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Filmmaker John Korty (1936–2022)


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John Korty, the versatile, award-winning  filmmaker whose projects included animated tales, scripted stories and documentaries, has died at the age of 85. The Marin Independent Journal reported this week that Korty died on March 9 at his home in Point Reyes Station, located in western Marin County, California. 

Korty won an Academy Award and a Primetime Emmy Award for his 1977 documentary film "Who Are the DeBolts? And Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids?" He also won an Emmy for directing the 1974 CBS made-for-television movie "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman." 

 Korty was born in Lafayette, Indiana and attended Antioch College in Ohio. He moved to California in the 1960s. He became acquainted with filmmakers Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas and is said to have inspired them to set up their own Bay Area studios, 

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Coppola served as an executive producer of Korty's first major directorial effort. "The People," an installment of ABC's "The Movie of the Week," originally aired on January 22, 1972. It starred Kim Darby (pictured below) as a schoolteacher who discovered that the residents of an isolated farming community weren't really as backward as she thought. Based on Zenna Henderson's science-fiction story "Pottage,"  the TV-movie also starred William Shatner, Diane Varsi, Dan O'Herlihy and Laurie Walters. 

original_thepeople5.jpg

A year later -- on January 24, 1973 -- ABC's "The Movie of the Week aired "Go Ask Alice," the story of a teen girl (Jamie Smith-Jackson) who became addicted to drugs. Directed by Korty,  the production earned Primetime Emmy nominations for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama - Adaptation (Ellen M. Violett) and  Outstanding Achievement in Film Editing for Entertainment Programming - For a Special or Feature Length Program of a Series (Henry Berman). Also starring in the TV-movie: Shatner, Ruth Roman, Wendell Burton, Julie Adams, Mackenzie Phillips, Robert Carradine, Charles Martin Smith and Andy Griffith. Based on Beatrice Sparks' 1971 book for young adults, the TV movie gained a second life when ABC  screening copies available upon request to schools, churches and civic groups.

12 Go ask alice ideas | go ask alice, alice book, alice

Cicely Tyson won two 1974 Primetime Emmy Awards -- Outstanding  Lead Actress in a Drama and Actress of the Year – Special -- for her performance as a centenarian and former enslaved person in "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman." The made-for-television production -- based on the 1971 novel by Ernest J. Gaines -- received seven other Emmys,  including Outstanding Special - Comedy or Drama and Best Directing in Drama - A Single Program - Comedy or Drama (Korty).

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Korty's 1976 romantic comedy "Alex & the Gypsy" starred Jack Lemmon as a world-weary bail bondsman who fell  for a  Romani woman (Geneviève Bujold) accused of attempted murder. The Chicago Sun Times movie critic Roger Ebert wrote that the film "takes a strange, disjointed story and tells it with enough style that the movie sometimes works in spite of itself." Based on a screenplay by Lawrence B. Marcus (from a story by Stanley Elkin), the picture also starred James Woods, Robert Emhardt and Titos Vandis .

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"Who Are the DeBolts? And Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids?" focused on Bob and Dorothy DeBolt, a California couple who ezpanded their family of eight (including their five biological children and Bob's biological daughtger). They adopted 14 children, including war orphans with severe disabilities. Korty shared the 1977 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature with co-producers Dan McCann and Warren L. Lockhart. Korty also received a 1979 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement - Informational Program afterABC aired an edited version of the film  on December 17, 1978. 

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Korty directed and rewrote the script of "Oliver's Story" (1978), the sequel to the 1970 tearjearker "Love Story" -- a Best Picture nominee that made major film stars of Ryan O"Neal and Ali MacGraw, O'Neal reprised the role of  Oliver Barrett IV, a Harvard product and scion of a wealthy family, coping with the loss of his late wife Jennifer Cavilleri Barrett (MacGraw). Candice Bergen co-starred as his new love interest, a department store heiress. The film, based on another Segal novel, did not duplicate the critical and commercial success of the first film. 

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Korty co-wrote and directed the 1980 CBS holiday TV movie "A Christmas Without Snow," which starred Emmy Award-winner Michael Learned as a divorced woman who moved from San Francisco to Omaha. Oscar-winner John Houseman played the demanding  director of the local church choir she joined. 

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Lucas served as the executive producer for the 1983 animated fantasy "Twice Upon a Time," the story of a nefarious plot to bombard the Land of Din with nonstop nightmares. Co-written and co-directed by Korty and Charles Swenson,  the film featured special photographic effects by David Fincher -- who went on to direct "Fight Club" (1999), "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (2008), "The Social Network" (2010), "Gone Girl" (2014) and "Mank" (2020),

Korty and Lucas also collaborated on "The Ewok Adventure," a 1984 television film about the furry creatures introduced in "Star Wars -- Episode VI: Return of the Jedi." Korty directed and handled the cinematography duries for the productio, which was telecast by ABC on  November 25, 1984. ABC aired a sequel -- "Ewoks: The Battle for Endor" -- in November 1985. Korty was not involved with that project. The young actress Aubree Miller (pictured below) appeared  as Cindel Towani in both films.

The Ewok Adventure (TV Movie 1984) - IMDb

 

 

RIP John Korty, director of Lucasfilm’s Twice Upon a Time, our beloved Ewok Adventure and huge influence for what became American Zoetrope.
 
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Thank you for recognizing John Korty. As a titan in American independent filmmaking, he was as authentic and freestanding as possible. Korty operated a small filmmaking facility out of a barn in Northern California (Stinson Beach), which inspired several young filmmakers, namely George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, and provided them with all needed equipment. One must admire his integrity and "I will do it myself" approach. He was the Morris Engel of the 1960s. 

Although he made several decent films in a 60-year career, my favorite remains his feature-length debut, The Crazy-Quilt (1966)––one of the preeminent American indie films of the decade. Shot on less than $100,000 and sopping in eye-popping black-and-white, it tells the simple fable of two strangely matched lovers pursuing evasive happiness. The film's photography was primarily outside Korty's barn in Stinson Beach and Golden Gate Park. TCM should consider playing it someday if they have not already. 

 

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