new Hollywood classics including The Last Picture Show of Peter Bogdanovich and Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider. Coppola once described him as “one of the most important film artists of his time”.

Monkees in 1967.
Monkees in 1967. Photo: Michael Oaks Archive/Getty Images

Rafelson was born in New York City and was a distant relative of The Jazz Singer screenwriter Samson Raphaelson, who said he was interested in his work. At Dartmouth he also befriended legendary screenwriter Buck Henry. He developed his interest in Japanese cinema and the films of Yasujiro Ozu, especially the Tokyo story, while serving in the US Army in Japan.

After college, Raffelson married his high school sweetheart Toby Carr, who would work as a production designer on his and other films. He got his start in entertainment in television, writing for shows like The Witness and The Greatest Show on Earth.

But the Monkees was his first big hit. He said the idea for The Monkees predated the Beatles and their comedy A Hard Day’s Night, but it had a good moment when it premiered on NBC in 1966. It ran for two years and allowed Rafelson to take a stab at directing himself. The Monkees made his directorial debut, Head, which would be the first of many collaborations with Nicholson. “I may have thought I started his career, but I think he started my career,” Nicholson told Esquire in 2019.

Karen Black and Jack Nicholson
Karen Black, left, and Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces. Photo: Columbia/SportsPhoto/Allstar

Rafelson was most proud of his 1990 film, Mountains of the Moon, a biographical film that tells the story of two explorers, Sir Richard Burton and John Hanning Speck, as they search for the source of the Nile, according to Turek Rafelson.

Rafelson left Hollywood two decades ago to focus on raising two sons with Toric Rafelson, Ethan and Harper in Aspen. He and his first wife, Toby Rafelson, also had two children, Peter and Julie, who died in 1973 at the age of 10.

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