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Katherine Corne was born and reared in Hendersonville, North Carolina. As a high school student during the Depression, she supplemented her family’s income by writing movie reviews for a local newspaper. Rejecting a college scholarship to Wellesley, Corne attended the fledgling Bob Jones College in Cleveland, Tennessee, after an evangelist convinced her that a Christian young person should attend a Christian college. At BJC, she majored in speech and became a private student of Bob Jones, Jr., eventually helping him direct Shakespearean plays. After earning her undergraduate degree, she served on the BJC speech faculty while attending graduate school at Northwestern University for twelve summers. During this period she married Gilbert R. Stenholm (1915–89), who became an influential administrator at the institution; they had one son.
In 1950, after the college moved to Greenville and became Bob Jones University, Bob Jones, Sr. and Jr. asked Stenholm to head a newly conceived campus film production company, Unusual Films. Stenholm then attended summer film school at the University of Southern California, making important professional contacts. Stenholm was a quick learner and soon “became one of only a handful of women in the United States to direct feature films.” Through her career she produced seventy-two films of various types including sermon films, religious documentaries, promotional films, and multi-image presentations. She directed five feature-length religious films, all costume dramas: Wine of Morning, Red Runs the River, Flame in the Wind, Sheffey, and Beyond the Night.
The National Evangelical Film Foundation named Stenholm Director of the Year in 1953, 1955, and 1963; and her favorite film, Sheffey, received a Silver Medallion award from the International Film and Television Festival of New York.
In 1958, at the height of the Cold War, the University Film Producers Association selected Wine of Morning as its submission to the International Congress of Motion Picture and Television School Directors at the Cannes Film Festival, and Stenholm was the keynote speaker on the occasion. A U.S. State Department official who briefed Stenholm told her there had been a round of applause when the Department discovered that BJU had been chosen to represent the United States because “Bob Jones University is one school about which there is no worry!” The selection committee thought Wine of Morning would demonstrate the excellence of American cinema training and the film’s frank religious message would “provide a revealing contrast to the entries from Russia and the other Communist-dominated countries.”
In 1986, Stenholm suffered a stroke in the Soviet Union while taking scenic footage in preparation for another feature-length film. She retired as director of Unusual Films but continued to teach at BJU until 1998.
- Daniel L. Turner, Standing Without Apology: The History of Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1997), 305.
- Katherine Stenholm, interview by Dan Boone and Jennifer Sackett, March 8, 2001, BJU Archives.
- Douglas Carl Abrams, Selling the Old-Time Religion: American Fundamentalists and Mass Culture, 1920-1940 (University of Georgia Press, 2001), ISBN 978-0820322940, p. 88. Excerpts available at Google Books.
- Turner, 306.
- Turner, 304. Gilbert Stenholm served as Dean of the School of Religion and Director of Religious Activities from 1951 to 1965, highly influential positions at a school in which a large minority of men were ministerial students.
- Turner, 306. In the 1965 textbook, Joseph V. Mascelli, The Five C's of Cinematography (Hollywood: Cine/Grafic Publications, 1965), the author used several stills from Stenholm films as illustrations of film technique; see pages 29, 70, 79, 156, 160.
- Turner, 307. Stenholm's own philosophy of film is given at Katherine Stenholm, "Thespis in a Christian Frame," Journal of the University Film Producers Association, 11 (Summer 1959), 10-12; "The Philosophical Approach to Film Training," Journal of the University Film Producers Association 16 (1964), 10-11; and "Feature Production at Bob Jones University, Journal of the University Film Producers Association 24 (1972), 11-13.
- Two sections of Melton Wright, Fortress of Faith: The Story of Bob Jones University, 3rd ed. (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1984), 158-79; 392-97, are dedicated to Stenholm, Unusual Films, and the awards won by both. A photo showing Stenholm directing the filming of Heavenly Harmonies, which won an award for best Christian musical from Christian Youth Cinema in 1951, is at Bob A. Nestor, Bob Jones University (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2008), 52. See also Ellen Evans, "Even University Film Making is Complicated," Hendersonville (NC) Times-News, July 3, 1976, 30, which notes that Stenholm had been named Greenville "Woman of the Year."
- "Henderson-born Motion Picture Authority to Deliver Address at International Film Festival", Hendersonville Times-News, May 8, 1958.
- "Bob Jones University Film to Get International Honor", Associated Press in The News and Courier, May 2, 1958.
- Elmer Rumminger, “Flying Angel,” Horizons (Fall 1958), 38-43. The president of the UFPA wrote Stenholm, “The excellence of your production, Wine of Morning…will provide the high quality which it is desirable to use in these international showings. We feel that the contrast between your film with its religious background and (the Russian entry) would be most revealing and that the contrast would reflect credit on our way of life”; “Bob Jones Religious Film To Represent US Colleges,” The (Columbia, SC) State, 2 May 1958, 12C.
- Turner, 307; Tina Crawford, “Dr. Katherine Stenholm: ‘I was doing what God wanted me to do,’ Collegian, November 9, 1989; “BJU Honors Retirees,” Collegian, April 30, 1998, 3. Stenholm's assistant, Tim Rogers, became her successor at Unusual Films and completed the film on the Soviet Union, The Printing.