Obituary: Jennings Lang

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The Independent Online
Jennings Lang, who pioneered the made-for-TV movie, developed some of the most successful television series of the 1950s and 1960s, and produced many top-grossing films of the 1970s and 1980s, might well have died in 1951, when he was shot in the groin.

Then the agent of the actress Joan Bennett, Lang was wounded by Bennett's husband, the film producer Walter Wanger, who was under great mental strain after the failure of his lavish Ingrid Bergman vehicle Joan of Arc. One waspish associate to the press said, "Wanger wasn't shooting Lang - he was shooting the millions of people who wouldn't come to see Joan of Arc." After serving a short prison sentence, Wanger quipped, "Everybody talks about Hollywood agents, but I'm the only one who ever did anything about them!"

Jennings Lang came to Hollywood by a circuitous route - he first trained for the law, arriving in California in 1938, after a year with a New York legal firm. Obsessed with films, he soon left the firm to join Grand National Studios as an assistant director. In 1940 he set up as a talent agent, and, 10 years later, joined the powerful MCA agency. After his appointment as Head of Programme Development for MCA-TV, Lang helped create the first 90-minute weekly filmed series on television, The Virginian, as well as the long-running McHale's Navy, Tales of Wells Fargo, The Bob Cummings Show and Wagon Train.

He supervised many of Universal's "World Premiere" made-for-television movies before graduating to the studio's big-screen films. Four years after Ross Hunter produced the highly profitable film Airport (1970) for Universal, Lang decided it was high time the studio made a follow-up. Originally intended for a television movie, the script of Airport 1975 (1974) concerned a jetliner left pilotless after a mid-air collision. By using crew composed mostly of television technicians, Lang turned out his film for less than $3m, and saw it earn a huge profit. Nineteen-seventy-four was his annus mirabilis; that year he also made Earthquake, an even more successful disaster movie filmed in Sensurround, Lang's much- heralded aural technique which deafeningly simulated the necessary tremors while mercifully drowning out many of the platitudes in the film's dialogue.

Lang also produced or supervised Walter Matthau's Pete 'n' Tillie (1972), Charley Varrick (1973), The Front Page (1974), House Calls (1978), Little Miss Marker (1980), Clint Eastwood's Coogan's Bluff (1968), The Beguiled and Play Misty for Me (both 1971), Breezy (1973) and The Eiger Sanction (1975). Lang made two more Airport films: Airport '77 (1977) and The Concorde - Airport '79 (1979, known in Britain as Airport '80: the Concorde). The latter was based on an original story by Lang, whose second wife, the singer Monica Lewis, played the role of a great jazz vocalist.

Jennings Lang, film executive and producer, born Brooklyn, New York 28 May 1915; twice married (three sons); died Palm Desert, California 29 May 1996.