Andy Albeck dies at 89; former head of United Artists

Andy Albeck, a former longtime United Artists executive whose tenure as president and chief executive in the late 1970s and early ‘80s was clouded by the high-profile failure of the epic western “Heaven’s Gate,” has died. He was 89.

Albeck died of heart failure Sept. 29 at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, said his son, Johannes.

In a 30-year career at United Artists that included serving as president of UA’s broadcasting division and senior vice president of operations, Albeck was appointed the company’s president and chief executive in 1978.


The Manhattan-based Albeck, a well-read, private and self-effacing man with a flair for controlling costs, was remembered in a 1992 Variety article “as a benign and wise leader — he was first to identify Japan as the movie industry’s chief future funder — but he is criticized by some as being too European for a changing Hollywood.”

During his tenure as president, United Artists released films such as “Manhattan,” “Stardust Memories,” “Moonraker,” “Raging Bull” and “Rocky II.”

But then there was director Michael Cimino’s “Heaven’s Gate,” the film that became notorious for its astronomical cost, critical drubbing and enormous losses at the box office.

It was such a debacle that Steven Bach, a former United Artists executive who presided over the film, chronicled the experience in his 1985 book “Final Cut: Dreams and Disaster in the Making of ‘Heaven’s Gate.’ ”

United Artists pulled the big-budget film from distribution in November 1980, a year in which UA reportedly had “lackluster” results with other films such as “The Big Red One,” “The Final Countdown” and “Carny.”

On Jan. 1, 1981, longtime UA executive Norbert T. Auerbach took over as president of the troubled company and Albeck moved up to chairman. The next month, the 59-year-old Albeck announced he was taking early retirement.

“My dad decided he had had enough with the industry,” his son told The Times on Thursday.

After retiring, Albeck devoted himself to collecting art and operating a Christmas tree farm in New Jersey that he had long owned.

The son of a Danish shipping company executive father and a Russian mother, Albeck was born Sept. 25, 1921, in Vladivostok, Russia, where his mother had fled the Bolshevik Revolution.

Later that year, the family was evacuated on an American troopship with other refugees to Japan, where Albeck’s father became the representative for United Artists.

A graduate of St. Joseph’s College in Yokohama, Japan, Albeck launched his career in the film industry in 1939 as a sales representative for Columbia Pictures in what is now Indonesia.

He joined Eagle Lion in New York in 1950 as assistant foreign sales manager and moved into operations at United Artists in 1951 after UA’s purchase of Eagle Lion.

Albeck is survived by his wife, Lotte; two children from a previous marriage that ended in divorce, Johannes and Nina Russell; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.