Christine Z. Wiser, Documentary Filmmaker for Nat Geo and PBS, Dies at 74

Courtesy of Wiser Family
Christine Z. Wiser

Her films include 'The Search for the Great Apes' and 'The Animals Nobody Loved.'

Documentary filmmaker Christine Z. Wiser, whose films included 1974's The Search for the Great Apes and 1975's The Animals Nobody Loved, has died. She was 74.

Wiser died of complications from Alzheimer's disease on Oct. 3 in Tarzana, California, her daughter-in-law, Callie Wiser, told The Hollywood Reporter.

Her filmography included work for National Geographic, PBS and Wolper Productions. She co-directed the National Geographic special The Search for the Great Apes, which focused on the work of anthropologist Dian Fossey, who is known for her extensive study of mountain gorillas. Wiser's The Animals Nobody Loved, which was narrated by Hal Holbrook, looked at coyotes, rattlesnakes and mustangs.

She also co-wrote the 2008 documentary Fighting for Life, which followed military doctors, nurses and medics on the front lines of the Iraq War. In 1998, Wiser co-wrote and produced the Tom Hanks-narrated PBS documentary Return With Honor, which told the story of U.S. fighter pilots who became prisoners during the Vietnam War.

Wiser was married to One Day at a Time writer-producer Bernard "Bud" Wiser for 42 years. They met at Wolper Productions, where she was head of research and he was a writer. He wrote a 1981 One Day at a Time episode about their first date, titled "Dinner at Seven," in which Bud captured their date "word for word." He died in April.

Wiser was born on Dec. 3, 1942, in Washington, D.C. After the end of World War II, her family moved to California, and she grew up in San Marino. Her mother, Bernice Zurbach, was a feminist who served as the state president of the California League of Women Voters and she encouraged her daughter to pursue a political career.

However, Wiser took a strong interest in journalism, earning her master's degree in journalism at American University in D.C. When she interned at NBC's Washington bureau, she has said, "I became so entranced with television that I decided to switch to it."

In 1967, she became a researcher at ABC Documentaries and worked on the four-hour special Africa, which looked at the newly independent African states.

The following year, Wiser worked at Wolper as the director of research; she also produced and directed.

Wiser was an active member in Women in Film and one of the first female members of the Directors Guild of America.

In addition to her daughter-in-law, she is survived by her son, Mike Wiser, a producer and writer on PBS series Frontline; and grandchildren Davis and Leigh.

A memorial service will be held at the Risen Christ Chapel in the Holy Cross Mortuary in Culver City on Nov. 4. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Cure Alzheimer's Fund.