'Roots' producer was an icon

“Roots” producer David L. Wolper was memorialized Tuesday afternoon for a career that spanned nearly a half-century as a visionary and showman.

The event was held at Warner Bros. — the studio Wolper had called home since 1977 — in the theater named after the late studio chairman Steven J. Ross, a high school classmate of Wolper’s in New York. Actors Robert Wagner and Mike Connors — both golfing buddies of the producer — emceed the event, which brought out a crowd of former colleagues in addition to family and friends.Son Mark Wolper, who now heads the Wolper Organization, joked that his father had even produced the details of his own death, passing away “right before the Emmys” so he could be featured within the telecast’s necrology segment as well as during a week when “no one else really famous died.”

“Roots” stars Ben Vereen and Louis Gossett Jr. were among those lauding Wolper, with Vereen saying the producer “stood up for civil rights … when it was not fashionable.”

“Everything he ever touched in his life was classy,” said former Warner Bros. topper Bob Daly, noting that when he began his two-decade tenure at the studio in 1980, there were three icons there: Bugs Bunny, Clint Eastwood and Wolper.

Current WB prexy Barry Meyer — who couldn’t attend — sent a letter calling Wolper “one of the most pivotal figures in the growth and development of the television industry.” And Peter Ueberroth — who oversaw the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, for which Wolper produced the spectacular Opening and Closing Ceremonies — noted Wolper used $90 million left over from the Olympics to establish a charitable foundation that has donated more than $200 million to helping inner-city youth.

Documentary director Andrew Solt (“This Is Elvis”) spoke of those who cut their teeth on Wolper productions, referring to the experience as having attended “Wolper U.”

Others speaking or sending remembrances of Wolper included producer Bud Yorkin; Mel Stuart (who directed the Wolper-produced “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” saying Stuart got the idea from his then-10-year-old daughter); Elizabeth Daley, dean of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, to which Wolper donated all his memorabilia and papers; Jan Cousteau, the daughter-in-law of Jacques Cousteau, with whom Wolper produced “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” specials; and Steven Spielberg, who called Wolper’s accomplishments “immeasurable,” saying “Roots” alone “would have been enough.”

Wolper died Aug. 10 at the age of 82.

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