R.I.P. Bob Rafelson, director and co-creator of The Monkees
Famous for his collaborations with Jack Nicholson, Rafelson directed Hollywood hits and cult classics.
Bob Rafelson’s first brush with showbusiness came in Japan. He was stationed there after being drafted into the Army in the 1950s. He worked as a disc jockey and helped edit English subtitles on Japanese films. Watching the work of Japanese directors had a profound effect on him and influenced his own filmmaking style years later.
After returning to the States, Rafelson got a job helping to adapt the scripts of famous playwrights for the TV show Play of the Week. In the mid-Sixties, Rafelson partnered with producer Bert Schneider to form production house Raybert (which later became BBS) and the company had an immediate hit in 1966 with The Monkees.
Monkees drummer Micky Dolenz remembered the hip producer at his audition, mistaking Rafelson for another actor at first. According to Variety, Dolenz said in a statement, “One day in the spring of 1966, I cut my classes in architecture at L.A. Trade Tech to take an audition for a new TV show called ‘The Monkees.’ The co-creator/producer of the show was Bob Rafelson. At first, I mistook him for another actor there for the audition. Needless-to-say, I got the part and it completely altered my life.”
Though The Monkees put Rafelson on the map, he almost squandered that good will with the strange, psychedelic movie Head. Now a cult classic, the film took TV’s favorite fab four, Peter, Davy, Micky and Mike, on a wild journey through different times, places and genres. Along with co-starring teen icon Annette Funicello, the movie also featured cameos from Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson – who wrote the screenplay with Rafelson.
Head was a box office and critical bomb but it helped establish many important creative relationships for Rafelson. He went on to produce road trip classic Easy Rider featuring Hopper and Nicholson, then directed Five Easy Pieces, giving Nicholson one of his most famous roles. Rafelson directed Nicholson many more times, including in The King of Marvin Gardens and the 1981 remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice costarring Jessica Lange.
In 1976, Rafelson directed the weight-lifting drama Stay Hungry starring Jeff Bridges, Sally Field and a young Mr. Olympia winner named Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Though Rafelson gravitated toward heavy dramas later in his career, he kept is the fun side that helped make The Monkees a success. In 1983, he directed the colorful music video for Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long (All Night)” and reunited with Jack Nicholson for the 1992 comedy Man Trouble.
Bob Rafelson retired from Hollywood in the early 2000s. He was 89.