David L. Wolper, a Hollywood producer of astounding breadth, died Tuesday at his home in Beverly Hills. Wolper's best-known projects were dramas from age of the blockbuster TV miniseries, including Roots(and all its subsequent sequels and spinoffs), The Thorn Birds and North And South. But he also produced documentaries on a startling array of subjects, from bugs (The Hellstrom Chronicles, which won an Oscar in 1971) to Nazis (TV's The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich) to oceans (the series The Undersea World Of Jacques Cousteau). His 1959 TV special The Race For Space, which he sold to a syndicate of 104 stations after the networks turned it down, was television's first big independently produced documentary.
Wolper coupled an inexhaustible interest in the world around him with fabulous story-telling ability. As a little kid, I watched his documentary series Hollywood And The Starsevery week, transfixed by the yarns he spun about people like Natalie Wood and Elizabeth Taylor. At age 9, my own movie-going was mostly restricted to pictures that had horses and flying lead. But Wolper's show was too fascinating to turn away from even when I had no idea who the actors and directors were that he was talking about. I don't know that we'll see his like again.