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David L. Wolper

David L. Wolper

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Also Known As: David Lloyd Wolper Died: August 10, 2010
Born: January 11, 1928 Cause of Death: Heart disease, Parkinson's disease
Birth Place: New York City, New York, USA Profession: producer, executive

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

An incredibly prolific producer and executive producer of mainly small screen fare, David L. Wolper created the standard for television documentaries in the 1960s, produced popular sitcoms in the 1970s, and went on to secure his place in history as the ground-breaking producer of "Roots" (ABC, 1977) and "The Thorn Birds" (ABC, 1983), the two most watched miniseries of all time. Once dubbed "Mr. Documentary" by Time magazine, Wolper established himself as a successful business executive before moving over to the creative side with acclaimed documentaries like "The Making of the President" (ABC, 1960) and the National Geographic specials. Having found some success in features with "The Devil's Brigade" (1968) and "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" (1971), he introduced the world to Freddie Prinze and John Travolta through "Chico and the Man" (NBC, 1974-78) and "Welcome Back, Kotter" (ABC, 1975-79) respectively. Wolper next made television history with the adaptation of Alex Haley's "Roots," which ran for eight consecutive nights in early 1977 and became the most acclaimed miniseries ever made, a success he rivaled in the next decade with "The Thorn Birds." Meanwhile, his lavish production for...

An incredibly prolific producer and executive producer of mainly small screen fare, David L. Wolper created the standard for television documentaries in the 1960s, produced popular sitcoms in the 1970s, and went on to secure his place in history as the ground-breaking producer of "Roots" (ABC, 1977) and "The Thorn Birds" (ABC, 1983), the two most watched miniseries of all time. Once dubbed "Mr. Documentary" by Time magazine, Wolper established himself as a successful business executive before moving over to the creative side with acclaimed documentaries like "The Making of the President" (ABC, 1960) and the National Geographic specials. Having found some success in features with "The Devil's Brigade" (1968) and "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" (1971), he introduced the world to Freddie Prinze and John Travolta through "Chico and the Man" (NBC, 1974-78) and "Welcome Back, Kotter" (ABC, 1975-79) respectively. Wolper next made television history with the adaptation of Alex Haley's "Roots," which ran for eight consecutive nights in early 1977 and became the most acclaimed miniseries ever made, a success he rivaled in the next decade with "The Thorn Birds." Meanwhile, his lavish production for the Opening Ceremonies at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles set a trend for all others to follow. Though the high-energy produced took several steps back in his later years, emerging only to produce films like "Murder in the First" (1995) and "L.A. Confidential" (1997), there was no doubt that Wolper remained an unparalleled television icon.

Born on Jan. 11, 1928 to Irvin and Anna, Wolper broke into show business in the money and sales end, serving as vice president and treasurer of Flamingo Films from 1948-50. Eventually he became vice president in charge of West Coast operations (1950-54), where he excelled in sales to the television networks and syndicated markets. In 1958, Wolper opened his own production company and two years later made his presence known producing the documentary "The Making of the President" (ABC, 1960). In 1964 and 1968, he repeated the same concept with two films for CBS. But by that time, Wolper's organization - with its staff that included Stan Margulies, Robert Guenette, Alan Landsburg, Andrew Solt, and Mel Stuart - was churning out documentary programming ranging from the famed "Biography" series narrated by Mike Wallace (Syndicated, 1962-63) to "The March of Time" (1965-66). Wolper also shepherded "The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau" (1966-68), "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" (1967-68), "Appointment With Destiny" (1971-73), and a host of other documentary classics, including The National Geographic specials from 1965-75.

Wolper served as vice president of Metromedia, to whom he had sold his company, from 1965 to 1968, when he created a new organization under his own banner. During this period, his television work included the ABC documentary "The Unfinished Business of Robert Kennedy" (1969) and the short-lived action series "Get Christie Love!" (ABC, 1974-75). He also produced the sitcoms "Chico and the Man" (NBC, 1974-78), which made the late Freddie Prinze a star, and "Welcome Back, Kotter" (ABC, 1975-79), which did the same for a young John Travolta. By 1976, Wolper's organization has been merged with his partner on the latter series, Warner Bros., and his banner on the corner of Third Street and La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles had closed its doors. But Wolper's greatest small screen successes were to come. ABC, Warner Bros. and Wolper joined forces to produce "Roots," an adaptation of Alex Haley's novel that told the story of several generations of an African American family from its roots in Africa to being sold into slavery to eventual freedom. A landmark miniseries, its January 1977 airing over eight consecutive nights was a national phenomenon and made ratings history, while earning that season's Emmy Award as Outstanding Limited Series.

As a follow-up, Wolper had a hand in the sequel "Roots: The Next Generations" (ABC, 1979), which took the Haley family from Reconstruction to modern times, while tapping Haley's family twice more for with "Roots: The Gift" (ABC, 1988), which tied Kunte Kinte (LeVar Burton), the original African member of the Haley family, to a Christmas story, and "Queen" (CBS, 1993), which told the story of Haley's paternal side. As a producer, Wolper also oversaw the "Moviola" (NBC, 1980), based on Garson Kanin's tales of Hollywood, "North and South" (ABC, 1985) and "North and South, Book II" (ABC, 1986), adapted from John Jakes' Civil War-era novels. He had another huge success with "The Thorn Birds" (ABC, 1983), a sweeping romance based on Colleen McCullough's tale of love and lust in the Outback of Australia between a Catholic priest (Richard Chamberlain) and the daughter of a large family (Rachel Ward). The miniseries became the second-most watched of all-time behind "Roots." Additionally, he was the guiding force behind such acclaimed made-for-television films as "Victory at Entebbe" (ABC, 1976) and the biopic "The Betty Ford Story" (ABC, 1987), which was one of the first television movies to delve deeply into recovery programs for substance abusers.

