Producer: A Memoir

Producer: A Memoir

by David L. Wolper, David Fisher, Mike Wallace, Art Buchwald

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From one of the most successful and influential producers in the entertainment industry -- responsible for classics such as Roots, The Thorn Birds, L.A. Confidential, and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory -- comes a fascinating memoir of life at the very hub of Hollywood.

David L. Wolper and television were both born in 1928, and their futures


From one of the most successful and influential producers in the entertainment industry -- responsible for classics such as Roots, The Thorn Birds, L.A. Confidential, and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory -- comes a fascinating memoir of life at the very hub of Hollywood.

David L. Wolper and television were both born in 1928, and their futures would be forever linked, as Wolper grew up to become one of the most significant television producers. His entrepreneurial talents were obvious from the start, when he sold homegrown radishes to his mother for a penny each and delivered sealed envelopes for the wiseguys who hung around New York's Copacabana nightclub.

Part salesman, part visionary, Wolper began his television career in 1949 by peddling films to the newly created TV stations across the country. He left the distribution business in 1958 when he produced his first award-winning television documentary, Race for Space, about the competing U.S. and Russian space programs. From that point on, Wolper's career skyrocketed. His company, Wolper Productions, has created thousands of hours of diverse programming, including the two highest-rated miniseries of all time, Roots and The Thorn Birds; such landmark spectacles as the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics; hit comedies like Welcome Back, Kotter; the classic movies L.A. Confidential and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory; film biographies of John Lennon and Elvis Presley; and acclaimed documentaries with Jacques Cousteau and the National Geographic Society.

Despite Wolper's staggering success and his countless Oscars, Emmys, and Golden Globes, he remains street-smart, wry, and surprisingly down-to-earth. Told in a conversational, comfortable voice, Producer is filled with funny and surprising anecdotes about such varied personalities as Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Grace and John Travolta, the Kennedys and Richard Nixon, and legends Orson Welles and Federico Fellini.

By combining flexibility, resourcefulness, and determination, Wolper produced some of the landmark documentaries, films, miniseries, and entertainment events of the twentieth century. Producer is the engaging and inspiring memoir of a true pioneer.

Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
In both good ways and bad, Wolper's book is a perfect specimen of the mogul memoir. The television pioneer responsible for such classics as "Roots," "The Thorn Birds," and "Welcome Back, Kotter," Wolper writes with a ghostwriter, who seems to have barely refurbished the dictated text. Amid the unfiltered egotism -- the credit-taking and self-puffery -- are unexpected finds, as when Wolper suddenly gossips about an illegitimate son of Elvis Presley or offers a shrewd assessment of the power of the early networks. While he dismisses ex-wives and families in a single sentence, Wolper finds time to tell us about the most well-endowed animal in the world (the water rhinoceros). Regrettably, the story lacks the campy excess of, say, Robert Evans's "The Kid Stays in the Picture": Wolper's tepid, fame-gilded life -- he made a lot of money, not a lot of enemies -- just isn't the stuff of high entertainment.
Publishers Weekly
Wolper is one of Hollywood's most successful film and television producers, with over half a century of career highlights that include winning multiple Emmys and an Oscar, and producing cult favorite Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and the opening ceremonies of the 1984 Olympics. He's boastful about his accomplishments, but then, if you had brought the nation to a standstill for an entire week with Roots, would you keep quiet about it? After a quick recounting of his early career, Wolper gets right into the good stuff, beginning with a 1958 television program about the space race that jump-started his career as an independent television documentary producer; later, he introduced Jacques Cousteau to American audiences and created the first Biography series in 1965. He branched out into corporate films, produced work for both Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, and expanded his TV work to include historical recreations, first for documentaries and later for TV movies. Although he recalls most of the behind-the-scenes complications with good humor, Wolper is clearly still frustrated by television critics' questions about fictional distortions in his earliest docudramas and vigorously defends his commitment to accuracy, even going out of his way to mention that Oliver Stone's JFK "outraged" him. As the shows start piling up, Wolper's chronology occasionally blurs, but the overwhelming array of celebrity anecdotes will easily distract readers from his occasional missteps. Photos. Agent, Andy Stuart. (Mar. 11) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
One of the earliest and most respected of Hollywood's independent television producers, Wolper (b. 1928) is forever linked to the miniseries Roots, based on Alex Haley's book. The epic not only established the miniseries as a prestigious medium and garnered big ratings but also proved a landmark in the history of American civil rights. With a refreshing lack of pretension and justifiable pride, Wolper relates how he and television matured together. Always a "hands-on" producer, he scorns today's Hollywood scene in which "getting a producing credit is only slightly more difficult than getting a library card." He recalls an early trial-and-error approach to producing documentaries, as well as the challenges, setbacks, and outright embarrassments (he admits to selling out when he made a thing called Do Blondes Have More Fun?). Anecdotes reveal famous people he has met along the way, including Jacques Cousteau and First Lady Betty Ford, and there are occasional moments of real-life drama when his producing duties put him in the center of world events, like the 1972 Munich Olympic Games massacre. Throughout, Wolper maintains a conversational and candid tone. This portrait of a vanishing breed in Hollywood is recommended for large public and academic film and TV history collections.-Stephen Rees, Levittown Regional Lib., PA
Kirkus Reviews
Prolific film, TV, and entertainment producer Wolper tours his life, helped by veteran coauthor Fisher (Hard Evidence, 1995, etc.). In the late 1940s, Wolper quit college to join buddy Jimmy Harris in forming Flamingo Films, a distribution company that sold product to all the new television stations opening around the country and clamoring for time fillers. There were no networks yet, and Hollywood, fearing TV’s takeover, would sell the stations no movies. However, Wolper and Harris did manage to buy the TV rights to an independently made film, The Adventures of Martin Eden starring Glen Ford and Evelyn Keyes, which they sold to countless stations; it became the first feature film ever broadcast on TV. Lack of product soon forced Flamingo to create original programming. In 1951, the company signed a $30-million, 31-year deal with National Comics for the TV rights to Superman, filmed 104 episodes at $20,000 each with George Reeves as the wrinkly-costumed Man of Steel, got Kellogg’s cereals to sponsor and sell the show everywhere outside the majors. Superman is still running. Older readers will have a nostalgia feast as Flamingo buys the rights from Universal for the Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and Don Winslow serials. Wolper’s interests grew, and he moved into producing, buying some rare Russian space footage for his first documentary, The Race for Space. Yet he always remained the visionary entrepreneur who has the ideas and assembles the talents but is himself not an artist. Among his colossal successes: Roots and The Thorn Birds on TV, staging the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the films Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and L.A. Confidential, andthe creation of the template for what would became A&E’s Biography series. Even so, declares Wolper, art collecting brings him his greatest rewards. Fascinating for entertainment industry buffs, and nicely revealing of an entrepreneur with a great heart as well as a golden touch.

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6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

David L. Wolper has worked in the television and film worlds for more than fifty years. He lives in Beverly Hills, California.

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