David L. Wolper

Producer/ Documentarian


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his nearly five-and-a-half hour Archive, producer David L. Wolper (1928 - 2010) talks about forming his first company, Flamingo Films, with father and son friends Joe and Jim Harris. He discusses many of his documentaries, including "The Race For Space," "Hollywood: The Golden Years," and "The Making of a President," among others. Wolper fondly recalls working with his long-time friend Mike Wallace, as well meeting and working with oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. He talks about two classic sitcoms, Chico and the Man and Welcome Back, Kotter, as well as the many television movies and specials he produced. Wolper also discusses in great detail his three highly acclaimed ABC miniseries: Roots, The Thorn Birds, and North and South. Morrie Gelman conducted the interview in Los Angeles, CA on May 12, 1998.

"I got my philosophy of filmmaking from making The Race For Space and I never changed it from that first show. I want to entertain and inform, not just inform and not just entertain. I want to do both in the same piece."

People Talking About ...
Highlights
David L. Wolper on producing The Race for Space and on the network news departments refusing to buy it
David L. Wolper on casting Roots, including LeVar Burton as "Kunta Kinte"
David L. Wolper on The Making of the Presidency
David L. Wolper on producing The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau
David Wolper on fighting for key scenes in Roots
David L. Wolper on the huge success of Roots when it aired in January of 1977
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his early years and influences; on radio he listened to while growing up; on seeing television at the 1939 World's Fair; on his family's first television set
On moving to Los Angeles and befriending future writer Art Buchwald at USC; on forming a company to sell educational films to television stations; on the experience of traveling the country selling educational and feature films to local television stations

Chapter 2

On buying the rights to feature films to syndicate to local television stations; on a typical television station in the late '40s and early '50s, and on how stations operated; on his early competition as "film peddlers": Fredric Ziv
On the business of television syndication early on; on his early syndication company Flamingo Films being merged into Motion Pictures for Television; on working on the syndication and sponsorship of Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves
On how the business of syndication worked in the early days of television; on the syndicated series Divorce Hearing; on the genesis and production of The Race for Space

Chapter 3

On producing The Race for Space and on the network news departments refusing to buy it; on selling The Race for Space to independent television stations; on critical reaction to The Race for Space and on the show being a turning point in his career
On the the role of the producer and director in a documentary; on producing a documentary on the history of Hollywood called Hollywood: The Golden Years; on producing Biography
On The Race for Space holding up over time; on his style of making documentaries; on forming his own production company

Chapter 4

On Irving "Swifty" Lazar; on The Making of the Presidency; on getting involved in the National Geographic Specials
On producing The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau; on winning the Emmy Award for The Making of the Presidency ; on making a deal with ABC to air 24 of his series
On his production company in the late '60s; on selling his production company to John Kluge's Metromedia; on producing feature films

Chapter 5

On doing convention films in 1964 for Lyndon B. Johnson; on making convention films in 1972 for Richard M. Nixon; on producing Let My People Go and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
On making the switch to color for his documentaries; on doing documentaries about Adolf Hitler; on producing a series of specials titled Appointment with Destiny; on the controversial practice of docudramas using newly shot "recreations"
On the declining popularity of the documentary in the early '70s; on producing the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory; on producing The First Woman President, directed by Delbert Mann

Chapter 6

On the importance of casting: on producing Sandburg's Lincoln
On executive producing Chico and the Man and Welcome Back, Kotter; on working with stars Freddie Prinze and John Travolta; on how he first heard about Roots

Chapter 7

On acquiring the rights to Roots and on meeting Alex Haley; on why he knew Roots would work; on convincing ABC, headed by Brandon Stoddard, to air the show; on Roots producer Stan Margulies
On the screenplay for Roots being written as the book was being written and on making it a miniseries; on casting Roots including LeVar Burton as "Kunta Kinte; on the huge success of Roots when it aired in January of 1977
On the economics of producing Roots; on the decision for Roots to have more than one director; on choosing the writers; on creating characters for Roots that were not in Alex Haley's book
On Roots winning Emmy Awards; on executive producing Roots: The Next Generations

