John Korty, who directed the Emmy-winning The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and the Oscar-winning documentary Who Are the DeBolts? and Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids?, died March 9 at his home in Marin County, CA. He was 85.
His death was first reported in the Marin Independent Journal.
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One of the premiere directors during the made-for-TV movie heyday that began in the early 1970s, Korty helmed the sci-fi chiller The People (1972), the anti-drug drama Go Ask Alice (1973) and, in 1980, the holiday tale A Christmas Without Snow.
His greatest television achievement came in 1974, when he directed Cicely Tyson in the celebrated CBS movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Based on the 1971 novel by Ernest J. Gaines, the film told the story of a Black woman who, in 1962 at the age of 110, narrates her life story that began in slavery in the American South. Although works of fiction, both the novel and the TV movie were presented in the realistic style of autobiography, an approach in vogue at the time following the success of Thomas Berger’s 1964 novel Little Big Man and its 1970 film adaptation by Arthur Penn.
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman was a standout among the era’s TV films, scoring critical raves, big ratings and nine Emmy Awards including wins for Korty, Tyson, Tracy Keenan Wynn’s screenplay and the series itself. Korty and Tyson would reunite 23 years later for the 1997 TV movie Ms. Scrooge, a retelling of the Dickens holiday classic with Tyson as the miserly Ebenita Scrooge.
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On the film side, Korty directed the 1977 theatrical documentary Who Are the DeBolts? and Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids?, about an American couple named Dorothy and Bob DeBolt who, in addition to their biological children, adopted and raised 14 children including many severely disabled war orphans. The film won the Academy Award for Best Feature-length Documentary in 1978 (an edited version, narrated by Henry Winkler, aired on ABC in 1978).
Korty would continue his work in television for more that two decades after his Pittman success, with directing credits including, but not limited to, the Emmy-nominated Farewell to Manzanar (1976), The Ewok Adventure (1984), Eye on the Sparrow (1987), Oklahoma City: A Survivor’s Story (1998) and A Gift of Love: The Daniel Huffman Story (1999) starring Debbie Reynolds.
From 1973 to 1989, Korty and his San Francisco studio Korty Films contributed animated shorts to Sesame Street, including the popular recurring science series “The Adventures of Thelma Thumb.”
Other big-screen credits include the 1976 Jack Lemmon feature film Alex & The Gypsy, the 1983 animated feature Twice Upon a Time and, in 1978, the largely panned Love Story sequel Oliver’s Story, with Ryan O’Neal reprising his Oliver Barrett character from the original, this time paired with a new romantic interest played by Candice Bergen.
Korty is survived by wife Jane Sylvia; sons Jonathan, David and Gabriel Korty; brother Doug Korty ; and sister Nancy Korty.
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