Robert Rafelson was born on February 21, 1933 in New York. His father was a hat maker who expected his sons to enter the family business. But Mr Rafelson found inspiration in his uncle, screenwriter Samson Raphaelson, who worked with director Ernst Lubitsch on numerous films, including ‘Trouble in Paradise’ and ‘The Shop Around the Corner’.
Rebelling against his comfortable upbringing on the Upper West Side, 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 after graduation he was drafted into the army. He served in Japan, working as a DJ for the Far East network of military radio and television stations. He was court-martialed twice, once for punching an officer and once for uttering an obscenity on air.
Mr. Rafelson, a childhood film enthusiast, had been exposed to foreign films at a young age, and while in Tokyo he worked as a consultant for Japanese studio Shochiku. Back in New York, he made his debut as editor of the television anthology series “Play of the Week.”
After moving to Los Angeles in 1962 with his first wife, Toby Carr, a set designer, he continued to work in television, but the constraints of the format did not match his ambitions and eclectic tastes.
He lost his job at a television arm of Universal Pictures when he fell out with Hollywood titan Lew Wasserman over a casting choice. Mr. Rafelson dropped everything on Mr. Wasserman’s desk and was escorted off the premises.
At Screen Gems, then a television subsidiary of Columbia Pictures, he met Mr. Schneider, a kindred spirit whose father, Abraham, was a top Columbia executive. The two well-connected young producers sought to capitalize on the success of Beatlemania with a show about a made-up pop group. Their ads looking for “4 crazy boys, 17-21” produced the Monkees, and the idols became real headliners.