Oliver A. Unger

Oliver A. Unger

c. 1959
Born (1914-08-28)August 28, 1914
Chicago, IL
Died March 27, 1981(1981-03-27) (aged 66)
Beverly Hills, California
Nationality American
Occupation Film Producer, television producer, film distributor
Spouse(s) Virginia Speed (m. 1939)

Oliver A. Unger (August 28, 1914 – March 27, 1981) was a film producer, distributor, and exhibitor who participated in every phase of the motion picture business including production, distribution, marketing, promotion, and exhibition during a 45-year career. He was also a television producer and owner of movie theaters and television stations throughout the United States.[1]


Unger was born in Chicago, Illinois, of Hungarian descent. His family also lived in New York before moving back to Budapest, Hungary, in 1920 where his father, Bertram Unger, was a bank president. They returned to New York City in 1926 and Unger attended Columbia Grammar School until his graduation in 1931.[2] Unger earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Syracuse University in 1935.[3]

In 1984 the Unger family donated Oliver Unger's collection of personal documents and film production files to the University of Wyoming's American Heritage Center.[4]

Unger was organizing Celebration 33 - a benefit commemorating the thirty-third anniversary of the State of Israel - when he died at the age of 66. He was survived by his wife, Virginia; two sons, Anthony B. Unger and Stephen A. Unger; three daughters: Meryl L. Unger, Dr. Olivia A. Raynor and Victoria R.S. Unger; and a grandson, David A. Unger.



From 1937-1945 Unger worked for Hoffberg Productions, after 1940 reorganized as J.H. Hoffberg Films Inc., eventually serving as Vice President.[5] During this period he was involved with importing and distributing foreign films. He was one of the first businessmen to travel to Europe after World War II, where he purchased foreign films for distribution in the United States.[6] It was during this time that he founded Distinguished Films and Tola Productions with Marty Levine. They produced The Roosevelt Story, an 80-minute documentary about President Franklin D. Roosevelt and filmed under the supervision of Elliott Roosevelt.[7] The Roosevelt Story was awarded the Peace Prize at the 1948 Brussels Film Festival[8] and regarded as "the most popular compilation film of the later 1940s."[9]

In The 1950s, he briefly partnered with Budd Rogers in the distribution firm of Rogers & Unger Inc.. In 1961, Unger and Ely Landau formed the Landau-Unger Company, which produced films such as The Pawnbroker and Long Day's Journey into Night. Unger presented the latter at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival, where its stars (Katharine Hepburn, Ralph Richardson, Jason Robards, Dean Stockwell) won the Best Actress and Actor Awards collectively. The Landau-Unger Company also distributed the Eleanor Roosevelt Story, which won the 1965 Academy Award for Best Documentary.

Unger produced several films in Southern Africa with Harry Alan Towers in the 1960s.

The Landau-Unger Company was sold to Commonwealth United Corporation in 1967, at which time Unger was named Vice Chairman of Commonwealth United Company. In 1969 he added the titles of Vice Chairman of Commonwealth United Corporation and Chief Executive Officer of Commonwealth’s Entertainment Division. Films financed, produced and distributed by Commonwealth United under Unger's tutelage include The Madwoman of Chaillot, The Magic Christian, Julius Caesar and The Battle of Neretva.

In the early 1970s Unger was responsible for acquiring the U.S. marketing rights for a number of Charles Chaplin’s films, including Modern Times and City Lights. Soon thereafter, Unger formed Marwi Capital Development N.V. in Paris,[10] whose principal activity was to produce Assassination at Sarajevo also released as The Day That Shook the World[11] (starring Christopher Plummer, Maximilian Schell, and Florinda Bolkan) and Force 10 from Navarone (starring Harrison Ford, Robert Shaw, Carl Weathers and Barbara Bach).

