John Korty

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John Korty
John Van Cleave Korty

(1936-07-22)July 22, 1936
DiedMarch 9, 2022(2022-03-09) (aged 85)
Occupation(s)Director, producer, writer, animator
Years activec. 1957–2022
AwardsWho Are the DeBolts? And Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids? (Academy Award)
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (Emmy Award)

John Korty (June 22, 1936 – March 9, 2022), was an American film director and animator, best known for the television film The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and the documentary Who Are the DeBolts? And Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids?, as well as the theatrical animated feature Twice Upon a Time. He has won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature (for Who Are the DeBolts?) and several other major awards.[1] He is described by the film critic Leonard Maltin as "a principled filmmaker who has worked both outside and within the mainstream, attempting to find projects that support his humanistic beliefs".[2]

Early life and career[edit]

Born in Lafayette, Indiana, he began making amateur films while still in his teens.[3] He took a liberal arts education at Antioch College in Ohio and obtained work as an animator for television commercials while still in school. He graduated in 1959.[4]

In a 1963 article he wrote for the Bolex Reporter,[5] he notes that he first took an interest in animation during his second year at Antioch. He developed a cut-out technique and also used various other imaging methods including scratching the film stock, painting, and using objects such as photographs, string, cloth and scissors. He would continue to develop these techniques in projects through his career, culminating in his 1983 animated feature Twice Upon a Time. Using a Bolex H-16 camera, his television commercial work amounted to more than 30 spots, which he made with four other students at Antioch.

His 1964 short Breaking the Habit was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject.


While most of his later work has been for television, he actually started in film before moving to the small screen. In 1964, he moved to Stinson Beach in Marin County, north of San Francisco. There he made three feature films in four years. They were successful, low-budget projects.[6] His first was the little-seen drama The Crazy-Quilt (1966), with narration by Burgess Meredith. The others were Riverrun[7] and Funnyman, featuring performances by the comedy troupe The Committee Theatre. His barn was his studio (Korty Films), and it would become an inspiration for George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola who also established studios in the San Francisco Bay Area.[6] Korty Films would become part of what was later called the "New Hollywood". Korty actually became a tenant at Coppola's Zoetrope Studios in San Francisco, though he later moved out when Coppola raised the rents.[8] The company finally settled in Point Reyes Station, California.[9][10][11]

Other feature films directed or produced by Korty included Oliver's Story (1978) and Twice Upon a Time, a George Lucas-produced animated fantasy originally released theatrically by Warner Bros. in August 1983 and later aired as an HBO feature in June 1984.[12][13] The film lost money, and Korty would not return to animated productions for more than twenty years. He also served as a cinematographer for a few films including the Robert Redford feature The Candidate.


His most highly lauded work was in television. He was active in the medium from the early 1970s until the late 1990s. He became known in the field in 1972 as director of The People. The film starred Kim Darby and William Shatner, was produced by Francis Ford Coppola, and was based on the science-fiction novel The Pilgrimage by Zenna Henderson.[14] In 1974, Korty won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series and a Directors Guild of America award for his filmed adaptation of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Four years later, the Directors Guild of America gave him an award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary for his documentary feature Who Are the DeBolts? And Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids?. The film had previously won an Academy Award in the documentary category.

Other films included Go Ask Alice (1973); an adaptation of Farewell to Manzanar (1976); and A Christmas Without Snow (1980). He also made the Star Wars spin-off adventure Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure (1984). In 1993 he adapted the Rudyard Kipling story "They" into the film They Watch.

Sesame Street shorts[edit]

In the mid-1970s and late-1980s, several Korty animated shorts were featured on the PBS children's programs The Electric Company and Sesame Street. These segments featured moral tales including at least one adaptation of Aesop's Fables. There was a recurring character known as Thelma Thumb, and all of the films (some as short as 18 seconds) used Korty's backlit cut-out technique which he called Lumage (Luminous Image). He tended to use a synthetic fabric called Pellon for the Sesame Street animations, which lent a consistent style to the work. Improv actors often ad-libbed the dialogue, and child performers were sometimes used. Among the children was the sister of David Fincher. David Fincher worked for Korty and would later gain recognition as a director himself. John Korty also produced animated shorts for the first season of Vegetable Soup with the assistance of Drew Takahashi and Gary Gutierrez.


In 2006, inspired by the state of political debate in America at the time, Korty produced two short animated pieces which he posted to the World Wide Web. They feature two characters, Brock & Throck, in discussions about the political landscape. Korty was quoted in a news release, "This summer, I found some sketches from my very first experiments. One in particular was perfect for a dialogue between two characters - a single zigzag line that can function as the profile for either face. I had put it away, waiting for the right subject matter. The wait was fifty years."[15]

Fog City Mavericks[edit]

He was one of several San Francisco film veterans profiled in the 2007 documentary film Fog City Mavericks.[16]

Personal life[edit]

During his long life, Korty married three times. His marriages to Carol Tweedie, and designer Beulah Chang ended in divorce.[17][18] He was re-married to Jane Silvia, for 32 years. She survived him. They had one son, Gabriel Korty. Korty had two sons from his second marriage to Chang: Jonathan and David Korty.[17] He also had three grandchildren.[19]

Major awards[edit]

  • Emmy for The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974).
  • Oscar (documentary) (1977) for Who Are the DeBolts? And Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids?
  • DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary (1978) for Who Are the DeBolts? And Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids?
  • Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement - Informational Program (1979) for Who Are the DeBolts? And Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids?
  • Humanitas Prize for Farewell to Manzanar and Who Are the DeBolts? And Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids? (Special Awards Category, 1979)


Korty died on March 9, 2022.[17] According to his brother Doug, the cause of his death was vascular dementia.



