Obituary: Jennings Lang

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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss