Remembering Jim Korkis (August 15, 1950 - July 28, 2023)by Mark Goldhaber, staff writer
Jim Korkis, beloved Disney historian and a constant presence in MousePlanet's Wednesday lineup since 2006, passed away last Friday morning after a valiant battle with heart problems and cancer, with his brother Michael at his side. There will be a public remembrance of Jim at a date to be determined, which will be avaiable via Zoom to allow all of his friends and fans to attend from afar. When information on the remembrance becomes available, I and several of Jim's other friends will share it via multiple channels.
His medical trials and tribulations are documented on the GoFundMe site that we created to help with Jim's medical bills, so I don't want to repeat that information here. Instead, I'd just like to use the final installment of Korkis Korner to remember Jim.
Jim was a kind, giving person who loved Disney, comics, and animation. He also enjoyed watching movies and eating good food—including his favorite See's chocolates. He loved laughing at everything, from Looney Tunes cartoons to Laurel and Hardy shorts and beyond. He was a prolific writer and congenial guest, contributing to dozens of publications and appearing on innumerable podcasts. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jim was also known as an animation historian, and wrote frequently for many animation-related publications. He was always happy to share his knowledge, and that was more important than anything he received in return. The only thing that I've seen him get really upset about were people who, knowingly or not, edited or incorrectly copied his writings resulting in inaccurate information being shared.
Jim worked for Disney from the time that he arrived in Florida in 1995 until he was a victim of layoffs in 2009, holding a variety of onstage and backstage roles. He was the recipient of Disney's prestigious Partners in Excellence award for cast members in 2004.
In the short bio that he wrote to go with his MousePlanet articles, Jim wrote, "...he had the opportunity to interview many of the people who actually worked with Walt Disney. [He] describes his house as looking like 'a toy shop and a bookstore exploded and I decided to live in the remains'. For over two decades, he has been a freelance writer and a teacher and for a while was a dealer in animation artwork and related resources. His columns concentrate on sharing stories of Disney history that haven't been recorded elsewhere."
Actually, Jim interviewed a huge number of Disney luminaries (including members of the Disney family) and recorded each of them on tape. He then transcribed them by hand, and would pull those transcriptions out to use either as a resource for checking facts or even as entire articles in themselves. He also sought out hard-to-find obscure publications that had interviews with or stories about Walt Disney to add them to his collection. Jim truly preserved a great deal of knowledge of Disney history that exists nowhere else.
The foreword to his first book, The Vault of Walt, was written by Walt's daughter, Diane Disney Miller:
"Some years ago, our son Walt brought to my attention an article on the MousePlanet Website. It was that rare thing; An honest, well-written piece that was so authentic, so true to my dad's spirit, so unprejudiced and non-judgmental that as I read it I could see the twinkle in dad's eye, hear his laugh.
"I immediately wrote the author Wade Sampson a letter of appreciation. Some weeks later I received a reply and learned that Wade Sampson was actually the pseudonym of Jim Korkis, who worked for the Walt Disney World Company as a coordinator at the Learning Center and was well-known and respected as a Disney historian. Since that time I looked forward eagerly to 'Wade’s' ongoing output, learning some things I didn't know, but always delighted with what he chose to write about and his obvious understanding and even affection for his subject.
"Jim does not put my father on a pedestal, but he does like him, and I do not think that disqualifies him from having objectivity in his opinion of him. I find myself in the same position.
"I am so pleased that many of his articles are now bound together in this book. Dad's personality, character and values are displayed in the selections Jim has offered here.
"I have not hesitated to correspond with Jim whenever I think of something that might interest him, or to add some insights into something he has written about. Dad did not hide anything about his life. He loved to talk about it. But he never really talked about religion, and his feelings about prayer, and I learned from Jim's article how deeply these feelings went.
"I look forward to his continued exploration of dad's life and times. Something interesting and illuminating always seems to turn up, some little event and angle that adds to the story of his very good life.
Diane Disney Miller
My personal history with Jim
I first met Jim in late September 1996 at the Disney Institute. My wife and I were taking advantage of a Disney Vacation Club member perk and taking three days of classes at the Disney Institute just ahead of Walt Disney World's 25th anniversary. As luck would have it, we took an animation class that was being taught by Jim.
