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Wolper Goes Out With a Big Bang : Producer Vows Liberty Weekend Is His Last Extravaganza

July 07, 1986|MARYLOUISE OATES | Times Staff Writer

On his left hand, impresario David Wolper wears a gold pinkie ring, emblazoned with the insignia of the 1984 Olympics. But as Liberty Weekend draws to a close, it isn't clear if he'll want to replace his Olympics ring with one bearing the Statue of Liberty. The Olympics ring is, after all, proof positive that he was on a winning team.

Even as futuristic fireworks lit up the sky and as historic vessels sailed up the New York Harbor, Wolper, Liberty Weekend's executive producer, was still viewed in Manhattan circles as that most awful of apparitions--a man from "the Coast."

He took his compliments where he could get them. "The President was really moved at the lighting of the statue," Wolper said over and over. "The look on his face--and then he gave me a wink."

Wolper was sure reviews would be good, turning around critics who attacked Liberty Weekend before it started. And such criticism obviously cut through his cool exterior--like the constant reference to him by New York media as a "Hollywood producer."

Not 'Too Flashy'

"I'm a Burbank producer," the Warner Bros. executive stoutly insisted. Nevertheless, Wolper pocketed the bejeweled American-flag lapel pin Elizabeth Taylor gave him minutes before he appeared on network TV as part of opening ceremonies, explaining that it might look "too flashy."

"I think I disappoint them because I don't wear chains and a shirt cut down to here," he said, pointing to his belt.

What the 58-year-old Wolper has worn comfortably is the power placed in his hands to create the celebration around the restoration of Lady Liberty--or, as a movie buddy of his said, shaking his head in amazement, "getting people excited about cleaning up a statue."

Getting into his limo, hopping into a donated corporate helicopter or switching from cellular phone to walkie-talkie, Wolper was the center, the main event of this main event. Were this a political campaign, he would be the sole candidate.

"This is Mis-ter Wolper," he intoned repeatedly into his ubiquitous walkie-talkie. Wolper rarely raises his voice, yet makes clear what he wants done.

Watching the Details

"My mind is set on making it happen. What it all means will come after . . . I can't think of anything esoteric. . . . My mind is just on the details."

Very little happened Liberty Weekend that Wolper did not touch, or manipulate, or pull or push. He spent hours the afternoon of the opening ceremonies helping Elizabeth Taylor select just the right dress for the show--and then remembered to tell her during the 1 a.m. helicopter ride home that the dress looked "perfect."

Minutes before thousands of VIPs headed into the Governors Island stadium, Wolper was personally clearing out a parking lot, involved in a face-to-face confrontation with the driver of a truck, insisting that the truck "will be moved."

Such attention to detail was necessary because this was his event. When he took "my guests" on "our buses" to "our boat" to watch the fireworks, it was Wolper pacing the sidewalk, supervising the line-up of the motorcade.

He slept little, forgot to eat and managed to keep his four women aides-de-camp very busy. One, registered nurse Nancy Tankel, was in charge of medical services for Liberty Weekend. She also was nearby to remind her boss to take his pills, a detail that sometimes slipped by.

Wolper is so used to having people carry out his orders that he carries no notebook of his own--he just scribbles on scraps of paper that he then dictates from.

"He just has confidence that he won't fail," said son Michael Wolper, who's also involved in the film industry.

For David Wolper, aides said, there is no time that a solution can't be found--even to a big problem. For instance, when the ground on Governors Island was still what he termed "mooshy" after sod had been laid, Wolper supervised the placement of ferns and plants in the wetter spots. "Maybe we can make them into ponds?" he suggested.

Like an Orchestra Leader

How do those around him describe Wolper? "I have never described him with adjectives. You can only do him with motions," said his press chief Jonas Halperin, shrugging his shoulders and waving his hands in the conductor-like fashion Wolper frequently uses to orchestrate or to motivate.

Such a description, were he to hear it, might set off Wolper's infectious little giggle. Or, distracted, he might merely stroll away. Wolper does not stride--he appears to stroll. But it's really an iron stomp.

"I am David Wolper," he tells a repairman, obviously surprised this produces no immediately reaction.

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