Bert Schneider was an obscure figure by the time of his death, but back in "New Hollywood" - that interlude between the end of the studio system and the dawn of the Jaws/Star Wars era - he was briefly a significant figure. He started in TV in the mid-Sixties, helped create "The Monkees" and then took them to the big screen in the feature film Head. That flopped, but the next film he produced, Easy Rider, cost less than 400 grand and within three years had made $60 million. There followed Five Easy Pieces and The Last Picture Show.
But, as much as I like the latter, I prefer to remember the late Mr Schneider for his contribution to the gaiety of 1970s Oscar nights. Truly, that was the golden age of Academy Awards ceremonies. On April 8th 1975, Bert Schneider's film Hearts And Minds won the Oscar for Best Documentary. Instead of an acceptance speech, he read out a telegram conveying fraternal greetings to the American people from Dinh Ba Thi of the Vietnamese Provisional Revolutionary Government. Offstage, Bob Hope was mad, and scribbled some lines for his co-host Frank Sinatra. So Frank came out and said that the Academy wished to disassociate itself from the preceding. Then a furious Shirley MacLaine yelled at Frank that she was a member of the Academy and no one had asked her if she wanted to disassociate herself from the Vietnamese Provisional Revolutionary Government. Then John Wayne said aw, the Schneider guy was a pain in the ass.
Ah, happy times. "Getting this positive, human, optimistic message was such a beautiful idea to me," cooed Francis Ford Coppola. "Sinatra and Hope are too old to understand a message like that." Now that he's closer to Hope's age than Scarlett Johansson's, maybe Coppola misses the days when Hollywood was still diverse enough to have two points of view on any subject. After 30 years of promoting "diversity" and "dissent" and the "courage" of "artists" who take "bold", "transgressive" "stands", everyone in Hollywood now thinks exactly alike.
As for Bert Schneider, The Last Picture Show wasn't quite his last picture show - there were a couple more still to come before his career sputtered to a halt in the early Eighties. Still, he had a good time in the Seventies, and he made it out alive. I recall his gleeful account of a wake he held for a favorite hooker and heroin addict at which his guests wound up snorting her ashes with their cocaine. I wonder if they'll do that with Bert.
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