As I recall, we each were to take a cupcake with a candle and transform it into an image celebrating the resort's upcoming anniversary. People turned it into castles, balloons, confetti, etc. We all photographed our progression of images with Jim's help (most ended up running 5 to 15 seconds), and then the animations were shown to the entire class. Jim was very informative, supporting, and warm, making learning animation basics lots of fun. The next we saw of Jim was when he appeared on the Walt Disney World official vacation video for the 100 Years of Magic Celebration. I remember pointing to him on the screen and saying to my wife, "That's the guy who taught our animation class at the Disney Institute!"
I didn't see Jim in person again until I was a staff member at MousePlanet, and was attending MouseFest 2005 at Walt Disney World. I was hanging out with Jim Hill, who was doing a "Jim and Jim Show" talk with Jim K at a resort along Hotel Plaza Boulevard (Jim K was writing for Jim H's site at the time). After the presentation, we hung out for a bit and talked Disney and related topics. This time, we stayed in touch, and I was eventually able to get Jim K to write for MousePlanet.
While Jim and I weren't able to get together often, as I don't live in Florida, we tried to see each other when we could, generally involving a meal (of course!). Eventually, due to staffing changes, I took over as his primary MousePlanet editor at the beginning of 2022.
I was honored to be asked by Jim and his brother Mike to set up a GoFundMe site to help Jim with his bills while he was hospitalized (the remaining balance in the GoFundMe will be used to pay off the final bills as they come in). I spoke with Jim regularly over the last few months; our last conversation happening a little over a week ago. He was a dear, warm friend and I will miss him terribly.
Jim's MousePlanet history
Jim started writing columns about Disney History under the assumed name of Wade Sampson while he was still working for Disney. As Jim put it when he revealed his true identity in "Wade Sampson's Last Column," "While I was still working for the Mouse, Disney Legal gave me permission to write about Disney history, as long as it was on my days off, and so long as it was clear that I was not writing as an official representative of the Disney Company and I was not sharing any current proprietary information."
Jim had been writing for Jim Hill Media for a few years when they came to a parting of ways. I quickly got permission from the rest of the MousePlanet board to invite him to come aboard. The "Wade's Wayback Machine" column debuted on the site May 31, 2006, and ran until he revealed his identity on September 22, 2010, after he had been released as part of thousands of Disney layoffs that month. From that time forward, Korkis Korner ran from September 29, 2010 until December 28, 2022. Due to Internet issues he was experiencing at the time, he was unable to submit his articles for a few weeks. Unfortunately, he fell ill soon after that. In February, he was able to have his brother Chris get onto his computer and send us the three columns that he had written for us and saved until he could get his Internet back, and those ran from February 15 to March 1 of this year.
Jim has been an extremely consistent writer, producing a prodigious 864 columns for MousePlanet over the last 17 years (225 as Wade and 639 as Jim), mostly on a schedule of one column every week. He could be a bit cantankerous with his editors, but he was always dedicated to sharing the facts about Disney history with readers and making sure that the facts were accurate. Jim wrote for many other Disney sites alongside his work here over the years, but he appreciated the fact that MousePlanet gave him free reign to write about whatever topic struck his fancy.
Jim's relationship with the Disney community
Jim was beloved within the Disney community for his love of sharing Disney history, his willingness to share whatever he knew with anyone who was interested, and his encyclopedic knowledge of everything Walt-related. Jim always enthusiastically shared the stories of Disney history that many others have forgotten, and always did the research necessary to ensure that his stories were accurate.
As noted earlier, Jim wrote for many other Disney-focused websites in addition to MousePlanet. He also appeared on many podcasts, spoke to the Disneyana Fan Club and other groups, provided seminars to schools and Disney Cruise Line groups, wrote over three dozen books including the Vault of Walt series (with two more books that were written and awaiting final clean-up at the time of his death, to be edited and released in the near future), and even contributed to some official Disney publications after he left the company. The last known article of Jim's to be published thus far appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of the Disney Files magazine, the official publication of the Disney Vacation Club. If someone wanted a Disney expert to provide information, Jim was game to oblige. He made many fans and friends throughout this journey, and many of them added life and light to his final days through their comments and donations to the GoFundMe that was set up to help pay his medical bills. He was equally touched by the comments and donations of his fans and those of many Disney and animation celebrities.