Chapter 8

On the huge success of Roots; on dealing with network standards and practices with Roots; on why Roots came along at the right time; on the impact of Roots
On executive producing Roots: The Next Generations; on Marlon Brando playing "George Lincoln Rockwell" in Roots: The Next Generations; on the public reaction to Roots: The Next Generations
On producing and casting The Thorn Birds; on producing North and South

Chapter 9

On executive producing North and South; on producing the 1984 summer Olympics opening ceremonies
On producing The Statue of Liberty Liberty Weekend celebrations; on producing the miniseries Alex Haley's Queen; on being inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame and on then-current projects

Chapter 10

On how cable television impacted television documentaries and miniseries; on the then-current state of television; on the then-future of the independent producer on television
On his thoughts on various people he worked with in his career

Chapter 11

On his thoughts on various people he worked with in his career
Shows

Academy Awards, The

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David Wolper on befriending Art Buchwald at USC; on a prank they played at the 1948 Academy Awards

Adventures of Superman

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David L. Wolper on working on the syndication and sponsorship of Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves

Alex Haley's Queen

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David L. Wolper on producing Alex Haley's Queen

Biography (1962)

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David L. Wolper on producing Biography

Chico and the Man

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David L. Wolper on executive producing Chico and the Man; on the casting of Freddie Prinze
David L. Wolper on the cast of Chico and the Man and on the death of Freddie Prinze

Divorce Hearing

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David L. Wolper on the syndicated series Divorce Hearing

Emmy Awards, The (Primetime and Daytime)

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David L. Wolper on winning the Emmy Award for The Making of the Presidency
David L. Wolper on Roots winning Emmy Awards

First Woman President, The

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David L. Wolper on producing The First Woman President directed by Delbert Mann

Hollywood: The Golden Years

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David L. Wolper on producing a documentary on the history of Hollywood called Hollywood: The Golden Years

Making of the Presidency, The

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David L. Wolper on The Making of the Presidency
David L. Wolper on winning the Emmy Award for The Making of the Presidency

National Geographic Specials

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David L. Wolper on getting involved in the National Geographic Specials

North and South

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David L. Wolper on producing North and South
David L. Wolper on executive producing North and South

Olympics

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David L. Wolper on producing the 1984 summer Olympics opening ceremonies

Race for Space, The

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David L. Wolper on the genesis and production of The Race for Space
David L. Wolper on producing The Race for Space and on the network news departments refusing to buy it
David L. Wolper on selling The Race for Space to independent television stations
David L. Wolper on critical reaction to The Race for Space and on the show being a turning point in his career
David L. Wolper on The Race for Space holding up over time

Roots

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David L. Wolper on first hearing about Alex Haley's Roots
David L. Wolper on acquiring the rights to Roots and on meeting Alex Haley
David L. Wolper on why he knew Roots would work and on convincing ABC, headed by Brandon Stoddard, to air the show
David L. Wolper on Roots producer Stan Margulies
David L. Wolper on the screenplay for Roots being written as the book was being written, and on making it a miniseries
David L. Wolper on casting Roots, including LeVar Burton as "Kunta Kinte"
David L. Wolper on the huge success of Roots when it aired in January of 1977
David L. Wolper on the economics of producing Roots
David L. Wolper on the decision for Roots to have more than one director; on choosing the writers
David L. Wolper on creating characters for Roots that were not in Alex Haley's book
David L. Wolper on Roots winning Emmy Awards
David L. Wolper on the huge success of Roots
David L. Wolper on dealing with network Standards & Practices on Roots
David L. Wolper on why Roots came along at the right time, and on the impact it had

Roots: The Next Generations

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David L. Wolper on executive producing Roots: The Next Generations
David L. Wolper on executive producing Roots: The Next Generations
David L. Wolper on Marlon Brando playing George Lincoln Rockwell in Roots: The Next Generations
David L. Wolper on the public reaction to Roots: The Next Generations