Year Name Director Writer Producer Other Credit Notes
1961 The Language of Faces Yes Yes Documentary shorts
1964 Breaking the Habit Yes Yes
1966 The Crazy-Quilt Yes Yes Yes Yes Cinematographer & editor
1967 Funnyman Yes Yes Yes Cinematographer & animator
1970 Imogen Cunningham, Photographer Yes Yes Yes Cinematographer Documentary short
1970 Riverrun Yes Yes Yes Cinematographer
1972 The Candidate Yes Director of photography: second unit
1974 Silense Yes
1976 Alex & the Gypsy Yes
1977 Who Are the DeBolts? And Where Did They Get 19 Kids? Yes Yes Documentary
1978 Oliver's Story Yes Yes
1980 Can't It Be Anyone Else Executive Documentary
1983 Twice Upon a Time Yes Yes Yes Сharacter designer
2009 Miracle in a Box: A Piano Reborn Yes Yes Yes Cinematographer Documentary
2011 John Allair Digs In Yes Yes Yes Cinematographer Documentary short

Television series[edit]

Year(s) Name Credit Notes
1974-1993 Sesame Street Animator & character designer 7 episodes
1971-1977 The Electric Company Animator 8 epsiodes
1975-1976 Vegetable Soup Animator
1985 George Burns Comedy Week Director 1 episode

Television films[edit]

Year(s) Name Credit Notes
1972 The People
1973 Go Ask Alice Also script consultant
Class of '63
1974 The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
The Music School Also writer & cinematographer Short
1976 Farewell to Manzanar Also writer & producer
1978 Forever
1980 A Christmas Without Snow Also writer & producer
1983 The Haunting Passion
1984 Second Sight: A Love Story
Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure Also cinematographer
1986 A Deadly Business
Resting Place
1987 Baby Girl Scott
Eye on the Sparrow
1988 Winnie
1989 Cast the First Stone
1990 A Son's Promise
1991 Line of Fire: The Morris Dees Story
Long Road Home
Keeping Secrets
1992 Deadly Matrimony
1993 They
1994 Getting Out
1995 Redwood Curtain
1997 Ms. Scrooge
1998 Oklahoma City: A Survivor's Story
1999 A Gift of Love: The Daniel Huffman Story

Executive producer only

Year Name Notes
1980 Stepping Out: The Debolts Grow Up Documentary



  1. ^ Hanson, Natalie (2022-03-15). "Oscar-winning Marin filmmaker John Korty dies". Marin Independent Journal. Retrieved 2024-04-01.
  2. ^ Maltin, Leonard (1994). "John Korty".
  3. ^ "Out of the Past". Journal and Courier. Lafayette, Indiana. April 17, 1975. p. 10. Retrieved March 24, 2018 – via
  4. ^ "Antioch College Noteworthy Alumni". Antioch College. Archived from the original on 2007-04-04.
  5. ^ Korty, John (1963).“Animation Unlimited”. Bolex Reporter. 13 (2). Retrieved 2012-07-08.
  6. ^ a b Pollock, p. 85.
  7. ^ Sragow, Michael (November 24, 1970). "Films riverrun at the Orson Welles". Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 2012-07-08.
  8. ^ Pollock, p. 87, 100.
  9. ^ Kearney, John F. (February 14, 1967). "For Film Director: Hollywood Out, Stinson Beach is in". Daily Independent Journal. San Rafael, California. p. 13. Retrieved March 24, 2018 – via Free access icon
  10. ^ "Center to Present Three Korty Films". Daily Independent Journal. San Rafael, California. February 15, 1967. p. 14. Retrieved March 24, 2018 – via Free access icon
  11. ^ Barbara, Bladen (February 28, 1967). "The Marquee". The Times. San Mateo, California. p. 23. Retrieved March 24, 2018 – via Free access icon
  12. ^ Jenkins, Ward (September 9, 2007). "The movie that time forgot". The Ward-O-Matic. Retrieved 2012-08-12.
  13. ^ Jessen, Taylor (June 2004). "Twenty Years Later Twice Upon a Time Still Burns". Retrieved 2012-07-08.
  14. ^ Miller, Ron (April 21, 1995). "Film studios beckon but director John Korty prefers freedom of TV". San Jose Mercury News.
  15. ^ Amidi, Amid (November 7, 2006). "John Korty's Brock & Throck" Archived 2008-12-02 at the Wayback Machine. Cartoon Brew. Retrieved 2012-07-08.
  16. ^ "Fog City Mavericks" Archived 2011-08-16 at the Wayback Machine. San Francisco Film Society. Retrieved 2012-07-08.
  17. ^ a b c Genzlinger, Neil (2022-03-24). "John Korty, Director of 'Miss Jane Pittman,' Is Dead at 85". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2024-04-01.
  18. ^ Towle, Mimi (2014-06-30). "Jonathan Korty". Marin Magazine.
  19. ^ Johnson, G. Allen (March 22, 2022). "John Korty, award-winning director who helped establish Bay Area filmmaking, dies at 85". Datebook, San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2024-04-01.


Pollock, Dale (May 31, 1999). Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas. Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0306809040.

External links[edit]