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Valley Stream Observer, June/July 2002
South High School graduate and Academy Award®-winning producer Deborah Oppenheimer returned from California to receive South’s Distinguished Alumni Award on May 17, 2002, with a large contingent of family and community friends in attendance. The Oppenheimers have deep roots in Valley Stream and are three generation owners of Central Avenue hardware; her father Eric Oppenheimer is a 1942 graduate of Central High School.
Motivated after her mother’s death in 1993 to learn more about her childhood experience on the Kindertransport—the World War II rescue mission which saved nearly 10,000 children from Nazi-occupied territories in Europe through relocation to foster homes and hostels in England—Deborah Oppenheimer researched the subject and produced the film “Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport.”
“I had never made a movie or documentary before,” said Ms. Oppenheimer. “The Oscar is a tremendous accolade which changed my life.”
Ms. Oppenheimer accepted the Oscar® for Best Documentary Feature at the March 25, 2001 Academy Awards®. The film received historic accolades from German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder at the Berlin premiere and from HRH Prince Charles at the Royal Premiere in London.
In introducing Ms. Oppenheimer, South High School principal Dr. Stephen Lando showed clips from the London premiere and from her Academy Award® acceptance speech.
Simultaneous with his presentation of the Distinguished Alumni Award plaque, a surprise bouquet of flowers arrived from Ms. Oppenheimer’s good friend Jamie Lee Curtis.
In accepting the plaque, Ms. Oppenheimer presented South High School with a copy of the two-hour documentary in both video and DVD format. The film has a study guide, which was distributed beforehand to Central, Memorial, North and South High social studies department heads, and a companion book and soundtrack. A German edition of the study guide has been created as part of the compulsory Holocaust education in Germany, and a United Kingdom edition is currently being edited for release throughout schools in Great Britain.
“For me, the legacy of an entire gymnasium of students learning about the Kindertransport is the best legacy of all,” said Ms. Oppenheimer. “Ninety percent of the children on the Kindertransport never saw their parents again,” she said sadly.
In addition to her film accomplishments, Deborah is also one of the most prolific producers in television and is President of Mohawk Productions. She serves as executive producer of the hit ABC comedy series “The Drew Carey Show,” now entering its eighth season; the new ABC comedy series “George Lopez”; and “Wanda At Large,” a pilot for Fox starring Wanda Sykes.
Ms. Oppenheimer explained that after graduating in 1975 from State University College at Buffalo, where she majored in English, she began a career in publishing as an editor for John Wiley & Sons in New York. “I went into publishing because of a love of literature and reading,” she said.
However, she soon became interested in producing and entered the field without any connections. Starting at HBO, by 1981 she had become a development and production executive at Lorimar, where she developed and ultimately produced programming for pay television and PBS.
Ms. Oppenheimer then segued into feature and television production as Vice President for Production at Lorimar Productions, where she oversaw features, made-for-television movies, miniseries, and episodic and half-hour television. In the late 1980’s Lorimar merged into Warner Brothers, where Deborah Oppenheimer still works today. She is currently writing a children’s book about her mother for Scholastic Press.
“A strong work ethic, and the loyalty of family and friends got me to where I am today,” she said.
After the assembly, Deborah spoke in the South library to students interested in writing, film and production careers, and hosted a special viewing of a 40-minute version of the film that was open to the community.
Students inspired by her appearance were thrilled to hold the golden Oscar®. Many could be heard throughout the day, already practicing their acceptance speeches.