Additionally, over a 20-year period Unger owned and operated (with various partners) a number of movie theaters in Manhattan and The Bronx, among them The Tudor Theatre, The Lido, The Studio, The Little Carnegie, The Cinema Rendezvous and The Fine Arts.[12]


In the early 1950s Unger worked as Vice President of Snader Telescription Sales[13] and headed Station Distributors, "one of the country's first television syndication outfits."[14]

Unger co-founded National Telefilm Associates with Ely Landau[15] and Harold Goldman in 1954, where he served in various capacities and rose eventually to Chairman and President before leaving in 1961.[16] Among the NTA's holdings were various television stations in the United States, including Channel 13 in Newark, N.J. WNTA-TV[15] (now WNET),[17] whose pioneering programming included award-winning shows such as Play of the Week, Open End (hosted by David Susskind), and The Mike Wallace Interviews.

In November 1962, Unger partnered with Bill Sargent and Joe Louis to promote Cassius Clay's (later Muhammad Ali) first closed-circuit fight against Archie Moore in Los Angeles. A couple of years later Unger formed the Freedom Networks after he was approached by Roy Wilkins and Thurgood Marshall (then President and Executive Director of the NAACP, respectively) to produce and promote The Freedom Spectacular, a charity event commemorating the tenth anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.[18]

In 1972, Unger and Peter Gettinger formed Hotel Films International, the first venture in Europe that made films available in hotel rooms via closed-circuit television. They sold the company to a Swiss/Arab interest in 1975.[19]

Medal of Honor

In 1978, at a special investiture ceremony "in recognition of his services in promoting US/Yugoslavian cultural and trade relations," Unger was bestowed a "Medal of Honor" and designated an "Honored Artist" by President Marshal Tito[20] for films that he either produced or co-produced in Yugoslavia: Assassination at Sarajevo, Force 10 from Navarone and The Battle of Neretva, the latter was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the 1969 Academy Awards.


As Producer (partial list)

The Roosevelt Story (1947)

Coast of Skeletons (1964)

Mozambique (1964)

Face of Fu Manchu (1965)

Sandy the Seal (1969)

Force 10 from Navarone (1978)

As Executive Producer, Presenter, Distributor, Other (partial list)

City Lights (1931)

Modern Times (1936)

Long Day's Journey into Night (1962)

The Pawnbroker (1964)

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

Eleanor Roosevelt Story (1965)

Ten Little Indians (1965)

Our Man in Marrakesh (1966)

The Battle of Neretva (1969)

The Madwoman of Chaillot (1969)

King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis (1970)

I Love You Rosa (1972)

The Day That Shook the World (1975)


  1. "Oliver Unger, Spent 46 Years as Executive in the Movie Business.". New York Times. 1981-03-30. Retrieved 2009-03-09.
  2. Clements, Colin (1982). Oliver Unger: A Celebration, pages 20-24.
  3. "UNGER, Oliver A.". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2009-03-09.
  4. "Unger, Oliver. Papers, 1958-1983". Retrieved 2009-03-13.
  5. Clements, Colin (1982). Oliver Unger: A Celebration, page 41.
  6. Clements, Colin (1982). Oliver Unger: A Celebration, pages 61-62.
  7. "The Roosevelt Story". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-03-12.
  8. Clements, Colin (1982). Oliver Unger: A Celebration, page 69.
  9. History of the American Cinema: Documenting the 1940s. Retrieved 2009-03-12.
  10. Clements, Colin (1982). Oliver Unger: A Celebration, page 182.
  11. "Atentat u Sarajevu (1975) - The Day That Shook the World: A Quaint Film". New York Times. 1977-01-24. Retrieved 2009-03-17.
  12. Clements, Colin (1982). Oliver Unger: A Celebration, pages 58-9.
  13. "UNGER, Oliver A.". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2009-03-09.
  14. Clements, Colin (1982). Oliver Unger: A Celebration, page 74.
  15. 1 2 Battaglio, Stephen (2010). David Susskind: A Televised Life. St. Martin's Press. p. 42. ISBN 0312382863.
  16. "Oliver Unger Quits NTA; Charles Glett Successor". BOXOFFICE. 1961-05-29. Retrieved 2009-03-09.
  17. Forbes, The 'Used Movie' Czars, May 15, 1958.
  18. Clements, Colin (1982). Oliver Unger: A Celebration, pages 97-98.
  19. Clements, Colin (1982). Oliver Unger: A Celebration, page 155.
  20. Clements, Colin (1982). Oliver Unger: A Celebration, pages 157-158.
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