Bert Schneider, Producer of Counterculture Film Classics, Dies at 78

The Oscar winner was behind such New Hollywood classics as "Easy Rider," "Five Easy Pieces" and "The Last Picture Show" and the anti-war documentary "Hearts and Minds."

Bert Schneider, the producer behind the counterculture classics Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces and The Last Picture Show who also helped bring The Monkees to television, died Monday of natural causes in Los Angeles. He was 78.

The son of late Columbia Pictures president Abraham Schneider also shared a best documentary Oscar in 1975 for Hearts and Minds and a best comedy series Emmy in 1967 for The Monkees sitcom.

After starting his career at Screen Gems, Columbia’s TV division, Schneider and Bob Rafelson formed Raybert Prods. in 1965 and got The Monkees on NBC the next year. A weird '60s period piece starring the rock and roll group, Head, which was written by Rafelson and Jack Nicholson, bowed in 1968.

Schneider bought the rights to Easy Rider, the 1969 biker pic written, directed and starring Dennis Hooper, and the film, which also starred Peter Fonda and Nicholson, helped usher in the era of New Hollywood. The following year, he co-produced the Nicholson-starring Five Easy Pieces, directed by Rafelson.

Schneider and Rafelson added partner Stephen Blauner to form BBS Productions, and the company went on to make such groundbreaking movies as Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show (1971) and Rafelson’s The King of Marvin Gardens, another Nicholson film.

Other films produced by Schneider include Drive, He Said (1971), directed by Nicholson; Henry Jaglom’s first film, A Safe Place (1971); the Peter Davis-directed Hearts and Minds, which was highly critical of America’s role in the Vietnam War; and Days of Heaven (1978) from reclusive director Terrence Malick. Schneider last credit came on Broken English (1981).

During his Oscar acceptance speech for Hearts and Minds, Schneider said, “It’s ironic that we're here at a time just before Vietnam is about to be liberated" and then read a telegram from Viet Cong official Dinh Ba Thi that thanked the U.S. anti-war movement "for all they have done on behalf of peace."

Later, Oscar co-host Frank Sinatra responded on behalf on the Academy, saying, “We are not responsible for any political references made on the program, and we are sorry they had to take place this evening.”

Schneider is survived by his children, Audrey and Jeffrey.