Wolper had less heralded success in feature films, but his track record was hardly insignificant. Following two war epics, "The Devil's Brigade" (1968) and "The Bridge at Remagen" (1969), he produced the documentary "The Hellstrom Chronicle" (1971). In fact, his films were an eclectic bunch running the gamut from the tourist romp "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium" (1969) to the classic children's tale, "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" (1971), starring Gene Wilder as the enigmatic candy maker. Following the biopic "This Is Elvis" (1981), Wolper took a number of years off from features until returning with the courtroom drama "Murder in the First" (1995). Following "The Thorn Birds: The Missing Years" (ABC, 1996), he had a hand in "Surviving Picasso" (1996), starring Anthony Hopkins as the iconic artist, and the Oscar-winning adaptation of James Ellroy's "L.A. Confidential" (1997). In the 1990s, his son, Mark Wolper, joined his organization and began taking a leading role in the company's production slate. During the later part of his career, Wolper was far less active in the business, making his last contribution as an interviewee for a 25-year retrospective on "Roots." Then on Aug. 10, 2010, Wolper passed away in his Beverly Hills home from congestive heart disease and complications of Parkinson's disease. He was 82.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Race For Space, The (1959) Director

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Color Adjustment (1992) Himself
3.
 Jacques Cousteau (1998) Interviewee
4.
5.
6.
 28th NAACP Image Awards (1997) Presenter
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1948:
Broke into show business as treasurer with Flamingo Films
1950:
Named vice president in charge of west coast operations for Associated Artists
1958:
Formed Wolper Productions
1959:
Made directorial debut with the documentary "The Race for Space" (also wrote)
1960:
Produced first "Making of the President" documentary; also produced documentaries in 1964 and 1968
1962:
Produced original "Biography" series
1963:
Produced "Hollywood and the Stars" (NBC)
1965:
Merged Wolper Prods. with Metromedia; joined board of directors
1966:
Signed with <i>National Geographic Magazine</i> to produce TV specials
1966:
Produced "The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau"
1967:
Formed a new Wolper Productions
1968:
Produced "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich"
1968:
Produced feature film "The Devil's Brigade"
1969:
Produced comedy feature "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium"
1971:
Produced the insect-world documentary "The Hellstrom Chronicle"; directed by Walon Green and Ed Spiegel
1971:
Formed The Wolper Organization, Inc.
1971:
Produced the fantasy musical feature "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory"
1973:
Produced music documentary "Wattstax"
1974:
Executive-produced the NBC comedy series "Chico and the Man"
1974:
Was executive producer of the ABC police drama "Get Christie Love!"
1975:
Executive-produced the ABC sitcom "Welcome Back, Kotter"
1976:
Joined David L. Wolper Productions with Warner Bros.; also became consultant to Time Warner, Inc.
1977:
Executive-produced the groundbreaking and much-heralded ABC miniseries "Roots," based on Alex Haley's 1976 best seller "Roots: The Saga of an American Family"
1979:
Served as executive producer on the sequel "Roots: The Next Generations" (ABC)
1983:
Was executive producer of the hit miniseries "The Thorn Birds" (ABC)
1984:
Produced the internationally televised "Los Angeles 1984: Games of the XXIII Olympiad" ceremonies
1987:
Executive produced the ABC TV-movie biopic "The Betty Ford Story"
1991:
Was executive producer of "The Best of the Worst" (Fox)
1996:
Produced the James Ivory-directed biopic "Surviving Picasso," starring Anthony Hopkins as the legendary artist
1997:
Executive-produced highly acclaimed drama "L.A. Confidential," directed by Curtis Hanson
2001:
Executive-produced the TNT fantasy drama feature "The Mists of Avalon," starring Anjelica Huston, Julianna Margulies, and Joan Allen
2002:
Executive-produced the television special, "Roots: Celebrating 25 Years"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Drake University: Des Moines , Iowa -
University of Southern California: Los Angeles , California -

Notes

Inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1988

In 1980, Wolper publicly condemned CBS and producer Linda Yellen for casting Vanessa Redgrave, known for her pro-Palestinian sympathies, in the Holocaust drama "Playing for Time"

Wolper is actively involved with The Olympics.

His extensive art collection included numerous Picasso sculptures now on loan to the Los Angeles County Museum.

In a salute in THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, Wolper said his most exciting moment in show business was when Louis Gossett Jr walked into his office and demonstrated how he planned to perform the character of Fiddler in "Roots."

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Margaret Dawn Richard. Married in 1958; divorced.
wife:
Gloria Wolper. Construction worker. Divorced from London's mother.
wife:
Gloria Wolper. Writer. Co-authored 1991 novel "Dirty Dreams" with producer Linda Obst; writes column for BUZZ Magazine; married in 1974.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Irvin S Wolper. Waitress. Divorced from London's father; remarried several times.
mother:
Anna Wolper. Has two.
son:
Mark Wolper. Married c. 1945; divorced.
son:
Mark Wolper. Producer. Works in partnership with his father.
son:
Michael Wolper. Biologist for the United Nations. Indian.
daughter:
Leslie Wolper. Has three; from mother's first marriage; born and raised in China.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

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