Sandburg's Lincoln

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David L. Wolper on producing Sandburg's Lincoln

Statue of Liberty, The

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David L. Wolper on producing The Statue of Liberty Liberty Weekend celebrations

Thorn Birds, The

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David L. Wolper on producing The Thorn Birds and on his association with Warner Bros.
David L. Wolper on casting Richard Chamberlain, Barbara Stanwyck, and others on The Thorn Birds
David L. Wolper on The Thorn Birds director Daryl Duke

Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, The

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David L. Wolper on producing The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau

Welcome Back, Kotter

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David L. Wolper on selling Welcome Back, Kotter to ABC
David L. Wolper on Welcome Back, Kotter, produced by James Komack, starring John Travolta
Topics

1939-40 World's Fair

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David L. Wolper on seeing television at the 1939 World's Fair and on his family's first television set

Censorship / Standards & Practices

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David Wolper on fighting for key scenes in Roots

Diversity in Television

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David L. Wolper on producing Roots

Emmy Awards

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David L. Wolper on winning the Emmy Award for The Making of the Presidency
David L. Wolper on Roots winning Emmy Awards

Historic Events and Social Change

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David L. Wolper on seeing television at the 1939 World's Fair and on his family's first television set
David L. Wolper on the genesis and production of The Race for Space
David L. Wolper on producing Roots

John F. Kennedy

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David L. Wolper on The Making of the Presidency

Lyndon B. Johnson

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David L. Wolper on doing convention films in 1964 for Lyndon B. Johnson

Moon Landing

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David L. Wolper on the genesis and production of The Race for Space

Olympic Games

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David L. Wolper on producing the 1984 summer Olympics opening ceremonies

Richard M. Nixon

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David L. Wolper on making convention films in 1972 for Richard M. Nixon

Sports

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David L. Wolper on producing the 1984 summer Olympics opening ceremonies

Technological Innovation

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David L. Wolper on making the switch to color for his documentaries

Television Industry

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David L. Wolper on the business of television syndication early on
David L. Wolper on making a deal with ABC to air 24 of his series
David Wolper on fighting for key scenes in Roots
David L. Wolper on how cable television impacted television documentaries and miniseries
David L. Wolper on the then-current state of television
David L. Wolper on the then-future of the independent producer on television

Television and the Presidency

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David L. Wolper on The Making of the Presidency
David L. Wolper on doing convention films in 1964 for Lyndon B. Johnson
David L. Wolper on making convention films in 1972 for Richard M. Nixon

Underrepresented Voices

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David L. Wolper on producing Roots
Professions

Directors

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David L. Wolper on the the role of the producer and director in a documentary

Producers

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David L. Wolper on the the role of the producer and director in a documentary
David L. Wolper on his style of making documentaries, and on forming his own production company
David L. Wolper on the importance of casting
Genres

Comedy Series

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David L. Wolper on executive producing Welcome Back, Kotter and Chico and the Man

News and Documentary

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David L. Wolper on the genesis and production of The Race for Space
David L. Wolper on producing The Race for Space
David L. Wolper on The Making of the Presidency
David L. Wolper on producing The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau
David L. Wolper on the declining popularity of the documentary in the early '70s
David L. Wolper on producing Let My People Go
David L. Wolper on producing The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and on the importance of the narrator in documentaries
David L. Wolper on producing a series of specials titled Appointment with Destiny and on the controversial practice of docudramas using newly shot "recreations"

Sci-Fi/Supernatural Series

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David L. Wolper on working on the syndication and sponsorship of Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves

Sports

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David L. Wolper on producing the 1984 summer Olympics opening ceremonies

