Wolff, Alfred
appeared in Wilmette Life (Wilmette, Illinois), 10 Oct 1974, p. 38, column 1

Full Text
Former wing-walker locally based
One of the fascinating traditions in these parts is the North Shore Sunday Evening Club which opens its 59th consecutive season of travelog films this week at New Trier East High School. More details on this are found on page 46 of today's Wilmette Life. By coincidence one of the club's featured performers for the past 22 seasons dropped into our offices this week ... one of Wilmette's residents, Alfred Wolff, a world traveler since the 1920's. On Oct. 20 he'll narrate his newest film for the club, "The Danube," one of his many "Know Your World" productions. Wolff's own career is as interesting as the films and subjects he covers. Prior to World War I, he dropped out of the University of Wisconsin to try his hand in the business world. At the outbreak of the war he was on the east coast and quit his job to apply at the Curtis Flying School in Newport News, Va. Quite a few others had the same idea, so he was sent to Sandusky, Ohio where Lee Hammond, one of the nation's earliest flyers, had a school of his own. But this one was for flying boats. Wolff began his training. But that, too, was nipped in the bud when Hammond met his demise with a street car. He ended up on the North Shore and with a group of 14 young men, help (sic) found the Great Lakes Naval Air Station in 1917. Among his compatriots in the venture were Phil Wrigley, Jack and Billy Mitchell, Alistair McCormick, William McCormick Blair and Alexander Dewey. The group purchased three flying boats at their own expense and gave them to the government to promote their program. Wolff still holds pilot certificate No. 645 from this experience. Following the war, Wolff became the assistant manager for Triangle Airways, which held the Chicago to New Orleans route, flying six-passenger flying boats along the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. In 1922 he went to Europe to fly for various airlines. Flying in those days was a daredevil occupation and Wolff went off on barnstorming jaunts to "stimulate interest in flying," often working as a wing-walker. Once, a 1,000-feet over Peoria the biplane hit a bump and Wolff fell. Fortunately for Wolff and the Sunday Evening Club, he desperately grabbed for the wing pontoon on the plane and hooked an arm on one of the struts. The pilot banked the plane so he could crawl back on board. He left his stunt days to work as a manufacturers representative, traveling the country. While on a trip to Mexico in 1945, he took some films and eventually the famed travelog producer Burton Holmes saw them and encouraged Wolff to get into the business. He's been doing it ever since. In 29 years of averaging 50,000 miles a year, Wolff says, "I've shot pictures of Adenauer of Germany, Nasser of Egypt, Anna Moffo ('a pretty little girl'), Willie Brandt, Johnson, Eisenhower and FDR. In fact, I think I took the last color film of FDR when he was making his next to last speech in the Chicago Stadium. Somehow I got close to the podium before the Secret Service agents found out I didn't have a pass. I told them I was from the Toledo Blade... the only thing I could think of at the time." While shooting his Egypt film, he ran into Ann Miller, the dancer, doing some work there near the Pyramids. "I asked her if I could include her in my film. After conferring with her agent, she agreed on the condition that I come to Los Angeles to show her the film when I had finished. "Later that year I was on tour in Los Angeles and was invited to Miss Miller's home for Thanksgiving dinner. She sat me next to the former Queen of Egypt!" Wolff has many, many more stories and experiences. So an evening with him as his "Danube" promises to be a delightful one with the Sunday Evening Club.

Media Type:
Genealogical Resource
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Date of Publication:
10 Oct 1974
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Geographic Coverage:
  • Illinois, United States
    Latitude: 42.07225 Longitude: -87.72284
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Copyright status unknown. Responsibility for determining the copyright status and any use rests exclusively with the user.
Copyright Holder:
Sun-Times Media
Wilmette Public Library
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Agency street/mail address
1242 Wilmette Avenue
Wilmette, IL
U.S.A. Phone: 847-256-6930
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Wolff, Alfred