John J. Walker was a transitionary filmmaker at Encyclopaedia Britannica films, whose science films bridged the era between the staid, didactic titles of the 1950s, and the exciting new science films, made by directors such as Bert Van Bork, in the 1960s. Walker, who made over 80 films for EB, was a consummate craftsman, whose wonderful time-lapse cinematography can be appreciated in 'Seed Dispersal' (1956). Many of John's films were made for young learners, while others were made for high school and college-level students.
John was born on October 24, 1908, in Clairton, PA, and graduated from Pittsburgh's Carnegie Tech School of Drama. In 1933 Walker was hired by the National Park Service as a motion picture photographer to help film achievements of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). He covered over 40,000 miles for the CCC, and was selected to work with ERPI films to develop a series of six films on geology. In 1937, he was permanently hired by ERPI, which soon was absorbed under the Encyclopaedia Britannica umbrella.
From 1942 through 1946, he served with the Army Air Force as a photographic officer as well as an instructor in aerial combat photography. He replaced Colonel Hal (Our Gang) Roach as Liaison Photographic Officer for the 9th Bomber Command. His Army buddies included Ronald Reagan and Van Heflin, and was discharged in 1946, having risen to the rank of Major.
John continued making films, on mostly science and nature subjects, for EB through 1972, when he retired. In retirement, he continued with his passion of still photography, and gave lectures on his films and travels. He passed away in Fort Collins, CO, on August 23, 1986. (Thanks to Craig Walker for John's biographical information.)
About John Walker, filmmaker Tom Smith writes:
"Johnnie may have produced more film at EB than any other producer/director (perhaps second only to Milan Herzog .) Johnnie specialized in biology films – ants, mammals, birds etc… When I began in at EB he was part of the older generation. He valued prompt arrival at the office, dressed in suit and tie he seeming to survey me as a young upstart. I’d roll in to the office at five past nine and he’d be standing in his office door. He’d look at me as I passed, then, glancing at his watch he’d say, “Good morning Tom.” I laughed about it then and it still brings a smile. He also left promptly at 5:00 while I often worked into the night. But his contribution was substantial. Something I may not have appreciated till later. It is sad that Walker has become a forgotten name.
"I spoke to the two-time Academy Award winner cinematographer and filmmaker Haskell Wexler a couple years ago. We were in a social situation and he sat across from me while we had a picnic lunch. I told him that I was once a producer at EBF and had heard he too worked there. I told him Johnnie Walker once told me he taught Wexler how to load film in the Mitchell camera. (This happened a few years after WWII.) I asked him if he recalled Walker and his time at EBF. Wexler beamed. He said he loved that period of film making in his life. It was an ideal place to learn the craft. He also found Walker to be a patient and considerate man, teaching Wexler the ropes. Nearly with tears in his eyes, Wexler said that it has been so many years ago at times he wonders if it really happened or if his EBF days were only an old filmmaker’s dream. I assured him it was all very real."
Warren Everote, who served as president of Encyclopaedia Britannica Films, remembers:
"I first met John when I was a graduate student at Columbia University and he was a cameraman for ERPI films, predecessor of EBF. He filmed "Circuits" the first script I ever wrote on a free-lance basis. When I officially joined EBF in 1946 I met Major John Walker again. He had also just returned from World War II where he served in a camera unit that I think was headed by Hollywood's Hal Roach. He was cameraman on several of my early films such as "The Water Cycle," "Fire," and "Sound Waves and Their Sources." He was in charge of filming the "Arnold Toynbee Lectures" (a very difficult project) at Washington and Lee University in 1958. He acted as consultant on other special projects such as our course on Chemistry and the one on Physics. Until its later days EBF didn't provide credits on its films for anyone other than collaborators so John's name was not on many of the projects he filmed."
John J. Walker, Producer: Filmography
1939 Navajo Indians
1940 French Canadian Children
1947 Making Bricks For Houses
1955 Plant Traps – 2nd Edition
1957 Farm Animals (2nd Ed)
1958 Art in the Western World: the National Gallery of Art
1959 Maps For A Changing World (2nd Ed)
1960 Animals Useful To Man
1961 Adaptive Radiation: Mollusks
1962 Angiosperms: Flowering Plants
1963 Life Story Of A Crayfish
1964 Life Story Of The Red-Winged Blackbird
1965 Message From A Dinosaur
Army Ants: a Study in Social Behavior
1967 Chromosomes Of Man
1968 Problems Of Conservation: Air
1969 Coniferous Forest Biome
1970 American Flag, The (Rev)
1971 Aging Of Lakes , The
1972 Bird Who Was A Clown, The