TV Movies/Miniseries/Dramatic Specials

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David L. Wolper on producing The First Woman President directed by Delbert Mann
David L. Wolper on executive producing Roots
David L. Wolper on executive producing Roots
David L. Wolper on executive producing Roots and Roots: The Next Generations
David L. Wolper on executive producing The Thorn Birds
David L. Wolper on executive producing North and South
David L. Wolper on executive producing North and South
David L. Wolper on producing Alex Haley's Queen
People

Jack Albertson

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David L. Wolper on the cast of Chico and the Man, including Jack Albertson

Elmer Bernstein

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David L. Wolper on Elmer Bernstein

Marlon Brando

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David L. Wolper on Marlon Brando playing George Lincoln Rockwell in Roots: The Next Generations

Art Buchwald

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David L. Wolper on moving to Los Angeles and befriending future writer Art Buchwald
David L. Wolper on Art Buchwald

LeVar Burton

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David L. Wolper on casting Roots, including LeVar Burton as "Kunta Kinte"

Richard Chamberlain

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David L. Wolper on casting Richard Chamberlain, Barbara Stanwyck, and others on The Thorn Birds

Howard Cosell

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David L. Wolper on Howard Cosell

Jacques Cousteau

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David L. Wolper on producing The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau

Bob Daly

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David L. Wolper on Bob Daly

Barry Diller

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David L. Wolper on Barry Diller

Dick Van Dyke

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David L. Wolper on Dick Van Dyke

William Friedkin

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David L. Wolper on William Friedkin

David Gerber

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David L. Wolper on the syndicated series Divorce Hearing packaged by David Gerber
David L. Wolper on David Gerber

Alex Haley

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David L. Wolper on producing Alex Haley's Queen

Adolph Hitler

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David L. Wolper on doing documentaries about Adolf Hitler

John Huston

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David L. Wolper on John Huston

Lyndon B. Johnson

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David L. Wolper on doing convention films in 1964 for Lyndon B. Johnson

Gabe Kaplan

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David L. Wolper on Welcome Back, Kotter, starring Gabe Kaplan

Alan Landsburg

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David L. Wolper on Alan Landsburg

Irving "Swifty" Lazar

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David L. Wolper on Irving "Swifty" Lazar

Delbert Mann

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David L. Wolper on producing The First Woman President directed by Delbert Mann

Stan Margulies

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David L. Wolper on Roots producer Stan Margulies

John Mitchell

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David L. Wolper on John Mitchell

Richard M. Nixon

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David L. Wolper on making convention films in 1972 for Richard M. Nixon

Don Ohlmeyer

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David L. Wolper on Don Ohlmeyer

Arthur Penn

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David L. Wolper on Arthur Penn

Freddie Prinze

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David L. Wolper on executive producing Chico and the Man; on the casting of Freddie Prinze
David L. Wolper on the cast of Chico and the Man, including Freddie Prinze

George Reeves

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David L. Wolper on working on the syndication and sponsorship of Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves

Fred Silverman

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David L. Wolper on Fred Silverman

Frank Stanton

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David L. Wolper on Frank Stanton

Barbara Stanwyck

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David L. Wolper on casting Richard Chamberlain, Barbara Stanwyck, and others on The Thorn Birds

Brandon Stoddard

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David L. Wolper on why he knew Roots would work and on convincing ABC, headed by Brandon Stoddard, to air the show
David L. Wolper on Brandon Stoddard

Mel Stuart

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David L. Wolper on Mel Stuart

Brandon Tartikoff

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David L. Wolper on Brandon Tartikoff

Grant Tinker

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David L. Wolper on Grant Tinker

John Travolta

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David L. Wolper on Welcome Back, Kotter, starring John Travolta

Mike Wallace

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David L. Wolper on the genesis and production of The Race for Space hosted by Mike Wallace
David L. Wolper on Mike Wallace

Lou Weiss

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David L. Wolper on Lou Weiss

Orson Welles

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David L. Wolper on Orson Welles

Bud Wiser

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David L. Wolper on Bud Wiser

Frederic Ziv

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David L. Wolper on his early competition as "film peddlers": Fredric Ziv

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