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
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

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment & HR Administrator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Business Partner

£55 - 65k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A HR Manager / HR Business Partner i...

Recruitment Genius: Senior HR Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company's vision is to be t...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'