Jim's family life
While Jim had no children, he is survived by his brothers Michael and Chris. Mike was pivotal in Jim's care over the last few months, and I know that Jim appreciated that immensely. For the short period when Jim was released from the hospital and rehab center, he lived at Mike's house. I corresponded with Mike about Jim's care when Jim was unable to to communicate, and after Jim's passing. My only contact with Chris was when he helped with the early retrieval of documents from Jim's computer.
Jim was extremely close with both of his parents. He moved to Florida in 1996 to take care of them in their final years. His parents worried about Jim as well. As he dictated to me for an update to the GoFundMe site:
"One of the last things my mother asked me just before she died was 'who is going to take care of you?' She worried that I had taken care of her and Dad, but when I got old or sick I would be alone. This page is evidence that I am not alone. Whether you made a donation or not, whether it was a small donation or a large donation, each one of you has given me hope and comfort. When I go to sleep each night, I know that bills are paid and that people love me. I firmly believe in angels on Earth, and some of their names are on this page. God bless you all. There is a long road ahead, but I am glad that you're taking the journey with me."
Jim's Last Words
A couple of weeks ago, Jim wrote out longhand what is essentially his own epitaph, which was transcribed by his friend and fellow Disney historian Didier Ghez and distributed to a few people by Jim's brother Michael. While there is so much more that we could say about his impact on the preservation and sharing of Disney history, it seems fitting that his last words should be the last words in Korkis Korner:
James ("Jim") Patrick Korkis was born August 15, 1950, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He passed away at the age of 72 of stage four colon cancer on July 28, 2023. He is survived by his two brothers Michael and Chris. Jim was divorced and had no children.
When he was five years old his family moved to Glendale, California where Jim grew up attending Edison Elementary School (where one of the teachers was Mrs. Disney, the wife of Walt's older brother Herbert), Roosevelt Junior High, Hoover High, Glendale Junior College and Occidental College where he graduated with a Bachelor's degree and Master's Degree with a major in English and a minor in Theater Arts. After graduation he spent two decades teaching English and Drama at Huntington Middle School in San Marino, California. Jim helped pay his way through college by working at the Los Angeles Zoo as a driver and tour guide.
Jim was known as a comics historian writing a column of comics trivia for Amazing Heroes as well as articles for Comic Book Marketplace, Comics Artist and more. He was a vendor at the San Diego ComicCon for several years with the company he co-owned, Korkis and Cawley's Cartoon and Comic Company. He wrote introductions of over three dozen Malibu Graphics collections of vintage comic strips and comic books.
Jim was known as an animation historian who wrote long-running columns for Animation Magazine, Animato!, Animania, Comic Journal, and more. For the last ten years he wrote a weekly column for www.cartoonresearch.com. With writing partner John Cawley he co-wrote four books about animation like Cartoon Confidential.
In California, Jim also pursued a career in theater. He appeared in over 100 theatrical productions, starting with Glendale Center Theater. He directed over 100 stage performances. He did some occasional voice over work.
With his brothers, Jim appeared at The Gong Show, The Dating Game, and Family Feud. By himself he appeared on Camouflage (where he won a Cadillac) and the pilot Origins. He appeared on Entertainment Tonight as a Disney historian.
With his brother Mike, Jim developed a comedy magic act as part of a show he wrote and directed at Six Flags Magic Mountain Lucky Louies Roaring '20s Revue. They performed at the Variety Arts Theater, Johnathan Clubs, J.C. Penny and more. Jim was a performer in Pelican's Corner at Magic Mountain and helped design the Halloween Haunted Mountain promotion.
In 1995 he moved to Orlando, Florida to take care of his ailing mom and dad. Jim became identified as a Disney historian and worked as a performer (Merlin in the Sword in the Stone ceremony and Prospector Pat in Frontierland), an animation instructor at The Disney Institute, Guest Relations at Epcot, tour instructor with Disney Adult Discoveries, and coordinator with The Disney Learning Center. He was brought as a special consultant for Disney Cruise Line, Disney Vacation Club, Imagineering and Animation (where he taught different classes for interns) among other departments.
Disney laid off Jim in 2009 along with thousands of others. Jim started writing books about all things Disney and ended up producing over three dozen books. He was a popular guest on podcasts.
Jim's last words: "There are so many books I wanted to read or re-read, so many movies and television shows I wanted to see or re-see and more many food treats I wanted to enjoy again like See's chocolates. I know God loves me and this is part of his plan. Be happy and kind to each other. When you think of me, I hope you smile. I loved you all and appreciated your generosity, support and hope."