David L. Wolper, Pioneer in Television Documentary, Dies at 82
David Wolper, whose Wolper Organization was a pioneering force in documentary production during the first two decades of American television, passed away last night at his home in Beverly Hills. He had been suffering from congestive heart failure and Parkinson's Disease.
With almost all of the news and documentary work being produced in New York in the 1950s, Wolper set up shop in Los Angeles and lured filmmakers like Mel Stuart and Jack Haley Jr. to work with him. Over the next decades, the Wolper team produced such works as The Race for Space, D-Day, The Making of the President series, the Jacques Cousteau television specials and hundreds more. He and his team would go on to earn nine Oscar nominations and one Oscar (for Hellstrom Chronicle), two Peabodys and 100 other awards.
"David brought the documentary to Hollywood,"
says Stuart. "The West Coast became an important source of documentaries from about 1959 on, and David was able to persuade the major networks to air them. His main strength was that he was able to find ideas and come up with ideas that would appeal to the networks. What we created was a place where David didn't direct the programs himself, but there was an atmosphere where all the creative personnel had a freedom that you don't have today. We made our films, David sold them and we didn't have any
interference from either the sponsors or the networks."
Wolper was also instrumental in helping to launch the International Documentary Association. He attended the first meeting in 1982, and he provided valuable counsel and financial support in the beginning years. He earned the Career Achievement Award in 1988, and thanks to the efforts of then-IDA board member Gabor Kalman, the Student Documentary Achievement Award bears his name to this day.
"One of David's great talents was that he had an absolute instinct for what would be successful," says IDA founder Linda Buzzell, who was director of research at the Wolper Organization. "He had the same instinct for people. He really could recognize talent."
"David had the ability, with the networks and sponsors who were buying these films, to give them the dream," Stuart adds. "He was a dreamer, but he made the dreams come