×

Studio exec Norbert Auerbach dies

Served as president of United Artists in the 70s

Studio exec and international distribution pioneer Norbert Auerbach, who served as president of United Artists in the late 1970s, died Dec. 12 in Prague after a brief illness. He was 87.

The multilingual exec traveled Europe with the Beatles to help promote “A Hard Day’s Night,” helped bring Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels to United Artists and was brought in to help stabilize UA during the “Heaven’s Gate” debacle. As an international distribution exec, he oversaw international releases for films such as “And God Created Woman” with Brigitte Bardot, as well as several installments of the James Bond and Pink Panther franchises.

A fixture at the Cannes Film Festival for nearly three decades, “He fairly twinkled at festival time, exuding practiced charm in English, French, German and Czech,” related Steven Bach’s book “Final Cut,” about the making of “Heaven’s Gate.”

After serving as UA’s head of international distribution, Auerbach was named president of United Artists; he made the announcement at the 1981 Cannes fest that UA had been purchased by MGM. He soon ankled MGM/UA to become president of United Intl. Pictures, which distributed films overseas for Universal, Paramount, United Artists and MGM. Filmgoing was at a low point in the U.K. and European territories at the time, and Auerbach and co-prexy Pana Alafouzo played a part in helping to increase the importance of international box office for U.S. studios.

Popular on Variety

Born in Vienna, Auerbach grew up in a luxurious villa on the grounds of the Barrandov Studios in Prague, the son of a prominent Czech producer. His family left Prague just before the Germans invaded, landing first in Paris and then Brazil before settling in Maryland.

After starting at UCLA, Auerbach enlisted in the U.S. Army, then returned to college to study business. Originally intending to manage his father’s orange orchards in Israel, he studied soil science but instead turned to working on his father’s film productions. Striking out on his own, he began working in international distribution, principally for United Artists. According to an interview he gave with a Czech website, Auerbach advised the studio seek out more internationally oriented action franchises and consider adapting Fleming’s novels.

Auerbach retired to Prague after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 and became chairman and consultant for Lucerna Film, as well as a consultant to Barrandov Studios.

In recent years he published a book in Czech, “From Barrandov to Hollywood,” about his experiences, and participated in a Czech documentary about his life. He was a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the Czech Motion Picture and TV Academy.

He is survived by his wife, Alena; four sons; and two sisters.

More Film

  • Awkwafina Jumanji Next Level Premiere

    'The Farewell's' Awkwafina on Her First Golden Globe Nomination, Female Director Snubs

    Awkwafina just might’ve had her best Monday ever. Shortly after 5 a.m., the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. announced that she’d earned her first Golden Globe nomination (as best actress in a motion picture – musical or comedy) for her performance in “The Farewell.” But she didn’t have a ton of time to celebrate, since she [...]

  • Bhumi Pednekar

    IFFAM-Variety's Asian Stars: Up Next Program is Helping Talent Cross Over

    Eight young stars accepted the “Asian Stars: Up Next” award on Tuesday intended to recognize and promote Asian on-screen talent who have established themselves in their home market but have the potential to cross borders onto the global stage. The awards are issued by the International Film Festival & Awards Macao and Variety, and were [...]

  • Mo'Nique

    Mo'Nique to Play 'Badass Black Woman' in New Film 'Mother Trucker'

    Mo’Nique has signed on for the lead role in the independent action-adventure “Mother Trucker.” The movie is written by J. Oyer Tomas, former HBO executive producer, and set during the Congressional impeachment hearings to remove President Richard Nixon from office. Nixon resigned in 1974. Mo’Nique will portray a mother, struggling with anger management issues, who [...]

  • Bellbird review

    Macao Film Review: 'Bellbird'

    Mild, mellow and as life-affirming as a soft fall of springtime New Zealand rain, Hamish Bennett’s charming if overfamiliar debut feature “Bellbird” — so named after a species of avian indigenous to the region, which Captain Cook reportedly described as having a song “like small bells, exquisitely tuned” — is a fondly bittersweet tribute to [...]

  • Wisdom Tooth

    Macao Film Review: 'Wisdom Tooth'

    Slippery and surprising, full of odd details and insights, and leaching significant visual and thematic texture from its unusual setting, Liang Ming’s “Wisdom Tooth” must be one of the year’s most remarkable debuts. Set in a depressed Chinese fishing town close to the Korean border during the first snow flurries of winter, the film is [...]

  • Mattie Do

    'Long Walk' Director Mattie Do Has Fun With Asian Horror

    Laos’ first and only female filmmaker Mattie Do, whose thriller “The Long Walk” screened in the International Film Festival and Awards Macao’s world panorama section, tumbled into her profession with a dose of liquid courage. She’d recently moved to Laos from the U.S. to take care of her father, who’d moved back after her mother [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content