In a recent post about the Olympics I mentioned in passing that the roots of wildly elaborate opening ceremonies can be traced in large part to producer David L. Wolper, and the work he did on behalf of the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.
Even now, I can remember all those pianos playing “Rhapsody in Blue” and the guy on a jetpack flying into the Los Angeles Coliseum, which sort of oddly dovetails with this year’s image of James Bond (a.k.a. Daniel Craig) and the Queen parachuting in.
The piece prompted a message from Wolper’s widow, Gloria, who noted that Aug. 10 will mark two years since the producer’s death, and spoke about how much he loved his association with the Olympics.
“It was such an exciting time, certainly for David, but for his family and friends as well!” she recalled. “It will be two years August 10th that David passed away and, as his widow, watching the London Olympics brings back so many memories and somehow makes him seem very close!”
Wolper was certainly a showman, with a flair that extended from his not-so-humble beginnings in documentaries (including “Visions of Eight,” chronicling the 1972 Olympics) to epic miniseries like “Roots” and “The Thorn Birds.” His multipart productions were such that in a 1999 interview I did with him for the Los Angelest Times, he sneered at the notion of even referring to a two-part production as an “event.”
Of course, we’ve witnessed a recent resurgence of miniseries — see “Hatfields & McCoys” — which no doubt would have made Wolper smile. Asked about the absence of such ambitious projects and spectacle on the major networks in that aforementioned interview, he said, “They won’t do it because they’re afraid. You have to have balls. You have to say, ‘We think it’s going to work. Let’s go with it.’ Either you’re going to kill the world, or you’re going to fall on your rear end.”
As his work on the Olympics and a host of other productions reminds us, David Wolper might have landed on his ass now and again, but few have so vigorously pursued the mantra “No guts, no glory.” And he sure had balls.