Born in 1935 in Tampa, Florida, Les Blank attended Tulane University in New Orleans, where he received a B.A. in English literature and an M.F.A. in theatre. In 1967, after two years in the Ph.D. film program at the University of Southern California, and five years of freelancing in Los Angeles, he began his first independent films, on Texas blues singer Lightnin' Hopkins and the newly forming sub-culture known as flower children. To finance these and other of his own films, he continued to make industrial and promotional films for such organizations as Holly Farms Poultry, Archway Cookies and the National Wildlife Federation until 1972.