Perry Wolff (born June 12, 1921) won numerous Emmy and Peabody Awards during a long career as an executive producer for “CBS Reports” and other news programs, but after he retired from CBS news, he made a series of art films for public broadcasting, including Images of Jesus, which won the Religious Broadcast of the year award, Michelangelo Restored, The Impressionists, van Gogh, Picasso, and An Essay on Matisse, which was nominated for an Oscar in 1996. In all he received fifteen Emmy awards and fourteen Peabody Awards, as well as numerous Writers Guild, Du Pont and Polk awards.
Perry Sidney Wolff, a pioneer in the development of the television documentary form, was born in Chicago on June 12, 1921, the son of Abe and Bess Billow Wolff. He received a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1942. (At other times during his career he studied cinematography at the Sorbonne in Paris and engineering at Lehigh University.) During World War II, Wolff served with the Ninth Army infantry regiment, and he was among the first American soldiers to reach the Elbe during the closing days of the war.
In 1946, Wolff joined CBS Chicago affiliate WBBM as a news and public affairs writer. From 1947 to 1950 he produced numerous broadcasts of the WBBM Orchestra, as well as writing and producing several radio documentaries, including the Peabody Award-winning The Quiet Answer (1948) and Report Uncensored (1950).
Shortly thereafter, Wolff left WBBM, and between 1950 and 1951 he wrote a novel, The Friends (alternate title, Attack); was a ghost writer on The Guiding Light; published a book of poetry, Seven Sonnets; and wrote and produced an ABC television series, Look Young, Live Longer. In 1951, Wolff joined CBS News in New York as a producer for the CBS Morning News and CBS Saturday News. From 1953 to 1955, he was the executive producer, director, and writer for the Peabody Award-winning series Adventure, which was produced in conjunction with the American Museum of Natural History.
In 1956, Wolff produced the documentary series Air Power, for which he also wrote 23 of the 26 scripts. Because he was unable to reach a satisfactory conclusion to his contract negotiations, after this assignment, Wolff took a leave of absence from CBS. During this period he traveled in Europe, living in Paris long enough to complete two feature-length documentaries, Smashing the Third Reich and Kamikaze. He also produced the feature film Lords of the Congo.
In 1961, Wolff rejoined the CBS News and Public Affairs Department as a staff writer-producer, and in 1963 he was appointed executive producer of CBS News. For CBS, Wolff produced and wrote numerous award-winning television documentaries and specials including A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy (Emmy and Peabody awards), 1945, The Italians (Emmy and Peabody awards), The Great American Novel (Emmy Award), Black History: Lost, Stolen or Strayed (Emmy and Peabody awards), The Japanese (Emmy and Peabody awards), The American Revolution (Peabody Award), The Selling of the Pentagon (Emmy Award), Conversations with Eric Sevareid (Peabody Award), Inside Hollywood: The Movie Business (Emmy Award), Whose America Is It? (Emmy and Peabody awards), The Vanishing Family: Crisis in Black America (Emmy and Peabody awards), The Burger Years (Emmy), The Battle for Afghanistan (Emmy Award), and American Dream, American Nightmare…The Seventies (Emmy Award).
Wolff married Irja Tuulikki Suominen in 1947. They are the parents of John Trevor Wolff.