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Steve Blauner, Who Helped Bring ‘Easy Rider,’ ‘Five Easy Pieces’ to Screen, Dies at 81

Steve Blauner, who was Bobby Darin’s manager and a partner with Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson in BBS Productions, which produced classic films including “Easy Rider,” “Five Easy Pieces,” “The Last Picture Show,” died June 16 at his home in Marina Del Rey, Calif. He was 81 and was suffering from the complications of a broken hip.

After working for Screen Gems, where he was involved in sitcoms such as “Bewitched,” “I Dream of Jeannie,” “Hazel” and “The Monkees,” Blauner joined “Monkees” producer Schneider and director Rafelson, who had already formed a company called Raybert, in forming BBS in the mid 1960s. Over a span of several years, the company produced the Academy Award-winning 1974 documentary “Hearts and Minds” and New Hollywood films “Easy Rider,” “Five Easy Pieces,” “The Last Picture Show,” “The King of Marvin Gardens” and “A Safe Place.”

Rafelson said, “Steve was the most beloved of three partners, he was the one that talent could go and confide in, and in every sense of the word, he was simply the most beloved person I ever knew in show business.”

Blauner’s first contact with show business was through a friendship he developed with Sammy Davis Jr., whom he had idealized. He got a job as an agent at GAC, at that time the third-largest talent agency. He soon discovered singer-songwriter Bobby Darin, and though Blauner did not yet have any experience in management, he signed Darin with GAC. Darin insisted that Blauner get not 15% of the takings but 50%. Later, he quit the agency but continued on as Darin’s manager until 1965. Blauner and Darin split professionally after Darin had received his Academy Award nomination for “Captain Newman, M.D,” but remained friends. (After Darin’s death, Blauner represented his estate.)

At BBS (which stood for Bert, Bob and Steve), Blauner was entirely responsible for distribution, picking theaters city by city individually for the films produced. Blauner was producer of Jack Nicholson’s 1971 directorial effort “Drive, He Said” and in 1979 he produced the documentary “Richard Pryor: Live in Concert.”

Later, in 1987, television series “The New Monkees,” produced by Blauner’s Straybert Productions, ran for 13 episodes; four young musicians were placed in a series similar to the original show but “updated” for the 1980s.

Jules Stephen Blauner was born in New York City. While he was in kindergarten, the family moved to White Plains, N.Y., where he met childhood friend and future collaborator Schneider. He later served in the U.S. Air Force.

Blauner himself appeared in a few videotaped comedy “blackout” sketches for TV comedian Ernie Kovacs during the early 1960s. He was portrayed by John Goodman in the 2004 Bobby Darin biopic “Beyond the Sea,” starring Kevin Spacey, and he served as a consultant on the film.

In 2010 the Criterion Collection brought out the critically-lauded box set “America Lost and Found: The BBS Story,” featuring the seven seminal works produced by the trio.

He is survived by daughter Moon Blauner, a producer and former assistant to Helen Hunt.

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